The kids and I were in our usual positions; kneeling on the blue pleather-covered, retro sofa in the living room with our behinds facing the middle of the room and our noses pressed against the bay window, waiting for my parents to arrive.
Lucas and Veronica were always excited when they knew Grandma and Papa were coming over. My parents would often come to the house to visit before we’d all go out for dinner.
As soon as my father’s Lincoln Town Car pulled into the driveway, both kids bounced up and down on the sofa, causing me to bounce, albeit involuntarily. Physics. Can’t live with it; can’t live without it.
Our driveway was wide enough for one car only, and as steep as a double-black diamond ski-run. At the bottom of the slope sat a one-car garage.
My Dad let my Mom out of the car and then decided to pull further up, which was, in reality, down (oh, so down) the driveway. The only plausible reason for this was that my sister, brother-in-law, and their son, Joey, were coming over, too, and he wanted to leave room for them to pull up behind him.
It was so cold that year the Canadian geese, that usually hung out across the street at the golf course for the winter, completely bypassed Illinois and headed straight to Arkansas. Even though he’d placed the car in “Park,” Dad’s rear-wheel-drive car continued to slide down the icy driveway, inching itself closer and closer to the closed garage door.
Richard, my mom, the kids, and I watched through the front window of the house as my Dad’s car disappeared between the embankments on either side of the bottom of the driveway. We could see the back end of his car, but no Norman.
Richard ran outside and watched as Norman’s car stopped just short of the garage door. Richard came inside to tell us the good news. But the good news was short-lived.
Because of the embankments, my Dad couldn’t open his door more than an inch. If he had tried to slide over to the passenger’s side, he wouldn’t have had any better luck there. Even if he could physically climb over the back seat, those doors wouldn’t have been able to be opened either.
As soon as we realized what was happening, little four-year-old Veronica asked, “Will we ever see Papa again?”
“Good question,” I thought to myself. How is he going to get out of the car? But before we could figure that out, he began trying to back up, only to spin his wheels which had the reverse effect, sliding him closer to the garage door.
I ran downstairs and opened the garage door to see if he would be able to slide in, get a smidge of traction, and then back out. But Richard’s car was parked in the garage, leaving Dad shipwrecked.
Time for some quick thinking. Richard and I sprang into action to rescue Papa from the Town Car. We placed floor mats behind Dad’s back wheels, as we tried not to slalom down the driveway ourselves. He put the car back into reverse but his wheels only spun and spun. They spun so much, in fact, that the smell of burning rubber triggered the smoke detector in the garage.
Ok. It was time for some more quick thinking. Richard and I tried to push the car back up the hill as Dad’s wheels spun in reverse. That may have been quick thinking, but it was also stupid thinking. There was no way the two of us could have pushed that Titanic of a car back up and over the death-drop steepness of our driveway.
Finally, The Voice of Reason, also known as my Mother, said we should call a tow truck, which we did. However, it was going to be about two hours before the tow truck could get to our house due to the inordinate volume of calls the company had received about cars stuck on steep, double-black diamond ski-run-worthy driveways. Dad would just have to sit and wait in his car while we waited inside the house for the tow truck to arrive.
I called Dad on his cell phone to see if he was thirsty and wanted a Diet Coke, or need an old coffee can in which to pee. He she was fine and was even laughing about the situation.
Back in the house, we all just stood there waiting for the tow truck. If Dad was stuck in the driveway, we were going to be stuck watching him be stuck in the driveway because that’s what our family does. It made no sense, and makes even less sense when I think about it now, but we all stood there glued to the floor, as if we were trapped, too.
Finally, the tow truck arrived. A giant flatbed tow truck. In my driveway.
I had no idea what the guy was going to do or how he planned to get my Dad’s car out of the driveway, but he did. He somehow got these big metal things under the wheels of my Dad’s car and magically began to lift the car up — with my dad in it — using metal chains, and a hook that looked like it could support a prize-winning Marlin.
As we all stood there watching, Dad’s car was eventually dragged onto the flatbed. The tow truck driver returned to the cab of his truck and pushed a button that elevated the flatbed, the car, and my Dad as high as the 50-year-old Arborvitae trees that flanked either side of the embankments. As the driver pulled his truck out of the driveway, there was Norman sitting in his car waving at us as if he were in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I never would have believed it, but it worked. The driver lowered the flatbed, and then unhitched the Titanic so my Dad could drive off of it. He moored the car on the street, and got out to tip the tow truck driver as we all watched and cheered. He was a little stiff from sitting in his car motionless for two hours and he had to pee, but other than that he was fine.
We snapped out of our stupors of disbelief and did what we had planned all along. We went out to dinner. Nothing, not even a perilous mountain of ice, could keep this family from going out for dinner, because that’s what Chases have always done and always will.
Dedicated in loving memory of Norman. M. Chase
June 17, 1931-June 6, 2014