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Archive for August, 2010

At some point, many teenagers openly defy the authority of their parents. When Chris was in high school, I was the issue of a major battle between him and his father, John. But, first, I’ll start with a little family history.

John and Moni told me that as new parents they desperately needed my services. Chris was one colicky baby and stayed that way for, oh, about twelve months, about the time he learned to walk. Some evenings, they drove their baby around swaddled in a blanket and tucked in his car seat. John drove a BMW and Moni a Toyota truck. Both vehicles are inferior to the sound and feel of my sweet VW engine, which is what Chris needed to calm his innards and rock him to sleep. But, the tiny baby wouldn’t meet me until his teen years, when staying asleep was not a problem.

Attempt to Calm Colicky Chris on Spin Cycle

Chris & Puppy Dog

 

After what seemed like decades to the parents, Chris stopped crying, slept through the night, and learned to walk and talk. Once Chris understood language, Moni told him, “Son, you gave me grief as a baby. You are going to be an easy teenager.” Miracles do happen. From what I witnessed, Chris breezed through his teen years with ease, well, at least for his mother. John forgot to deliver the message, so he and his son had moments of battling like male bighorn sheep. These debates, maybe better called arguments, played out in my garage where I heard it all!

I have noticed that John is very patient when he works in my garage, especially while fixing my engine and repairing bikes. Chris benefited from this trait and learned mechanical, plumbing, and electrical practicalities from his dad. Another trait of John’s is his salesmanship skills which he developed over his years as a manufacturer’s representative. He was exceptional in convincing architects and general contractors to purchase his products. It takes patience, drive, and persistence to make a sale; one can not give up easily. John honed these skills with his young son; instead of a dictatorship style where the father states, “Because I am the father and I said so!” During Chris’s adolescent years, John successfully convinced his son to accept his fatherly advice. Then, I arrived, a new member of the Bates family. 

Chris was a junior in high school when he purchased me from Gordon Plumbee. Gordon kept my engine in excellent condition and my exterior and interior were original and in fine shape, especially compared to rusted VW buses of my era. So the excited teenager began cosmetic restoration that included painting my exterior, adding driving lights, installing new gaskets, replacing the canvas of the pop-up camper and front window, and dealing with my side and back windows. The last item is what brought forth heated exchanges between father and son.

One evening John and Chris worked in my garage, while I listened carefully as they debated the future of my windows. Throughout high school, Chris worked part-time at Foreign Accents where he often saw restored vehicles with tinted windows and thought they looked slick. He informed his dad, “I’m going to tint the windows, all around.”

John immediately responded with, “Are you certain you want to do that? I think it is a bad idea.”

“Why? Tinted windows are cool.” I’m pretty certain cool meant fashion, not temperature. Now, I appreciate the fact that Chris cared so much about my appearance, so, at first, I agreed with him. I aspire to look cool, it is a priority for us VW buses. That kid was doing a superb job turning me into one fine looking bus and I wanted further actions to continue in that vain. But I could see that John was not going to give up easily, after all, remember his salesman traits?

With a firm voice, John countered, “You are asking for trouble. Police officers will profile that bus and you will be stopped for any minor infraction.” Oh dear, I don’t even know what an infraction is, but it sounds awful. Is it when a bus backfires and it sounds like a you know what? Chris and I can’t have that, especially when we are in hot pursuit of pretty ladies, female buses that is. Immediately I switched to John’s side.

“Dad, when I camp in the bus, I don’t want people to be able to see inside the cabin,” Chris pleaded. Yep, the kid has a point there and, now, I’m totally on his side.

John, the father with all the answers, shot back, “That’s what curtains are for!”

To the rescue, Moni’s mother, Janet Hegwood, and her sister, Becki Christensen, visited, and they, with Chris, formed an assembly line around the sewing machine. They cut and sewed beautiful black curtains with a blue wispy pattern. I am proud of those curtains. They are held open with purple, small-diameter climbing rope. When closed, they cover all my side and back windows and prevent Peeping Toms from viewing inside my interior. In spite of this, Chris still planned to tint my windows.

Furthermore, John still did not give up. A few nights later, I heard another fatherly approach to the argument, “You should keep Fredrick in his original condition. I tell you VW buses did not have tinted windows in the sixties and seventies.”  

Chris countered, “I don’t intend to keep Fredrick in traditional condition. I’m going to paint him another color than beige.”

The debate continued and John typically returned to the profiling issue. “Your mom and I saw federal officers stopping anything that looked like a “hippie” vehicle on the Blue Ridge Parkway during Floyd Fest last weekend. You are asking for trouble if you tint those windows.” Boy, I can’t wait until my restoration is complete because I want to go to Floyd Fest. That sounds like fun – with or without tinted windows.

I may look like a hippie bus, but Chris Bates is no hippie. While in middle school at New Garden Friends School, Chris met James Garrison who began taking him to VW bus full moon campouts. A lesson from James was to never accept brownies or cookies from the hippies. Even if a police office stopped us, Chris is clean. Maybe, I thought, John back away and allow his son to decide and take the consequences. On the final night of this long standing debate, I heard Chris assert, “Dad! It is my bus and I WANT tinted windows!”

I listened to their pros and cons every night and it put my engine in a human-mind confused state. Because I adore both father and son, I decided not to take a stand, even though the future of my windows was at stake.

Recently, Moni and John were at a friend’s house drinking beer and chatting with fellow mountain bikers after riding the local trails, Owls Roost and Wild Turkey. Parked on the street, I wished they would converse and drink beer inside my cabin, like the Dirt Girls, the women mountain bikers. Eventually, Scott Vines, a car aficionado, strolled towards me, reached up, opened my door, and slid into my driver’s seat. Some folks admire me because I remind them of the peace and love generation. That is fine, but I prefer people like Scott who appreciate me for what I truly am, a fine work of German craftsmanship. I heard Scott comment to John, “These tinted windows are a good idea; they will help preserve the vinyl.”

During John’s silence, I immediately decided on a stand. Thank you, Chris Bates.

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Jumping Into Life

Moni’s Voice

 

When Chris turned five, we moved from Woodlawn Avenue in Greensboro to a home surrounded by woods in Summerfield.  There Chris played in his double-decker tree house perched high in a beech tree, constructed military bases in his sand box, mucked in the beaver pond,  climbed onto the house roof, flew on a zip-line, and learned to ride his first of many bikes. Michael and Alyssa Hoag frequently strolled up the gravel driveway under the shady oak forest to play. Life was perfect, until his father introduced him to organized sports.

John and I spent our childhood days playing on monkey bars, merry-go-rounds, swings, slides, and teeter-totters. Team sports only included playing soft ball and, during severe weather, kick ball in the gym. John never participated in organized competitive sports until junior high, and I waited till high school.

While attending Lindley Junior High, John ran track, wrestled, and attempted to play basketball. John’s wiry limbs propelled him in track meets and allowed him to adeptly wiggle and escape being pinned by wrestling opponents during city intramural meets. John enjoyed both of these sports, but basketball left a long-term scar.

Checking out numerous sports, John signed up for basketball. He almost wore holes in his baggy gym shorts after spending nearly the whole season warming the bench. Being a shy teenager, he sat quietly and seldom projected his voice to even cheer for his teammates. With a few minutes remaining of the last game of the season, Coach McKeel glanced toward the bench and finally spotted this forgotten player. With a shocked expression, called out, “Huh, Bates, where have you been?” The coach called time out to let John play who, today, has no memory of touching the ball. That ended John’s competitive sporting days. Instead, his favorite sport during high school was playing cut throat badminton with his family and neighbors on muggy summer nights in the backyard as fireflies drifted through the court.

As a young girl, I played soft ball by threading my leather glove onto the handle of my clunker bike, jumping on the ripped seat, and pedaling to an unmaintained grassy field behind the elementary school. Even during the post-war baby boom, the population of Farnhamville, Iowa, did not include enough children to complete two pickup teams. Instead, we played workup with whatever number showed up. An unstated rule applied: everybody got to play.

Biking to workup games would have been Chris’s style. But neighborhoods and traffic patterns changed over three decades. If Chris ventured onto Lake Brandt Road on his Mongoose bike, they both may have ended up like flattened fauna. Chris’s generation played ball when their parents signed them up and wrote a check to the Greensboro Parks and Recreation. When realizing this, I exclaimed, “Pay money for a kid to play ball!” I was thankful that my son showed no interest. Even though my memories of high school sports are rich, I felt that Chris, at age ten, was too young for competitive sports.  Meanwhile, John’s thoughts ventured down another path.

John agreed with the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Participation in organized sports provides an opportunity for young people to increase their physical activity and develop physical and social skills.”  Chris developed his physical skills with aplomb. But living isolated in the woods as an only child, his social skills required polishing. During a family dinner, John suggested, “Little League is starting at the Greensboro Day School in a few weeks. How about playing ball on a team?”

As expected, a little voice replied, “No. I’m not interested.”

To support John’s idea, I added, “You may enjoy playing with other kids.”

Chris owned a glove, ball, and bat and our family played catch and hit the ball through the trees.  “I like playing in our yard.”

John imagined Little League as a being positive experience for Chris. The minds of both father and son hardened like concrete. After the family slurped the last strand of pasta, John firmly stated, “I’m going to sign you up and you must try it for one season. If you don’t like it, then you won’t have to play again. But I think that you will find it fun.” The sparkle of Chris’s blue eyes dulled and the corners of his mouth fell down under the gravity of the situation.

Unable to articulate my fingers to write the check, John completed it in his characteristic blocky printing and mailed it. Chris blocked the start date from his mind. But when that fateful day arrived, I drove my child to his first practice.

Sitting in the passenger seat, a mournful voice asked, “Mom, why is Dad making me do this?” I searched for a suitable answer and wanted to tell the truth, I think it is an absurd idea. Since when do you pay money to play ball? Since when do kids need adults to organize ball games for them? Since when do kids need a team t-shirt to wear while playing ball, more money? Since when do kids need to receive a trophy just because they showed up? Since when do kids need to stand in front of a camera and smile for a team photograph, more money? Yes, the Gods Must Be Crazy! Instead I answered, “I don’t know, honey. Let’s get through it this one time, then you’ll be done with it. Try to make the best of it.” That sad face nearly brought tears to my eyes, I wanted to wrap Chris in my arms and drive him home to the comfort of his sand box.

The practices and games were pitiful. Chris’s young stick legs protruded from loose fitting purple shorts or were enveloped by baggy, black sweat pants.  In either case, the matching green t-shirt printed with “Guilford College YMCA Baseball” and hat completed the outfit. Of the eleven players, the gaps of missing teeth were a common denominator; a result of age, not their lack of catching skill. Not surprising, Chris preferred to play in the outfield, the most distant point from the batter. He watched clouds pass by, kicked dirt, and dreamed of his tree house. Chris would have seen a fly ball as a large marshmallow falling from the sky.

Teammates wanted to win, Chris just did his time. When playing catcher, he attempted to create the same distance from the batter as if playing right field. This was no future Yogi Berra. As a batter, Chris hit the ball. After all, his homebound activities developed fantastic coordination. Still, the ball typically reached first base prior to Chris, which suited him perfectly. He could then return to the dug out and kick up dust storms, his own private Desert Storm war. Would his parents ever learn?

Chris at Bat

Chris at Catcher's Position

Chris survived the season; but never experienced “The Thrill of Victory and Agony of Defeat.” John upheld his bargain and never suggested another organized team sport. Next, came my turn to make similar parenting mistakes.  

One morning, our son left home to visit Charlie Mac. While there, Charlie Mac’s dad, MacGregor, an avid cyclist and English teacher, miraculously taught Chris to ride a bike using gentle and supportive encouragement. From that day onward, Chris’s feet made circular motion more comfortably than the linear movement of walking or running. Chris grew taller and moved through larger framed bicycles. When in high school, he purchased a Gary Fisher cross-country mountain bike from his friend Hunter, whose number one love was baseball.  Ironically, Hunter was a star catcher.

Chris and Gabriel on Training Wheels

After MacGregor's Lesson

GT Bike from Santa

Shortly, Chris encouraged us to join him on single track trails. On an old mountain bike without suspension, I wondered if my dental fillings would remain intact while bumping over the roots on Owls Roost Trail. After one jarring ride, Chris and I drove to Cycles de Oro. Approaching the entrance, Chris yelled, “Mom, this is the bike for you.” Propped on a bike rack sat a used Specialized Rock Hopper with front suspension and disc brakes. While I purchased the bike, Chris talked with Dale, the shop owner, about the teen mountain bike team. Surprisingly, during dinner, Chris expressed an interest in racing. With my favorable memories of team sports and Chris’s maturity, I now encouraged him to sign up. 

Chris joined the team which consisted of a few teenage boys and one girl.  The closest entity to a coach was a self-appointed mother who described herself as the “team mom.”  But questions about the team soon arose. Did the team practice or did Chris choose not to practice? How would Chris perform without practicing? Chris rode faster than me, most everybody did, and he tremendously enjoyed biking, but what about his talents as a racer? The answers unfolded during the first race.

Chris entered the Tsali Knobscorcher. The beginner teen boys packed together at the start line. The girls queued up behind the boys where they waited ten minutes before beginning their race. John and I hiked a few miles from the finish line and waited to cheer. We chatted and enjoyed the lovely mountain weather. After nearly an hour, boys started zooming past us. With our eyes glued to a bend in the trail, we hoped to see our long-legged boy pumping up the hill. The male racers continually passed by; then the first girl; no Chris, then a second girl; no Chris; then another girl. It continued.

John wondered and commented, “Maybe he had a mechanical failure?” After long pauses between the racers, Chris slowly rode into view. In earshot of our supportive cheers, he continued on to the finish line, in dead last place.

Pleased to reach the end, Chris crossed the line and greeted us. I hesitated to ask him about the race, worried about potential embarrassment. John cautiously asked, “Did you have a mechanical?”

Unconcerned, Chris answered, “No, but when the girls started to pass me, I pulled over and let them by.”

I asked, “Did that bother you?”

From his quick reply and tone, I believed his answer, “No, not at all. I’m just glad it’s over.”  Thankfully, Chris’s ego was not based on how fast he rode a bike. Chris’s poor practice habits and performance saddened me because I wished for him to experience a positive, supportive team like my high school softball team that felt like a single organism functioning with one brain. As our pitcher wound up, all the players slightly bent their knees, lowered their torsos, and focused their eyes on the ball.  Our minds were on high alert, like tigresses stalking gazelles and preparing for the pounce.  The quality of expertise and camaraderie of my fellow athletes taught me the meaning of a quality team. After the Tsali race, I still retained hope for Chris to experience the joy of a tight team.

Chris dabbled with the team and racing, and I began riding with Team Mom. This petit lady was Secretariat on wheels.  She and I spent many afternoons riding through the woods, enjoying one another’s company. Even though twice the age of the teenage boys, Team Mom’s intense competitive nature and gifted physical genetics enabled her to nearly keep the boys within her sight. Two team members, her son and Matthew, were fast and directly competed in the same race category. One day, Team Mom stated to me, “Well, if Matthew practices with my son, Matthew will get better.” Leaving the obvious unstated, and beat my son. Was this one reason for the lack of team support?

This was potentially Chris’s only chance to experience an athletic team. But the need for an official and unbiased coach motivated me to call Scott, an adult male biker, and ask him to consider a volunteer position. Understandably, Scott’s busy work schedule and future wedding caused him to decline.

Without team structure and unrealistic expectations, conflict climaxed between Chris and me during the Uwharrie Mountain race. Chris planned to compete, but on race morning he pronounced, “I’m not going to enter today.”

I expressed disappointment and applied pressure, “What do you mean you’re not going to race? You are going to bail on your other team members? Where is your team spirit?”

Chris expressed no remorse, “Why would they care?”

Recalling how individual events of high school track were tallied for a team score, I questioned, “Are team points not compiled for each race?”

With confusion, Chris replied, “What are you talking about?”

 I later learned that most mountain bike races only acknowledged individual results and there are no team rankings. That confirmed Team Mom’s comment about practice. The boys on a team were competing against one another. I finally accepted the incapability for this group to provide Chris with the same attributes of my professionally coached and structured high school teams.

After that day, Chris made one final attempt to race cross-country. Team Mom notified the boys of the Burn 24-Hour Challenge. She asked interested team members to submit a check for their entry fee. Chris immediately declared his desire and, unlike baseball, I easily wrote and submitted the check.

Weeks later, Team Mom struggled to say, “Well, Mick, Jack, Matthew, and Zebulon want to race as a team and try to place.” Four riders composed a team. Chris, the first to pay, received the only rejection. In an attempt to ease the tense moment, I responded, “That’s alright because Chris does not practice anyway,” even though other team members, besides my son, never practiced. Team Mom returned our money.

Similar to when the girls passed Chris at Tsali, he responded with the wisdom of an adult, instead of a teenager. The day of the Burn 24-Hour race, with no regrets and portraying the ultimate in team support, Chris drove a friend’s Volkswagen bus to Dark Mountain, the race location. In the parking lot, the bus provided a place for each team member to rest between their ride shifts, eat, and hang out. Amazingly, Chris never expressed disappointment or bitterness. However, like his dad’s basketball experience, this concluded Chris’s days of “organized” teams and cross-country racing. Happily, Chris sold his Gary Fisher, never to straddle a cross-country bike again. Chris’s wheels began turning in a different direction when he traded in his Lycra, padded biking shorts and jersey, and began wearing torn blue jeans and a baggy t-shirt without a baseball team name printed on the front.

Later that summer, Chris saved money while working at Foreign Accents and purchased a P-2 Specialized dirt jumping bicycle. Two school friends, Will Porter and Chase Winslow, became his adopted siblings and unorthodox, supportive teammates. While hanging at Chase’s house, they jumped wooden platforms constructed by their own hands. At night, they hit the streets seeking dirt mounds at construction sites to jump, loading docks to launch off, and gaps to clear. Will, the group photographer, spent less time on his bike than did Chase and Chris. However, like playing workup when I was a kid, Will was included on all downhill biking trips. Cut throat competition never existed for these boys. Life returned to perfection and “Life is Good” shirts were appropriate for their team t-shirts, but these boys cared nothing about fashion.

Shortly thereafter, a new verb entered into our dinner conversations. With enthusiasm, Chris shared, “Mom and Dad, I’m going urban assaulting tonight.” Now sixteen and a driver’s license in his wallet, Chris tossed his P-2 in the bed of our old 1985 Toyota truck and headed into town. After a few months of this mysterious activity, Chris extended an invitation, “Will you guys go urban assaulting with Ben and me tonight?”

“Does a one-legged duck swim in circles? Does a bear shit in the woods? You bet! What time?” John answered. We loaded our bikes and drove to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and met Ben, another rider.

That evening, John and I witnessed Chris jump into life. We rode around campus – jumping off curbs, riding the tops of stone walls, and, Chris doing wheelies – eventually arriving at the center of campus. An entrance to the sunken plaza included two flights of stairs with a landing in the middle. Chris said he was going to jump the first flight, land in between, and then immediately jump the second flight. Uncomfortably, I understood the full impact of a miscalculation and my nerves started firing. Chris casually rode down the street, then turned and started hauling ass toward the stairs. Wordlessly, I questioned, oh, dear God, can I watch this?

Standing on flat pedals, I saw his muscular legs spin in vicious circles and his eyes intensely focused on the landing while completely missing the gaggle of summer camp cheerleaders who strolled up behind John and me. With all of our eyes glued on this “mad” biker, we watched Chris shift his hips behind his saddle, pull on the handle bars, and effortlessly lift off the top step.  Chris and his P-2 launched through the air. “Whack” sounded the rubber upon landing. One millisecond later, those wheels took flight again; Chris, with the P-2 tucked under him, glided over the second stairs. In mid-air, bending his knees slightly, he prepared to absorb the shock of the final landing.

My nerves relaxed as I lifted my dislocated jaw back into my chin line.  “Shazaam! So this is what he is doing at night.” The cute high school girls released an audible gasp. Our son, with no embarrassment from his parent’s presence, steered his bike back to John and me while the cheerleaders screamed loudly. Those once downward curved corners of Chris’s mouth lifted into a full face grin. That summer, Chris was the only member of the mountain biking team who had an explosive climax with a group of cheerleaders. John wanted to inform the girls, Sweeties, you ain’t goin’ see action like that from your football and basketball boys.

Chris’s new hobby developed into a second fun-filled team. I purchased an Evil D.O.C. dirt jumping bike for myself, John, and Chris’s friends to ride. At first, I resisted Chris’s suggestions to help me develop technical skills.

Approaching a log pile, Chris instructed, “Keep up your speed, shift your hips back, and pull up on the handle bars like you mean it.”

“Oh, I’m too nervous,” I squeaked after applying the brakes just before the pile.

“Come on Mom, I know you can do it.” Chris continued to encourage me on every ride. We spent afternoons and weekends, pushing those honking heavy bikes to hill tops in hopes of finding jumps on the way down. Chris was the coach and I was the reluctant student.

On a memorable Pisgah National Forest trip, our family slowly pedaled to the highest peak in Bent Creek. After a short break and lowering our saddles, Chris pushed off. “Mom, stay with me.” He maintained a challenging, but achievable safe speed. Each family member caught their own degree of air while launching consecutive dirt-mounded erosion bars. I nestled myself between Chris and John, mimicked Chris’s movements as if playing follow-the-leader. Happy noises echoed through the mountain coves.

Half way down, Chris slowed and pulled to the side. “There’s a nice launch.”

I resisted, “I can’t do that!”

Before Barack Obama coined the phrase, Chris responded, “Yes you can. You’ve launched smaller drops and the technique is the same for higher ones. Follow me and stay on my rear wheel. I won’t go too fast.” After several aborted attempts, I finally committed and focused on his white helmet. Then I shifted my hips back, lifted the handlebars, and focused my eyes outward. In mid-air, I felt an incredible sense of lightness and exhilaration. That day, I learned to surrender and trust my son, and Chris finally convinced his parents to join his family biking team.  Never again did I nag my son to participate in competitive sports.

Chris continued to ride that P-2 for years. In August 2006, John and I drove our only child, his meager possessions and P-2 to North Carolina State University to start his freshmen year. After locating his dorm room, meeting his roommate, and unloading the vehicle, Chris looked at us and succinctly and excitedly said, “Well, Mom and Dad, this is it. Goodbye!” There was no drama, no tears, and no regrets; just anticlimactic hugs, kisses, and statements of I love you. Our young man started his new life with a spirit that exuded confidence and maturity with his P-2 by his side.

After leaving the dorm, John and I toured the campus in our vehicle. About ten minutes later and in the distance, we spotted our son already riding his P-2 down the campus sidewalks, jumping off and up curbs. With the memories of unfulfilled teams and races, John and I reflected on a Grandma Bates quote, “Children grow up in spite of us” and started the drive home to a quiet house.

College Student's Colorado Vacation

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The Driveway

All winter I sat in the garage just bored out of my engine. Yes, I know, my heater is made for Florida winters. Still, I wanted Moni and John to take me out for short drives. Lately, the only time I see them is when they work on their bicycles in the mechanics bay. That silly dog, Pelé, lounges on an old sofa chair while John trues wheels, adjusts brakes, replaces tubes, and wraps handlebar tape. I’m so lonely that I wish Pelé would jump into my cabin and hang out with me. Oh – what a long winter! Will I ever get out of this garage again?

Recently, I sensed change in the air. Rain patters on the garage roof as spring arrives. I see frog’s feet stuck to the garage windows like suction pads and their throats puff in and out as they sing for mates. The glow of lightening flashes through the window panes and thunder rumbles like the Jolly Green Giant’s stomach during a five day fast.

The following day, Moni walked into the garage and exclaimed that the driveway was an awful mess and repair work was necessary before venturing on a trip. Well, she and John better get on the stick shifter because this year is my 40th birthday and I plan to attend Every Bus at Hagan Stone Park. Moni gathered up a construction rake, shovels, a leaf blower, old newspapers, and matches. She loaded the tools and supplies into a large wheelbarrow and headed down the driveway.

Five year old Chris working on driveway

The previous owner of our house named it Burnt Oaks. Branch Whitehurst constructed the original house in the 1950s. Around 1963 it burned to the slab, after which he rebuilt and lived there until his death. When Moni and John purchased the house in 1992, they found a wooden sign with recessed letters, Burnt Oaks, hanging from the mailbox. This sign now hangs outside my garage.

A canopy of oak trees shades the garage and house. The house has large prairie-style overhangs that lack gutters, which is good because they would collect debris and become clogged. This is the problem with the driveway because oak leaves fill the ditches, rendering them useless for drainage. Shortly after Moni left the garage, I heard the leaf blower working full out. Finally, there was silence and the smell of burning leaves entered my air vents. Burnt Oaks was living up to its name.

Burnt Oaks in 1992

After Moni cleared the ditches, John started the little red Massey-Ferguson tractor. With the blade attached, I heard the tractor running up and down the driveway. With each pass, John shaped the road bed to direct water flow into the ditches. Just for fun, John sped past the house and garage and I saw his happy grin. I wished he were driving me instead.

Native grasses and a vegetable garden grow within the large area inscribed by the upper section of the driveway, forming a large circle. This area is located on flat topography and requires little maintenance. The problematic section is the first eighth of a mile that curves up a hill from Witty Road, past two houses, to a split in the circle drive where John imagines placing a sign that reads: Liberals to the left; Conservatives to the right.

One night while Moni and John worked on bikes, they shared memories of their first encounter with the Burnt Oak driveway. The winter of ‘92, they borrowed a multiple listing book from a friend who was a real estate agent. After an exhausting day of looking at houses, they started to head home to 516 Woodlawn Avenue in Greensboro. Then, Moni spotted an ad describing a Swiss chalet house at 8023 Witty Road with twenty acres, and, most importantly, was affordable. With skepticism over the price, they headed to Witty Road, a familiar path to their forty acres in Rockingham County, to check this house. Soon, they spotted three mailboxes, one with 8023, and turned left onto a gravel driveway. Curiously, there was no for sale sign. One occupied house was visible from the road. They slowly drove past this house and continued uphill. After a short distance, a second house appeared that looked like Swiss chalet, but still no for sale sign. Was this the house described in the listing book?

Indecision kicked in. The driveway continued uphill with forests on both sides and a blind curve. Perplexed, John and Moni looked at each other. John felt uncomfortable and expressed his desire to back down the driveway. He applied the brakes and shifted into reverse gear. Wishing to figure out this mystery, Moni encouraged John to continue up the drive. John placed the car in “D,” then, having second thoughts, shifted back into “R.” After much arguing and switching between “D” and “R,” they jerked their way up the hill and where they saw a split in the driveway. There, staked firmly into the ground was a real estate for-sale sign planted in the undergrowth, far from road frontage. Still, no house was visible.

 Uncharacteristically, the two liberals chose the right split in the circle drive and continued. As Moni and John slowly passed by majestic oak trees, they knew immediately that Burnt Oaks was to be in their future. However, they were still unaware that I, a VW Bus named Fredrick, would some day motor up and down that winding, shady drive.

The burnt smell of leaves subsided, Moni returned the tools to my garage, and John parked the tractor in the goat shed. I was excited, the driveway was ready for my cute little tires to roll down to Witty Road and head to my birthday party. Yippee!

Margaret, Bob, John, & Chris Bates

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