By Cal Evans
Charlotte North Carolina is a cold place in the winter, especially for a 6 year old. Mittens, coats, hats and scarves were all a fact of life. Most of them ended up as a ritual sacrifice to the great god Lost-And-Found. The winter of my 6th year was no exception. It was cold, it was damp and that can only mean one thing, it snowed. And boy did it snow. I remember waking up, sitting at the table with Mom and Dad gleefully listening to the school closures! No school meant a free day and since Mom was a teacher, it meant a day off for her as well (Or at least a day of corralling her own brats instead of someone else’s.) And so our snow day adventure began.
At some point during the day, maybe because he was bored, maybe it was to keep Mom from killing us, dad decided to take me and my 3 year old sister for a ride. Our winter wonderland vehicle was a 1960-something faded yellow Datsun ‘almost-wagon’. Ours was the deluxe model with the fold down back seat and random heat. But at that age, it just didn’t dawn on me that the heat ought to work every time you turned it on (but I digress).
So Dad strapped us into our sleigh and off we went. This being the late 60s, strapping us in consisted of closing the doors and shouting â€œHang on!â€ but we didn’t care. To my 6 year old mind, we were sleighing through the woods on a beautiful winter day. That image held until we got to the parking lot at K-Mart.
We had the only K-Mart on the face of the earth larger than the Pentagon. This thing was huge. Long before the days of Super K stores, we had K-Mart, K-Mart Foods, K-Mart drugs and K-Mart gas. This place was so big it had its own zip code. We pulled into the parking lot and stopped. I looked out the windshield. The ground was solid white for as far as they eye could see. More importantly, it was totally empty. There may have been cars at the other end, I’m not sure I couldn’t see that far for the curvature of the earth. A flat sea of white was before us.
I looked over at my farther. His face was now contorted into a mischievous grin. At least now, years later, I know thatâ€™s what it was. At the time it was just scary. Here was my Dad, grinning, staring out at the snow covered parking lot as if it were some arch nemesis waiting to be bested. Man and parking lot starring each other down, daring the other to be the first to blink.
Obviously, the parking lot blinked (although I do not profess to have seen it blink but out of the corner of my eye, I recall a flash of light. It was either a blink or the blue light in K-Mart going off).
The horses growled loudly as if someone missed a shift in a â€˜1960-something Datsun almost-wagonâ€™, and our sleigh leaped forward. I let out a yelp that most would mistake for a blood curdling scream and grabbed the handle on the dashboard and held on for dear life. (My sister gurgled in the back as drool dripped on the seat-belt she was clinging to.)
Faster and faster we drove, 5, 10 15 miles per hour as the pristine white show crunched beneath our tires. The scenery now sliding by faster than my eyes could take it in. Then with a berserker growl, the fire in his eyes reflecting off the rear-view mirror, my father screamed, â€œHOLD ON!â€ My fingers became one with the small handle I was clinging to as he slammed the clutch to the floor, spun the wheel and yanked up the parking brake all in one seamlessly beautiful maneuver from hell.
It was a moment captured in time. For a brief instant time stood still and I was cut lose from the bonds of gravity that hold us to this earth. For that one brief tick of the clock, the only thing between me and flying off into outer space was a mottled grey handle attached to the dashboard of the car.
Then it was over and I landed safely in back my seat. I sat breathless, thankful that I had survived the ordeal without soiling myself. With the snow settling all around us and time returning to its normal pace, I said the only thing that I could…
(…and my sister gurgled in the back seat)