Our little white frame house on Garfield Avenue stands about 20 feet from the sidewalk on a big two-lot property. Everyone except company—front door guests—enters through a mudroom off the driveway and into a kitchen. A small dining room connects the kitchen to a hallway, leading to two bedrooms, a bath, and stairs to the attic. The basement is reached through the mudroom. Two bedrooms are under construction in the attic for my seven-year-old sister and me. Until the bedrooms are finished, my grandfather sleeps on a cot in the basement.
In the right front corner of our big yard stands our house. A long cement driveway leads from the street, past the house to a bend, and then a right turn into the garage. On cold winter days when snow threatens, our car and most of the others on the block are tucked in their garages like little birds in their nests. Cars that aren’t protected from the blasts of a snowstorm create giant white mounds after the last snowflake has fallen. No one can go anywhere when their cars are buried under snow.
Fierce snowstorms sometimes hit the Wisconsin between December and March. Cars left outdoors are blanketed in snow. The world consists of nothing but while puffy hills everywhere. The biggest are the houses. The little ones are little hills of yard toys, like sleds, left outdoors overnight.
The part of the drive leading to the street slopes downward, making it ideal for coaster wagon rides in the summer and sled rides in the winter. Mother scolds us about the dangers of traffic in the street but we don’t pay much attention. So far, no one has been hit.
One Saturday in March the ice begins to thaw. Sparkling drops of water fall from icicles that are slowly disappearing from the eaves of rooftops. Sheets of surface ice glimmer on the street next to patches of raw pavement. Perfect for “shoe skating”. Some ice still shimmers on the downward slope of our drive, so my sister runs in the house to get her ice skates. When she tries to glide down the sloped driveway, a runner catches on a patch of bare cement.
Head over heels she tumbles, screaming. In a flash she sits on the pavement sobbing. Blood runs down the front of her snowsuit. The sight of her own blood scares her even more than the sudden pain. A patch of raw flesh pouts from her chin. I am scared too, but before I can run in the house, our mother kneels next to Mary. My father follows close behind her. “Dammit! Didn’t I tell someone to scrape the ice of this goddam driveway?” my father yells. No one answers. Anger is his answer to everything.
“Norb,” do you know how to get to the Emergency Room?” my mother says.
“For Chrissake, Dorothy, I’m on the Rescue Squad! Don’t you think I know where the Emergency Room is?”
“Mom, can I come, too?” I plead. I’ve never been to an emergency room.
“No you cannot,” my father yells. Now get in the house and stay right there until we get back. Listen to the radio or something!”
Saturday afternoon, after the sun starts to set, I’ve been waiting all day. Our old Reo finally pulls in the drive. My father has obviously quieted down. Mary gets out of the car first. She has a big white bandage covering her chin. She beams at me, “I got seven stitches! And I only cried once.”
“Did you scrape up that patch of ice while we were gone?” my father scowls.
“Uh, no…I thought you said to stay in the house.”
My father shrugs helplessly, “What kind of morons are we raising?”
# # #