It's perfect writing weather. Sunday afternoon, and dark. Very dark. The rain is pounding on the roof and running in wide liquid rivers down the window panes. Thunder breaks now and then with commanding force.
The natives who are here are subdued. The ones who are not went abroad to play disc golf, they and the Chief and an assortment of natives from other settlements, or at least other wigwams. Where the settlements begin and end is a bit nebulous.
What they are actually doing, I do not know. I think it is safe to say they are not doing what they set out to do.
I think I will tell you about our Girls' Day Out. It has nothing whatsoever to do with anything I just wrote, it's just that it is perfect writing weather and I need a subject.
Regan and I had been planning one for a long time, a Girls' Day Out. Weeks, at least, and perhaps months. We had some things we wanted to do, she and I, and some things we needed to buy in town. The last several times we had gone shopping the littlest natives, in spite of being gung ho at the outset, were burnt out after roughly one store's-worth of shopping. This burn-out might have been accentuated, ultimately, by vehicular woes, I don't know, because we had had a few, frankly, ranging from blown tires to pegged temperature gauges, and....other things....
We have old vehicles with hundreds of thousands of miles on them. They add dimension and interest and surprises to life.
But I digress. Anyone who knows anything about the joys of shopping, knows that shopping with someone who doesn't want to be shopping robs it of every joy...whether that person be a squalling baby, or a very patient grown-up. If they don't want to be there, you might as well go home. This is one of the Universal Truths of shopping.
But the littlest natives are pretty much ever-present, and how we were to dispense of them for a half a day or more was unclear, so we kept our eyes open and bode our time.
It came one day when Becky's school teacher called and asked if Becky would like to come help her do some prep work at school sorting tests and quizzes along with some other girls. Becky was, of course, thrilled.
"You can drop her off about 9:30 and pick her up about 2", her teacher said.
Perfect. That would be long enough to get in some great shopping! Just about right.
I sought out Regan and told her about the breakthrough in our search. "I'll see if Dad can take Todd to work with him." I said. I knew he would if he could.
"Do you know what you're doing Friday?" I asked The Chief that evening.
He didn't, but he as much as promised to take him, regardless. So we were good to go. The rest of our week was planned with shopping in view.
Friday dawned. It felt like vacation. It WAS vacation! A whole day shopping, just Regan and me, with no non-shoppers asking, #1,when we could go home, and #2, when we could eat, feigning utter exhaustion one minute and engaging in games of hide-and seek among the clothing displays the next, which of course would have to be stopped by the Wicked Squaw of the South and further impress upon them the rank miseries of shopping, and drive them back to asking questions #1 and #2.
I woke to a quiet house. Brewed my coffee and surveyed the day. It looked so tidy and nice. The school was in the opposite direction of the city we intended to patronize by 30 minutes. The wigwam lies between the two.
We would take Becky to the school, and then drop Todd off at the job-site which was, by an unusual stroke of happenstance, assuming happenstances come in strokes, just a mile or three beyond the school. And then we would head north, just Regan and I, and a clear day, and a shopping list. It would be blissful.
I was just about to wake the natives when the phone rang. It was my sister-in-law. "Would you be interested in some steak?" She asked. "Our freezer quit running and a bunch of the stuff is thawed. It's still good and cold but we need a place to put it. We have a bunch of steak in there. Would you be interested in grilling it for us in exchange for maybe half of it? It needs to be kept cold though. Would you have room in your fridge if I would bring it over after awhile?"
That sounded like a super deal, mostly. Except that it would eat into our shopping day. I mentally tabulated the space in my refrigerator. Thanks to a collection of irregular occurrences I also had roughly six gallons of iced tea to keep cold, and fridge space was becoming a bit precious. I arranged to pick up the steak on the way to deliver the non-shopping natives to their respective destinations. We'd bring it back home and put it in the fridge. Somehow. It wouldn't eat into our day. Much.
So off we went. Just before we made it for the steak-stop, our vehicle quit running. I started it again, and off we went. We pulled in, and it stopped again. Oh well, we were here. We packed in a laundry basket of steaks. Good steaks. T-bones, rib-eyes, flank steaks, in abundant measure. Wow. How cool was this? We never eat steak.
And off we went to deliver Becky to school. The vehicle cut off again. Once. Twice. I looked at Regan. This seemed a bit iffy. I delivered Todd to the job site, and we wended our way hand-in-hand among the various work crews till we located the Chief.
"The Expedition keeps cutting off." I said. "Do you think we should take it or had we better take the Saturn?"
"I think you ought to take the Saturn." he said. It was not a big deal. We were taking the steak home anyway.
At home we miraculously found place for the laundry basket-worth of steaks among the many gallons of tea.
We then transferred our stuff from the Expedition to the Saturn.
We rolled down the windows. The Saturn has no air-conditioning.
The last time we had taken the Saturn to town, the natives and I, steam had rolled from under the hood, and we had sat in the blasting Georgia heat waiting for help to come in the form of the Chief. I was sure I had fried the motor, but I hadn't. Skippety-do-dah! It looked bone dry, but The Chief put water in it and we were good to go. The natives had been driving it ever since with no trouble.
We situated ourselves, Regan and I, a little later than we had planned, but it was okay. I started it up, pushed her into first gear. She had her issues, this little car, but she was fun to drive. I kinda liked the windows down anyway.
"I'm a little nervous." Regan said.
"I'm not," I said blithely. "It's been working fine."
We pulled out onto the road and headed down the road for the second time that morning, past familiar houses, through the pecan trees...
"One thing about your dad," I said. "he will drop whatever he is doing and come rescue us, if we need it. He's a good man. I'll take a good man over a rich man any day of the year." Not that they are mutually exclusive necessarily, but if you have to choose....
We caught the next road and we were on our way. It wasn't too hot. It was just nice.
"Can we go to Goodwill?" Regan asked. "O. wants me to see if the sequels to her books are there. She saw them the other day when she bought the ones she has but she didn't realize they were sequels."
Of course we could. We could do anything we wanted. It was Girls' Day Out. Also, I had some stuff in my trunk to donate to somebody. I would dispose of it here.
We searched with partial success for the books, met a couple friends, who were also shopping, and stopped and talked to them.
And then we were off again, to the other side of town, which was congested as usual with traffic, but more-so than sometimes because it was nearing lunch hour. From traffic light to traffic light we waited through several revolutions because the intersections were clogged beyond remedy. I looked down at my temperature gauge, just in case. It was as far to the right as it could go.
"Oh no." I said, "it's running hot again. Here, turn on the heat." We turned on the heater full blast. I checked my rear view mirror to see if there was room in the through lane for me to be. There was. I merged into that traffic, which was at least moving, unlike the left turn lane, and we were off. "I have to find water!" I said, feeling a little desperate. Where was water?? Should I just keep moving or should I stop if I couldn't find any? I tried to call the Chief. No answer. I came to Washington Rd and took a right, keeping one eye out for water, and another eye out for red traffic lights that might impede our movement. Oh no. A red light. I dove into the nearest shopping center, traveled the perimeter of it and caught a side street. These were not my stomping grounds. I had no idea where I was going. Where was water? We scouted for gas stations, and spotted one up ahead, I pulled in and circled it. No water hose. No spigot that we could see. I barreled out on the road again flowing with traffic and blessing every green light with fervency.
Where was water? I was killing this car. I knew I was. I killed the last one. And I was killing this one. The temperature gauge was dropping. Whew. But what did that mean? Where was The Chief? Why didn't he answer his phone? We were being blasted with intense heat. I barreled across a major highway and it soon became apparent we were heading deep into the land of neighborhoods and subdivisions. There were no convenience stores in sight. The speed limits were low.
I had no idea where I was.
"If we have to stop here I won't have any idea how to tell Dad to find us!" I said. I chose a subdivision entrance and we started winding deep and deeper into some unknown neighborhood."
"We don't want to be back here!" Regan protested.
"I know!" I said, "but I have to keep moving. It'll come out somewhere. It has too!"
It didn't really matter where; I was totally lost, regardless.
So far, I had been turning right when I turned at all, just because turning left generally meant waiting for lights and/or traffic to cooperate, but after we had explored the depths of that subdivision and once again found ourselves at the entrance we decided to try turning left because there were clearly no convenience stores to the right. Also, I thought, it would be really nice to be able to tell The Chief where we were when the time came that he answered his phone, and the car died. Or maybe it would be other way around.
The gauge continued to stay down some, but I had no faith in it. Heater still running full blast we caught the next road.
The phone rang. It was the Chief. He has talked to me before in this same situation. He always says the same thing. "Try to get to water and get water into it as quick as you can. Be careful not to burn yourself. I think if you're careful you'll be okay, it's an overflow tank. Do you have a rag of some kind to put over the lid when you open it?" He says the same thing every time, but I have to hear him saying it again anyway.
"I can't find water anywhere!" I said barreling down the street. Which street, I didn't know.
There is only so much you can do for your wife on the phone. He knew, and I knew, he had done what he could. We had walked this road before. "Call me back if you need me." he said. I hung up.
I saw a road I recognized and took it. Familiar territory again! And there was a gas station! Hope! We swung in. Heat blasting. Windows down. Eyes peeled.
We pulled out again into the parking lot that fed into it. I took mental inventory of the places along this road. There were no more convenience stores anywhere near that did not lie beyond great blocks of traffic that had come to a stand-still. I knew this because we had come full circle. That will happen if all you do is take right turns.
The phone rang. They were done at the school a little earlier than they had planned. We could come pick Becky up. Regan and I looked at each other. There was NO WAY we could go pick Becky up. I called The Chief. "Don't worry about it, I'll go get her. She can be with me" he said. I hung up.
Should we take to the road again? It seemed futile.
"I'm stopping", I said to Regan "I might kill it, but we have no way of knowing where there will be water. As long as we're moving the gauge stays reasonably low, I'm going to pull across this parking lot here and buy some water at Walmart."
And so we did. I parked off at a distance, quite a ways from Walmart. I didn't want anyone to ask us if we needed help. I didn't want anyone to look at me. Trouble, in my opinion, is most easily handled in private. I can handle large doses of trouble as long as it's not public trouble. Private trouble is the way to go.
So I parked way out. And cut it off. Whew. We were here at least. Off the road, in a place I had been before. No more being blasted with manufactured heat on top of the regular Georgia heat.
"Do you want to go in for it?" I asked Regan. I was feeling a bit, well....tired. I wondered if I had ruined another vehicle.
"No." She said. "I'd rather stay with the car."
I started across the long parking lot. We weren't really parked in front of Walmart at all, it was a ways away. I called The Chief again, and told him what I was doing. "Do you think 2 gallons will be enough?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, "that should be enough."
I bought three gallons.
I felt a vague urgency to get back to the car and put water in it. I didn't know if at this point all hope was lost or not, but it seemed like it would be wise to get it in there. Who knew? Not me, for sure. But just in case....
The lady in front of me was slow. She was an old lady. She had with her a grown man. Her son, I presumed. He was mentally handicapped and was rifling through her bags while she was trying to pay, hunting something. She tried to get him to stop, but he was clearly a handful. She had had him all his life, I guessed. She loved him, no doubt. There was also no doubt that he would have been a tremendous responsibility for a woman her age.
My three gallons of water were getting a bit heavy, She and her son moved on. I made my purchase and headed for the door. In the doorway ahead of me another woman leaned on her cane and crept along. She was large. There was no polite way to pass. I slowed down, and adjusted my load.
"I have no troubles at all." I thought to myself, "compared to these women. I can walk without pain. My daughter sits, with sound mind, in the car, waiting for me to come back."
Once out of the store I headed across the parking lot. I had parked a long way out. Three gallons of water...I felt my arms lengthen a few inches. Private problems are best. I walked on.
There was Regan, waiting patiently. I opened the driver's door and pulled the hood release. It was probably already fried. But I would do what I could. I went around to the front, found the little latch, and propped the hood open with the thingie they make for that purpose.
I opened one gallon of water and perched it near me, then I carefully opened the lid to the over flow tank, and peered inside.
It was full.
It was full of water all the way to the fill line. I stared at it with my gallon of water in my hand.
I called the Chief. "It's not out of water. I said. The tank is full."
"Well, I don't know what's the matter with it." he said. "Maybe it's a fan that's not working. You'll probably be okay, if you keep it moving. If you want, you can try to go on out to Kohl's as far as I'm concerned."
"I am not going to Kohl's." I said. I wanted food. I wanted drink. I wanted to go home.
Regan and I were of the same mind. We had had enough excitement for one day. We discussed our options, and decided in the name of Girl's Day Out redemption we would stop for a caramel frappe and Buffalo Chicken fingers at Burger King. It was a wild extravagance under normal circumstances. We shared a frappe, and savored our chicken fingers, absorbing the luxury of air conditioning and just being together.
And then we came home. With our three gallons of water, we came home. And walked into an empty house.
We had marked off this day on the calendar. We had nothing else planned. Regan took a book and curled up in the recliner.
I repaired to our bedroom with the book I have been reading "Swallows and Amazons."
At length, I wandered back out to the living room. Regan looked up from her reading and rearranged herself.
"It's been a good day," she said.
"It sure has," I replied.