Don’t spill the coffee

During March and April it’s Roll Up the Rim to Win time and, as I watch local people going into Tim Horton’s and coming out with bright red cups in their hands, it takes me back to a time when I nearly wrote off a minivan—and my family—just for the sake of a cup of coffee.

Roll up the Rim to Win (1) Roll up the Rim to Win (2)

We were visiting family in Southport, near Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, in the spring of 1990.  Our three boys, Paul, James and Ryan, were six, five and three respectively.  My mom had come from Winnipeg to visit with the boys and Dan’s infant daughter, Katie.

Winter doesn’t hang on in southern Manitoba the way it does in northern Newfoundland, mainly because the prairies are flat and there’s really nowhere for the snow to collect.  So, once winter has blown herself out and the mercury has eased up above the zero mark the sun gains strength and the snow melts in record time.  Snow gives way to crocuses, breezes blow softly across the prairie sands, and fragile blades of grass begin to brighten the colourless landscape.

Coffee-drinking is in our family’s DNA.  I don’t know if it comes down through my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors or through the English ancestors on my dad’s side, but it is certainly well-established.  We also like tea, but coffee is the beverage of choice, especially if there’s a Tim Hortons nearby.

One Saturday morning we all piled into the van: Len, Mom, my brother Dan, Paul, James, Ryan, Katie, and me.  We drove from Southport to Portage La Prairie to do a little grocery shopping.  On the return trip we stopped at Tim Hortons to pick up a tray of three large coffees, a tea for Len, and a box of donuts, and I got behind the wheel to drive.  Dan got in the front passenger seat while Len and Mom sat in the back seat to keep an eye on the squiggly-wiggly children.  I carefully placed the tray of beverages on the console between the seats and buckled my seatbelt.

It takes about ten minutes to drive from Portage to Southport, and as we drove along we all chatted and laughed and looked out the windows at the farmland scrolling by on either side of the road.  As we approached Southport, row-on-row of military housing emerged from a mirage of heat waves.

One of the boys began to whine, “I have to pee.  I have to pee now!” and began kicking the back of the driver’s seat in desperation.  Simultaneously, a bumblebee drifted in through an open window and made for the back of the van, where the children began to scream and flail their arms and legs in panic.

And that’s when I made the decision that nearly cost us our lives.

With only a minute to go till we reached the house, I pressed down on the accelerator and sped up, thinking it would be quicker and safer to get home and get the kids out of the van rather than stop on the side of the road.  I thought surely the child in need of a potty could hold it for one more minute and surely the bumblebee couldn’t inflict that much damage in a matter of a few seconds.  Then I remembered that my brother Dan was dangerously allergic to bee stings.

Down went the gas pedal as the screams in the back grew louder.

I took the next turn a little fast—on two wheels I think—and the bright roll up the rim to win cups in the tray slid towards the floor.  I guess you could say everything tipped at that moment and, in a flash, I reached over and grabbed at the tray of coffee, hoping to save it.  Dan yelled, “Watch the ditch!”  I let go of the coffee tray and spun the wheel so that the van righted itself, barely staying on the road.  I lurched to a halt in the driveway, shut off the ignition, and drew in deep breaths.

Dan looked across at me, deadpan, and said, “You grabbed at the tray of coffee—willing to sacrifice a $20,000 minivan, your mother, your brother, your husband, your children, and my daughter—for four Tim Horton drinks?”

I suppose there is something to be said for the Newfoundland tradition of having tea at the kitchen table, even if you don’t win a prize.

It could save your life.

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Double Line? What double line?

Learning to drive in St. Anthony is a far cry from learning to drive in Toronto.  My son Ryan learned to drive in Toronto, and my daughter Amy, who just got her beginner’s license, is learning to drive in St. Anthony, but regardless of where they learn to drive, the fear-factor of sitting in the passenger seat and yielding control of the car to a teenager takes nerve.

To demonstrate my point, I read in a Toronto newspaper of a teenage girl who traumatized a number of people when she showed up to complete the final portion of her driving test—parking.  But, instead of parking, she accelerated and ploughed into four parked cars.  The vehicle spun out of control and hit two more.  A pedestrian walking nearby was taken to hospital with leg injuries after she was pinned between two cars.  Her driving instructor was treated for shock and stress and sent home to recover.  The young girl failed her test.

When Amy passed her beginner’s test, she was instructed to put a Novice Driver sign in the back window of the vehicle.  That way, other drivers would, hopefully, keep a safe distance, which was not the case in Toronto when Ryan got his beginner’s license.  When he took to the streets to drive, he not only had to learn how to read signs along the way, but to read the signals other drivers were giving him with their fingers, their horns, or their mouths, and none of them were nods or winks, I assure you.

But at least, in the city, there were well-marked signs and freshly-painted lines on the roads and intersections.  And I have to say, since Amy started driving, I’m seeing the local roads with new eyes.

With her beginner’s license in hand, Amy reviewed the manual, memorized the signs, and settled back into the driver’s seat.  It wasn’t until she drove from Ship Cove to St. Anthony that an interesting number of facts came to light.  First of all, the Ship Cove road suffers from so many cracks, fissures, and potholes, one can only hope it will receive some major improvements this summer.  Then, as she puttered along at 60 km/h, she asked, “Can I drive 80 or 90 km/h like everybody else?”

I took the driver’s seat when we hit Route 430 to St. Anthony and discussed some rules of driving.  “When you see the double line on a road, it means nobody can pass on either side.”  I said.

What double line?” she asked.  That’s when I realized the traffic lines mentioned in the manual either couldn’t be seen or were barely visible on Route 430, although they had existed in my imagination.  It occurred to me it might be wiser to paint the lines on the road at winter’s end, rather than in the fall, or use a more durable paint so they might last more than a season.

As we drove through St. Anthony to the Town Hall, she said, “I think the fog is rolling in, it’s hard to see.”

“It’s not fog, Amy, its salt and dust.” I said, rolling up the windows.

We dropped some books at the Library and turned around to go back to the mall.  At the RCMP station she slowed to 30 km/h.

“Okay, Amy, move into the left lane so you can turn into the mall.”  Looking into my side view mirror, I noted there were perhaps half a dozen cars behind us, and clearly they wanted to pass in the right lane.

“Where is the left lane?” asked Amy.

“There!”  I said, pointing.

“Where?” she cried.  “I don’t see it!”

She was right. There were no lines or arrows visible to indicate that there was a left or right lane.  To her, there was only one lane.

“See the sand up ahead on the left?” I pointed to dirt and sand in what appeared to be the middle of the road.  “That’s the left lane.”

She navigated her way towards the mall parking lot, running right over the large pothole by Tim Horton’s that the town, thankfully, had filled only recently.

“What a harrowing experience!” she sighed.  “I like driving, Mom,” she said, “but these roads are not maintained like they were in Toronto!”

Which just goes to show, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl, at least, not yet.