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25 Years Ago – Summer 1994

Rides of Joy

By Barbara Feinman

“I kind of feel sorry for you,” my neighbor said to me. Her husband was underneath my house, trying to turn off the water. We were huddled in the kitchen by the stove, trying to pretend the house wasn’t freezing. It was the middle of winter and another pipe had frozen and burst. We could hear rushing water below the floorboards.

“I mean, here you decide to move out to the country and we have the coldest winter in … well, EVER” She tried to hold back a giggle, but it was too late. I started to hum my favorite Billie Holiday song, “Everything Happens to Me.

It had seemed like a good idea back in October. Give up my apartment in Washington and move out to the country for six months or so. My siblings and I own an old captain’s house on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, along a river that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. I’d go live in the house (nearly 200 years old) and write. That’s what writers do, I told myself; they move out to the country, and they think, and they watch the birds, and they hoe beans, and they write. You know, Walden and Henry David Thoreau and all that. I would do the zen thing. No more honking cars, only honking geese. No more sirens in the night. It sounded idyllic.

That was before the ice storms, the snow-storms, the frozen pipes, the burst pipes, the electricity (and heat) cutting off overnight, the tree blowing down, more snowstorms, the wild bird coming down the chimney and flying madly around (and then dying under my bed) … And to top it all off, my Miata wasn’t in its element, to say the least. It was the first garaged winter of its pampered four-year

existence. My driveway’s slight incline made any amount of snowfall a considerable obstacle. Part of my daily January routine became trying to dig my car out, wheels spinning, snow spraying. The neighborhood kids, liberate from school by the weather, would look up when they heard me cursing. The hill in front of my house, which overlooks Blackbird Marsh, was the perfect toboggan run.

“Come on,” one of them would invariably say, abandoning his Flexible Flyer. “Let’s go push her out again.” The good news was that while my little car with its rear wheel drive didn’t fare so well in the snow, it was light enough for four medium-sized kids to rescue with relative ease. Each day I would skid around town, coming home with groceries, the news-paper and a bag of cookies for the sledders. I would invent errands — my cabin fever increasing exponentially.

At first I told concerned friends from the city who called that I “felt like a pioneer, that it was a real adventure.” But as the days turned to weeks and fresh snow kept falling, I grew less enthralled. About that time, I began to covet every four wheel drive vehicle that drove past my house. But I couldn’t afford two cars, and I could never do the unthinkable…

‘Spring is only thirty-nine days away,’ I would tell myself; looking out at the frozen marsh. But somewhere deep within my soul I feared that Spring just wouldn’t happen, that some-how it would just bypass us this year altogether. My little blue car sat patiently in the driveway, covered with ice and snow, and I would shiver with empathy, obsessively imagining it with its top down. I would picture putting the top down, zipping around the back roads. It seemed three million light years away.

Three months later. There I sat in front of my computer, putting the finishing touches on a project which had completely consumed me for the last month. As I stood up from the desk I realized it was a Friday night and I had nothing to do. I felt like celebrating, but all my friends were seventy miles away. I didn’t want to drink alone. But I had to do something more exciting than laundry to mark the end of this thing. I looked out the window absently. Of course! I’d go for a drive, put the top down and head for the hills — exactly what I had fantasized about all winter.

Dusk was approaching. It was the kind of perfect day where the breeze is light, the sun feels sweet against your skin.

I made my way over the wooden bridge and on toward Spaniard’s Neck, a long, windy, lush two-lane road where you rarely encountered another car, much less a police cruiser with radar. My joy rides usually

take the same route: Spaniard’s Neck to Conquest Farm. Conquest Farm is a private estate, with a long imposing driveway and vast rolling fields. To one side there stands a huge sort of barn-warehouse, filled with pigeons. I’ve never figured out what the pigeons are for. Sometimes I imagine they are carrier pigeons, trained in delivering mes-sages to star-crossed lovers. Probably not.

Across the road is a locked gate leading to Conquest Beach, which I’ve never had the nerve to climb over and explore. The view from the road is awesome enough – a beautiful, majestic vista of the river.

As I came around the bend and could see the farm in the distance, I noticed something ahead of me. I slowed down and realized it was two deer, sprinting across the road. I got closer and then cut off the engine. The deer looked at me and I looked back, realizing they were part of a large herd. I started to count: one, two, three, four, five … oh no, I thought, there are thirteen! I am horribly, excessively superstitious. Thirteen deer was a bad omen I started to recount. And then, from behind the trees, came ten more deer. Twenty-three, my lucky number! The day on which I was born. I sat. there in silence, watching the deer graze, feeling like I was on safari. They seemed unfazed by me, or the Miata, and they roamed around the field languidly. The breeze rolled in across the dashboard, there were crows cawing in the distance. The sun was beginning to set across the river.

I thought of Thoreau. His two years and two months at Walden Pond were filled with moments like these. Okay, so he didn’t drive around in a Miata, or approve of material things at all, but I’d like to think that if Thoreau had been there with me he wouldn’t have eschewed a spin in my little car. It had transcended its material worth for a moment; somehow it had led me there — reaping a chance meeting with twenty-three deer on a perfect spring evening.

Copyright 1994, Miata Magazine. Reprinted without permission.


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