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The boy was young, only 15. Tall, lanky, hair slicked back, always wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt, and heavy Engineer boots. They were returning to the Midwest, after having lived out West for 6 years. The boy drove his mother’s car and followed behind his father; who drove the truck, loaded down with all that was left of the family possessions. He had no license, just a permit. Yet he drove the nearly 2000 miles back to the place of his birth. His mother Betty had returned nearly 5 months prior, taking with her, the youngest of the siblings, his brother Pat, to help with Betty’s mother’s recovery. His sister Terry had been sent back by train to Betty, only a month after she returned to help. His grandmother Effie Alice was now paralyzed on her left side from the numerous heart attacks she had succumbed to. After 5 months, his father Don decided to sell their house and move back to the Midwest. They packed the truck, and what did not fit was sold. Most of the young boy’s things were sold as well.

They set out 4 days before Thanksgiving in '64. It was a warm 68 degrees Fahrenheit the night they left the Phoenix valley, but by the time they got to Flagstaff, it was a bitter cold, -21 degrees Fahrenheit. There was more than two foot of snow on the ground. The roads were being plowed but it did little good, the traffic was at a crawl, and the snow fell at an alarming rate, covering the road with a blanket of snow just behind the plows passing.

They stopped in Flagstaff for gas and something to eat. Their last meal had been breakfast that same morning at around 6 AM. It was now 11:30 PM; he and his brother Jimmy were starved. When they got inside the cafe, Don told them to order anything they wanted. Everyone was happy. He told his father that the cars heater didn't work and that he and his younger brother Jimmy were freezing. Don suggested they could put on two shirts a sweater and the thin coats they now wore, then wrap up in blankets while they drove and asked if he thought he could drive like that all night. The young boy would not admit he couldn't, he was too stubborn for that.

They were back on the road by 1 AM. Around 4 AM, a loud bang and violent swerving of the car to the right startled Jimmy who was sleeping’ and all but stunned the young boy driving the car. The boy, holding on to the steering wheel with all his might, pulled to the side of the road and barely kept the car from flipping over as he negotiated a 1 foot drop off. The drop was not visible, having been hidden by the snow. Don did not see what had happened to the boys car, and had went nearly another mile before realizing the car's lights were not in his mirror, which meant they were no longer behind him and something was wrong. Don found a place to turn around, and returning, found the boy already jacking up the car to change the tire, which he had done so many times for his mother Betty. Don pulled out a cigarette and lit it watching the boy quickly completing the task. After the young boy had removed the wheel, Don handed him the pack of Camels. He looked at his father and Don said "I know you smoke", flashing a smirk at him. He didn't know what to think, he was aware of his father smoking in secrecy from his mother Betty, but he didn't know that his father knew he too was smoking behind his mothers back. The young boy took a cigarette out of the pack and reached into his pocket for the lighter he always carried. Don installed the spare tire which the young boy had dug out of the, filled to capacity trunk. Don said "We're gonna need to stop at the next place I can find, get the flat fixed, and get a used tire, this one won't make it very far."

When everything was put away they were about to pull back on to the road when a Police car, with its big red gumball on top flashing, pulled up behind the car. The officer hit the siren a short blast. Don got out of the truck and walked back to the car, the snow was coming down harder now, covering the roof and trunk with an inch or more of snow, still melting somewhat on the warm hood in spots. "Don't say a word, I'll take care of this" Don said, to the boy through the window that was partially rolled down. Don walked back to the squad car and the officer got out and walked to the driver side window of the 57 Oldsmobile the boy was driving, with Don in tow behind him. The officer flashed the light inside the car and seen the back seat full, but a clearing for the rearview mirror. He flashed the light towards the truck and seen that there were two mirrors, one on each side, and through the back window of the truck he could see the inside rearview mirror reflect the light as well. It was evident that the inside was as full as the bed of the truck, and that all three mirrors were needed and used.

He asked the boy what the trouble was. He said "I had a flat and my dad stopped and helped me put the spare on." Don piped in " The spare isn't a very good one, is there a place around here I could buy a good used tire, and get the other fixed?" Now the officer was distracted with giving directions. Don said thanks and tapped on the window, "Let’s get going, I know where we can go for that tire." The officer, only having taken a couple of steps towards his cruiser, turned around and came back to the car. "Can I see your license and registration please". Don’s face flushed, and he said “Officer, these two boys are my sons, he is driving cuz I couldn't sell the car and we need it for my wife. He doesn't have a license, only a permit". The officer said "Hmmm, let me see the permit." The boy dug it out of his wallet and handed it to the officer. The officer looked at it and asked for Don's license and compared them. Seeing that they had the same address and the last names matched as well, he smiled and said "I know this isn't right but, I understand the reason and will let it go this time." Looking in the window, he said "You do what your father says and follow him where ever he goes." The officer handed the license and permit to Don, who handed the permit back to him through the open window. The officer added, “Normally, I would have to ticket the boy, but under the circumstances, I will use my better judgment and only give you a warning. Although he can only legally drive with someone over 21 “in” the car, you are right in front of him. Be careful, and don’t let him wander off from you.” With that the officer walked back to his squad car and waited for us to enter the highway before turning off his light on top of the car. An hour later they were at a gas station that had tires chained to a rack on the side of the station. The tires were covered in snow and ice had formed in the lower section of each of the tires open cavity. Water had accumulated from the freezing rain and the snow melting in the day and then freezing at night. Don chose one with the most tread of the correct size. Forty minutes later they were on the road again, the flat fixed and a better spare in the trunk. Don drove until nearly 11 AM before he stopped again. Route 66 was now a mess, snow was getting deeper the further east they traveled, and the plows weren't always effective. It was very slow going, sometimes only 5 MPH through a town. All the towns were progressively becoming snow bound.

Everyone was hungry, but funds were getting low. They stopped at a greasy spoon truck stop and took three specials, as they were only $1.25 each. Chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes with green beans that were hard, almost tasteless, but all the fresh baked buns they could eat. They all drank coffee which was free with the meal, and the water. All of their religious teachings, of smoking and drinking coffee, seemed to have been suspended for the trip. The boy was slightly perplexed over this. Don said nothing, Jimmy was smiling. They were only in Lubbock and still had a long way to go. They were tired and Don said they would stop at a gas station on the edge of town where the truckers were and sleep awhile, as the roads would probably be closed in a short time anyway due to the intensity of the snow falling. The boy and Jimmy slept in the car and Don in the truck; it was damn cold for the daytime, at -15 below. A fitful sleep and the cold didn't give the boy much of the needed rest. But they all managed.


------
Daniel Lloyd Kennedy


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Comments

The following comments are for "The Transformation... Part I"
by daprdan

snow packed chains
"The Grapes of Wrath", "Travels With Charlie",...it doesn't get a whole lot better then this. Nice ease of words...not too flowery...INTENSE in its simpleness.

( Posted by: sunlitwindows [Member] On: October 18, 2004 )

Good work
I can't admit to having read much Steinbeck, so forgive me if I make no allusions or comparisons.

It was a good story, indeed very simple in its diction and syntax. I found the third person perspective a little awkward, as if the third voice didn't quite go away, and didn't quite fit in, either. I myself can't really write in the third person in this manner very well, so it could just be that I don't really have the skill to assess it. At any rate, it was no serious matter, just a little bit as if the narrator's voice faded in and out without any definite place. The use of first names for everyone but the son might have been what caused it.

However, it was still a good story. A little slow to get off, and a little quick with the introductions, but not at all unpleasant. AT the moment it seems to need a little bit more impetus, like there's a goal in sight, but it's very very far away, and so the prose is less directed towards any one thing, but it's easy to see that it might just be what you're writing about(long distances and all). Well done, all around.

-Kitten

( Posted by: Kitten Courna [Member] On: November 14, 2004 )





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