New Englanders will long remember the winter of 2015. The 110 inches of snowfall set a new record in Boston and brought public transportation to a standstill. Where I live on Cape Cod, snowfall followed snowfall, with no melting in between, and by early March my driveway looked like a luge track, with shoulder-high snow banks on either side of the barely five-foot-wide channel my husband and I had struggled to keep clear and passable. Getting from the garage to the road required perfect alignment between the walls of ice and last minute courage to let it rip over the frozen mound left by the snowplow.
On a return trip from stocking up on groceries before the next storm, I miscalculated my approach to the cramped entrance and wedged the right side of the car against the nature-made jersey barrier, leaving me stuck halfway in and out of the driveway. I got a shovel and started to chip away at the ice but each scoop yielded barely enough to fill a glass. My efforts were futile, but I kept at it. I didn’t know what else to do.
A pickup truck stopped behind my car and a short, stocky man in his mid-forties, who I knew only as someone who lived at the end of my street, got out and zipped up his fleece-lined sweatshirt and put a black wool cap on his balding head. “Cut the corner a little too sharp, huh?” he said. I didn’t have to ask him for help—the pitiful look on my face was enough.
First he tried to push me out, but that didn’t work because the thick ice in front of my car made it impossible for him to get a solid footing. Then he got a rope from his truck and tied it to my back bumper and on the third try was able to pull me back out into the road where three younger guys he knew had stopped their pickups to watch the show.
He seemed proud of his accomplishment and there was a little bounce in his step as he acknowledged nods of approval from the onlookers.
I asked him if he would pull my car into the driveway so I wouldn’t get hung up again and instead of answering he turned his back to me and busied himself by throwing the tow line back in the bed of his truck and repositioning it several times. When he finally turned around, he eyed my Prius warily and confessed, “I don’t know how to drive these electric things.” He looked as flustered as I had been before he arrived.
Now the tables were turned and I was the one in charge. “It’s easy,” I assured him. “I’ll tell you exactly what to do.” I showed him how to start the car by placing his foot on the brake and pushing the ignition button. The car was so quiet he didn’t think it was running and I had to tell him that it was and he could go ahead.
He drove as far as the garage door and I followed him on foot. “How do you turn this damn thing off?” he said. “There’s no key!” I explained that all he had to do was to press the button again. As long as the key was inside the car—it was in my purse on the passenger seat—pressing the button was all you needed to do.
I asked his name and tried to thank him again, but he waved his hand to brush my gratitude aside and seemed anxious to leave. As I watched him slouch back toward his truck, I felt bad. He’d done me a big favor, been a hero in the eyes of his friends, and then I’d gone and ruined it for him.
But when he reached the point in the driveway where I have gotten stuck, he turned around and straightened up and called back to me, “Your driveway opening is too narrow—you need to dig it out!”
As the power shifted back in his direction, I got defensive. “Hey, I’m seventy years old!” I shouted back.
I couldn’t believe the words came out of my mouth. I was using my age as an excuse the same way thirty years ago I’d used a charming smile and super sweet voice to talk my way out of a ticket when I got pulled over by a police officer.
I had thought that once I reached middle age and stopped relying on feminine wiles, I had become an empowered, independent woman, but now, in the prime of my adulthood, I heard myself pulling out a new ploy—being a helpless old lady!
Fortunately my neighbor wouldn’t let me get away with it. His parting shot denied my request for an age-based dispensation and put me on the same level with everyone else.
“You live on Cape Cod, Lady,” he snapped. “Suck it up.”
I thought it was a lovely thing to say.