Disclaimer: These stories are a product of my memory. The parts I can’t remember are made up. The parts I can recall are completely fabricated.
For reasons passing understanding, Lillian required someone to drive Jennifer and Jason to elementary school. Fact 1: We lived directly behind the school and the walk was less than a quarter of a mile. Fact 2: After school they were allowed to roam the tristate area in search of adventure with other hoodlums to find households to terrorize.
Now, Jason was a bit shy when confronted by his mates about being dropped off at school by his father. As such, he rode shotgun up front with me and earned a degree in armchair philosophy listening to my lectures. Jennifer, on the other hand, was the social busy bee. So, not only did I have to drive our two children the ¼ mile to school, I also had to circle seventeen and half miles around the neighborhood to cart her six chatty Cathy girlfriends as well. And so, with the girls lost in their own backseat world of make-believe, Jason and I rode up front, him sometimes listening to my stories, but most often in silence.
At the time, our minivan, Ford’s worst product since the Pinto, was equipped with rear bucket seats and a bench seat so far in the back that the occupants could have been another whole family living in complete anonymity. The trip around the neighborhood was pleasant enough. Virginia is blessed with four seasons, of which the spring brings everything back to life. It is not unheard of for the back yard bird you watched feed in slow motion all winter, to then wake up in the springtime full of energy and a fevered desire to couple up. I often thought that the reason grown men wore baseball caps was to keep some highly spirited sparrow from mating or trying to build a nest on their bald head.
So, it happened on a beautiful Virginia spring day. The azaleas were in full bloom and the state tree/flower, the Dogwood added their beauty to an already gorgeous landscape. Birds were birding at a fevered pitch and all seemed right with and in my minivan world. Then it happened. A squirrel, a little fuzzy backyard friend, the one undoubtedly named by Jennifer, ran out in front of the van. Dale Earnhardt’s driving skills had nothing on our driver. A quick swerve, a slamming of the brakes then thump . . . thump. Front tire, back tire, direct hit. My upfront passenger saw the whole thing and he knew it wasn’t my fault. He knew there was nothing I could have done. Then panic set in. From the alternative universe in the back seats came a seven-voice chorus. Oh, My God! OMG, OMG! Did you feel that? Did he? Did you hit the poor squirrel? Is he dead? Did you?
In a split second I had a decision to make. Should I emotionally scar seven young girls, possibly for life? Would they be so damaged that they’d never grow up and leave home? It was the only thing to do. It was the right thing to do. I answered: “Nope, just missed ‘em.” The back seat filled with seven sighs of relief. My driving skills were praised. All was right with the world. More importantly, all was right with the world of seven elementary school girls. But then Jason caught the corner of my eye. No words were exchanged just silence, it was a bond. It was a bond that said “My father just lied. That’s cool.”