It was the August I was sixteen. Five months from the springtime when I’d passed my driver’s test with an 82, a score nobody really brags about. Then or now. Stick shift or not.
Of the four of us kids, only Sara and I were still at home and available to make the dwindling family water-skiing trip to Walla Walla with my aunt and uncle on the Snake River.
My aunt and uncle never had kids of their own. Not that we didn’t wonder why. Our relationship was never such that we could ask them. You just didn’t ask Aunt Nancy stuff she didn’t want to answer.
That my aunt and uncle had a boat still confounds me. They lived in the same pale green rambler together for fifty years on a piece of land that smelled like sweet onions when we drove into town. We learned after their deaths that they never threw a scrap of anything away. Miles of junk with zero potential was discovered stacked in their garage and shed. They wore their clothes out. When we stayed at their house as kids, we slept in red sleeping bags on their living room floor and woke up feeling as though we’d curled up on concrete.
I don’t remember my uncle ever saying “I love you.” Not with his words. But he sat in that boat hour after hour every August dragging us through the water on wooden, homemade skis, smiling at us from the driver’s seat, and perpetually sweeping a hand over his bald spot to keep the hair he’d grown extra-long on the sides to cover it from flying away. One hand on the wheel. One hand catching his hair.
My aunt dished out tough love. But that woman held our ten year old and eight year old bodies between her knees as we drifted with the tug of the ski rope that first August. And then when we’d face plant into the river and swallow most of it, she’d swim to us twenty yards from the shore and start all over. And then she’d do it again. Until every summer after that we’d didn’t need her hanging on to the backs of our swimsuits or gripping our floating bodies with her knees. We just needed the invitation to water ski.
Which is what we were doing the August I was sixteen. Coming to ski.
From Wenatchee, the trip to Walla Walla is three and half hours. It’s the same distance on the way home—only the time feels compounded in the mind and body after a day on the water. Much of the driving is on two-lane highways with 55 mph signs posted. It feels faster to walk.
I was at the wheel on our way home. My mom beside me. And Sara in the back.
When I fell asleep.
A second really. A few at most. But as I grabbed the wheel to correct from the oncoming cars, I swung us too far toward the ditch. And to avoid the ditch, I swung us toward the oncoming cars again. We flung from one side of our seats to the other for ten seconds? twenty? as I over-wobbled, over-corrected from the double yellow lines to the ditch a dozen times.
From our spot on the shoulder we were all awake. Sara was bawling. My mom was quiet. The car was parked. I’d made a move to get out of the driver’s seat, when my mom spoke.
“Start the engine again, Jeanne. There’s a rest stop a couple of miles ahead. I’d like you to drive us there.”
It’s this gift that I haven’t forgotten–the second chance. And I haven’t forgotten my mom’s insistence that I take it. Right now. The very next opportunity. Drive. Yes you. Make a new memory. I trust you.
But it all came to mind today when I deliberately handed Silas the bacon. A second time.
Earlier this week, Silas had stood faithfully on the cement in the 43 degree drizzle. He’d babysat the bacon with two forks while it sizzled on the griddle over the grill flame. I’d waved from the kitchen window and he’d gestured something I couldn’t understand. But mostly he’d flipped and flopped the bacon, sampling the quality as he went, until he had all of it—all the bacon side-by-side on a plate.
In an hour’s time, he’d never left his post. And yet the platter of bacon he set down on the table was completely torched. Soot black. Every crumb.
There were limited options—toss or chomp the stuff like hard candy. We chomped.
Silas stood for an hour again, a sentry at the griddle. He twisted and turned the bacon halves with forks. He checked and re-checked the doneness, and then checked it again with Troy’s help. Our lunch assets were looking good.
So here it is…Here’s to new bacon memories.
And here’s to saying what really matters, when it matters… “We trust you, son. You’re worth a second chance!”