| Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Spectator
Jeremiah M. Murphy

The snow fell straight down that November night in Sioux Falls. Street lights’ glow reflected back from low clouds and falling snow to create a storybook scene. It was so peaceful, so quiet.

On one neighborhood street car tires made a soft sound as they rolled through a turn in the snow. But then, suddenly, those tires made a different, “shushing” sound as they slipped their earthly bonds and slid sideways. The sliding tires came to rest only when the front fender of the car I was driving collided softly but surely with a parked car.


Oh! That’s not good.

Sliding into another car is bad enough. But, worse, sixteen year old me was driving my parent’s car. A great car – a sky blue, 1969 Thunderbird.

I put the car in park and got out to check the damage.

I know I put the car in park. Fill me with truth serum, give me a polygraph exam. I tell you I put that car in park.

I went around to where my front fender was nudged against the rear fender of the parked car. I leaned in close for a better look. There it was - a dent in the Thunderbird.


But, leaning in, peering at that T-bird, I saw something else: I saw the passenger side mirror. Then I saw the door handle. Then the rear fender rolled past.

The rear fender rolled past. The car was rolling downhill. THE CAR WAS ROLLING DOWNHILL!

And it rolled. It rolled diagonally down the street, jumped a curb, and caromed off a tree. It cut the corner and rolled off a curb, crossed a street, and up another curb . . .

And me? I ran after the car. Arms flailing, running haplessly in a pair of slick-soled cowboy boots through the new snow. The boys in Capa City would have laughed to see a Sioux Falls kid wearing cowboy boots.

At some point I got the driver’s door open. But still, the car rolled and I ran.

Finally, as the car rolled toward the front of a quiet house at the foot of the hill, I dove in and jammed the brake pedal down with my hands.

There I was – my legs out the car door and the front bumper of the car buried in an evergreen bush in front of someone’s picture window. Happily, the living room behind the picture window was dark.

I lay there for a moment to catch my breath.

Then I straightened myself around and backed the car off the lawn. I parked the car on the level. I put the car in park. I put on the emergency brake. I braced the tires with a set of commercial airliner wheel chocks.

I retraced my steps. I went to the house where the car I hit was parked. Turned out that car belonged to a guest at a party there. So I got to tell my tale to a whole roomful of folks – great. They got a kick out of the story.

I knocked on the door of the house of the tree the car had hit. “You what? I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” said the poor, confused woman who answered that door.

I called my Dad and told him what had happened.

The next morning, Sunday, Mom and Dad and my brother and sister and I went out to the car to go to Mass. When my sister saw the big dent in the car from its bankshot off the tree, she said what any little sister must say at such a moment: “WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CAR?!!?!!”

“Great,” I thought, “here it comes.”

But, before the Inquisition could continue, Dad chuckled and said “I kissed a tree with the car last night. Let’s go. Chop, chop!”

How about that – “I kissed a tree with the car last night.”

True story.

That was one of the things for which I was thankful in 1974.

I’m still thankful for the assist my Dad gave me that Sunday morning. I’m pretty sure he’s thankful I don’t chase his car down snowy streets anymore.

(Originally published in the November 18th, 2007 Rapid City Journal)