No doubt off-roading isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of me, a rather short grandma whose recreational pursuits include reading, going for walks, and watching movies. The riskiest thing I’ve attempted lately is going down the tube slide at the park, on my back, holding a delighted toddler. Or wrestling on the floor with a tallish 4 ½-year-old who has no concept of his size and weight relative to mine, and thinks nothing of diving full force on to my stomach.
But you’d be wrong. Because I’m the daughter of a farmer dad who missed his calling as a Hollywood stunt driver.
I have memories of tearing through the pasture with him as we went to check on the cattle in the old car he fondly referred to as “The Blitz.” This was a flamingo pink 1953 Ford Crestline Victoria that he’d converted into a sort of pickup by removing the top with a welding torch, leaving only the front windshield. I think he also removed the back seat. Besides blitzing through the pasture, it was used for all sorts of farm activities, including hauling sick calves to the vet.
The pasture was virgin sod, with landmines of hidden rocks and gopher holes, and you never knew what you were going to hit. A punctured oil pan was a common casualty. It made for breathless excitement as we bumped our way to all four corners of the pasture, counting cattle, checking on salt licks, and generally making sure everything was all right with the bovine branch of the farming operation.
Dad also enjoyed off-roading in more urban spots. More than once, while we were driving around in a big town like Bismarck, Mom would say, “This is a one-way” (pointing out he was going the wrong way), and Dad would answer, “I’m only going one way.” As far as I know, he never got ticketed for this brazen disregard of the rules. Fortunately, he was a stickler for stop signs.
But the peak of Dad’s off-roading was his snowbank technique. It came about as a result of snow days, those unexpected school holidays beloved by students everywhere, when it’s blizzarding, and nobody can see the road to drive anywhere, or the day after a blizzard, when the roads haven’t been plowed yet. Snow days are adored by students, but dreaded by parents. You can only pop so much popcorn, play so many board games, do so much reading. TV may or may not be available, because the storm may have knocked out the power. Everybody needs a break from everybody else, but there’s no place to go.
On the morning of the day I’m thinking of, we’d been out of school for at least two days. The telephone rang, and we got the news that school was on (groan), but the buses weren’t running (cheers!). That meant the town kids had to go to school, but the lucky farm kids didn’t.
I can imagine the conversation that ensued while my brothers and I planned our third day of vacation:
Mom: No buses (sadly, possibly sobbing)
Dad: I’ll take them.
Mom: But the roads are blocked.
Dad: It’s not that bad. These kids are going to school.
General Announcement: OK everybody, get ready. I’m taking you to school.
Or something like that.
So off we went, in the station wagon. The following scenario was repeated several times on the five miles to town: Dad bounced his way over the smaller drifts, coming up to a snowbank two or more feet high. He would then do a maneuver that should never be attempted with a station wagon, but that was not a deterrent. He’d stop, size up the snowbank, and then call out, “Hang on!” This was followed by backing up about twenty feet, and then accelerating forward. We’d hit the bank with a thump and ram our way through, sometimes becoming slightly airborne, snow flying everywhere as we emerged on the other side. I can still see Dad hunched over the steering wheel, his look of satisfaction as we landed. Keep in mind there were no seat belts, no safety precautions, just “Hang on.” And hang on we did. Somehow we survived this carnival ride, and, to our extreme disappointment, were deposited at the school entrance in time for the first bell. Mission accomplished, Dad went home to our grateful mother.
Despite growing up with this off-roading role model, I tend to stay on the road, out of pastures and away from snowbanks. But I like to think I ended up with some of Dad’s spunk and his approach to obstacles. Sometimes you just have to ram your way through.