GOING UP GOING DOWN

The rhododendrons and bearded irises are out on a glorious summer day (it hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday). Nevertheless, I suddenly remembered our frosty winters here, and especially our driveway (see below).

We live at the foot of a lengthy driveway that climbs up to the road, in between two banks with low but significant inclines on both sides. In other words, you have to see where you’re going, otherwise you might end up in the river far below. In winter, it’s always been a challenge to get up that driveway when it’s iced over.

The system was as follows: Start at the very bottom, rev up the engine, press hard on the gas pedal, and drive up as fast as the surface will let you. This was particularly important as you neared the top because right there, the incline got steeper. If you got past that, you made it, but often the car couldn’t do it, would slow down, stall, and start sliding back.

When the two of us drove together, Bernie would do the uphill part, revving up the engine and fearlessly rushing up the icy driveway to get over that last bump while I held my breath. Most of the time he did, but at times he didn’t.

When that happened, he’d pull on the handbrake, turn to me, and say: “Okay, your turn.” We’d walk out and exchange places: He’d sit in the passenger side, I behind the wheel, carefully release the handbrake, and slowly let the car slide down the ice.

Bernie couldn’t drive in reverse. He seemed to lack whatever sense we need that helps us negotiate our way backwards. I had enough of that, so I was always the one to bring the car back down to the bottom. We’d switch places again, he’d gun the engine, press the gas pedal to the floor, and up we’d zoom again, always trying to make it over and past that last bump.

When the winters were hard, it sometimes took several tries before we cleared it, after exchanging places several times. We made a good team, he rushing forward, I maneuvering us slowly back down so he could go at it again.

I didn’t fail to notice what this reflected of our different personalities, he dashing ahead, full of plans and vision, sometimes over-reaching so that he couldn’t always make it up that final bump, and me trying to slow him down: Wait a minute, are you reading the room? Do you notice how tired people are? Could we get our feet on the ground before hurrying up again?

Sometimes, looking over your shoulder has its advantages.

So that was your pattern, people might say. He went forward, you back? You could have been fated to go up and down forever. You call that making progress?

No, I call that marriage. I call that strengthening the ties between husband and wife. A man and woman leave the car and exchange places, each letting the other indulge his and her strengths, appreciating how it works together when it couldn’t work alone, sometimes laughing our heads off as we started over and over again, hoping to at last clear the last hurdle and make it up to the road, where it was smooth sailing.

On those cold, icy days, what took place inside the car was probably more important than any destination we finally arrived at.

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