A long long time ago, so long ago that seatbelts in cars were kind of a new thing, I had a fifth-grade teacher named Miss Marburg, who was young and stylish. Frosted hair (that was new, too), pink lipstick.
One early winter evening, she was driving home when she hit a patch of ice. “Black ice,” the kind you can’t see. Her car spun across the lanes and then right off the road, flipping upside-down.
“I had my seatbelt on,” she told my mother, “Fortunately. And a state policeman saw me go off the road and pulled over right away to come help. But there I was, hanging upside-down from my seatbelt, and all I could think of was that my skirt was hanging upside-down too, and he could see the tops of my nylons.” (tops of nylons: another remnant of the past.)
The other night, we were sitting around the table after dinner with some friends, and people started telling car stories. Everyone has one. Based on that night’s sampling, everyone has dozens, and it’s a wonder any of us has the courage to get in a car again. Not one story had as its theme, “It was a smooth and uneventful trip.” I’m not much on using words like “subtext” or “metanarrative,” but I would say the subtext of all of the car stories was, “The bad thing happened. But I’m still here.” My favorites are the ones that also say, “And here’s the funny part:”
My favorites are the ones where the storytellers laugh at the situation. And, like Miss Marburg, at ourselves.
(p.s. The holidays are coming. So is winter. Be careful out there!)