In 1959, Ashland, Maine was still very much a "potato and lumber town" of about fifteen hundred folks who'd been born there or in tha surrounding areas. It was a typical town, in that, folks generally minded their own business, worked hard and prayed that they'd earn enough money to make it for another week. Most folks were decent, God fearin human beings and as one man said when queried if he was a "God Fearin" man or not. Tha man looked at the person who'd been stupid enough to have posed such a question to him and answered, "It ain't Him that I'm afraid of," and he pointed his fist towards heaven. "It's my old lady when I git home late, three sheets to tha wind and not enough money tah see us through!"
At that time, Ashland High School was made up of grades seven through twelve and one of the teachers, Mr. Davis, was the Social Studies, History and Driver's Training teacher. He was a tall, thin man who took everything he did seriously and to say he ran a "pretty tight ship" was putting it mildly. He once told a class that his given name was "Gary" but his "real" name was Alowicious Delicious Davis. The students laughed amongst themselves upon hearin that funny sounding name and couldn't wait to pass this interesting information along to other students.
Mr. Davis had decided at the beginning of tha year that Wednesday would be set aside for all the driver's training students and all his fellow teachers teased him that he was a glutton for punishment. Eight hours in a cramped car with himself and three new students every hour, learnin how to drive, had to be tha worst thing they could think of.
Generally, tha year started off fine but round about November, it was noted that Mr. Davis could be seen slippin little white pills into his mouth jist about tha time his driving class was scheduled. When queried about the pills substance by the other teachers, Mr. Davis would glare at the questioner, adjust his thick glasses and say, "That's for me to know and you to find out!" Then, he'd adjust his glasses, struggle into his jacket and stomp out of the teacher's lounge. Tha other teachers suspected that tha little white pills were tranquilizers but none dared to ask him outright.
On this particular day, when their innocuous driver's training class nearly made tha local papers, it was Walt's turn to drive. At seventeen, he was already an accomplished driver after having stolen and driven his father's old green Ford pickup since the age of fourteen and having driven his Great Uncle Hal's potato trucks every fall and any other vehicle that had a motor and wheels, he still needed to pass this high school class in order to apply for his State of Maine driver's license.
Mr. Davis, being an ex-Marine, still ran all of his classes at Ashland community High School like a military unit. Every Wednesday at exactly eight am, when tha first Driver's Ed. class was scheduled, he'd go out and stand by the car until the appropriate kid appeared in the school doorway, and then he's yell tha last name of whichever student was waiting there; "Stevens!" You're up!" And that student would immediately run out to the car, yank open tha door and slide into the driver's seat.
Upon hearin his name bellowed into the frigid air, Walt slid his hat carefully onto his elegantly coiffed head and ran for the car, closely followed by Leroy. Mr. Davis made a mock salute as he grabbed for his hat as a gust of wind out of tha north nearly knocked him down.
As they settled into their assigned seats, Mr. Davis, bellowed tha same question he always asked at that start of each class; "And What Do We Do First?" Then he'd slide his beady brown eyes onto Walt. Ever tha kidder, Walt quipped, "Start tha car?" Upon hearin this joking retort from Walt, Leroy snuffled, chortled and kicked tha back of tha front seat and Mr. Davis' eyes did a somersault into the back of his head and he scrabbled in his jacket pocket for a couple of those little white pills that he was constantly taking.
"Stevens!" He yelled at Walt jist tah show he was still in command. "Shift yourself into the back seat and lets see if Leroy knows the protocol of proper driving!" Walt, smirking at the fact that he'd been able to rile Mr. Davis so easily, opened tha door and slid out of tha driver's seat with a big smirk on his face and Leroy happily slid into it.
After another ten minutes of being quizzed about tha proper driver's training by Mr. Davis, Leroy was allowed to put tha car in gear and crawl out of the high school parking lot into the snow-covered road. Leroy had been taking driving lessons since he was a sophomore and he still hadn't mastered the art of driving. He was the type of guy who was timid and when the pressure was on, his brain deserted him and he always made bad driving decisions. And now that you mention it, his brain was absent ninety-nine percent of the time anyway.
In a smarmy, suck-up voice, Leroy, slid his hazel eyes over towards Mr. Davis and asked; "Where do yah want me tah go this mornin Chief?" Mr. Davis, gave a long, belly irritated sigh, glanced at his watch and saw that they still had forty long minutes left, shifted his thin frame in tha seat and said, "Jist drive down School Street till you reach tha Main Street intersection and then down over Station Hill and across tha bridge to the Portage Road and then Stevens can take over."
Leroy, saluted that he understood and Mr. Davis incensed that he'd taken one hand off the steering wheel, yelled; "Rule Number Three!" "Keep both hands on Tha Wheel at All Times!" "Aye! Aye! Sir!" Leroy yelled and saluted again. Mr. Davis seeing that nothing he said or did was going to make a dite of difference where Leroy was concerned, gave up.
Walt, ever tha needler, commenced to singing a little tune under his breath, "Ah drivin we will go, ah drivin we will go, high ho tha dairy oh, ah drivin we will go!" ""Stevens!" Mr. Davis growled, "That's about enough of that!" Walt slicked back his hair into the consummate duck tail hairdo and smiled at his refection in the side window, jist countin tha minutes till it was his turn tah drive.
They made it all tha way down School Street to the Main Street intersection and Leroy, upon seein the flashing red stoplight hanging in the air above them, slammed on the brakes and asked, "Mr. Davis, what should I do next?" Mr. Davis looked at him, "What do you think you should do next Leroy?" Leroy wiped his nose along his jacket cuff and mumbled, "I know I should stop but when should I go?"
A barely muffled snort came sailing across the seats from the other passenger in the back and Mr. Davis turned and glared in Walt's direction. "Just drive the car a little closer to tha intersection, look both ways and then take your turn."
After doing as he'd been told, Leroy eased the car up a little further into the intersection. He looked right and then left and seeing no approaching vehicles, he proceeded thru the stop light and started down over Station Hill. As the car picked up speed because of the incline, Mr. Davis felt a little niggle of fear come up crawlin up his spine and he said in a very low voice, "Leroy, As you can see, tha road is covered with a dusting of snow, so, jist pump your brakes a little to slow down, okay?"
"Yup, You betcha!" Leroy replied.
He thought he knew what the word "pump" meant but what his mind knew and what his feet did were two vastly different things! Leroy stomped on the brake and the car lurched and skidded in the snow towards the ditch on the right side. "Jaysus Cripes!" Mr. Davis yelled and whacked Leroy across the knee to get him to remove his foot from the brake. Then, he grabbed the wheel and yanked it to tha left, back towards the center of tha road. As tha car evened out, Leroy resumed his downward trek towards the bottom of Station Hill.
It was only then that Mr. Davis realized that he'd made a fatal mistake because at the bottom of tha hill was the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad crossing jist before tha bridge and he knew that a train always passed through Ashland at about this time every day. He turned to his right, scraped at the thick frost on the window with his finger nails and he saw what he didn't want to see. The light from a loaded freight train was making its way towards the Station Hill crossing.
Mr. Davis, turned to Leroy and said, "Leroy, start to slow down now!"
"Yup, I getchur, Mr. Davis," and Leroy, tuned in to tha drama in Mr. Davis' voice, slammed on tha brakes and jist as the long line of potato-filled cars slid across the tracks before him, tha wheels locked and the car, taking on a momentum of its own, slid up to the crossing, and right up to tha tracks.
Tha driver's training car only stopped when the front bumper hit the passing railroad cars and the three passengers couldn't believe it! As the train cars slid on by, they could easily hear the scraping sound the front bumper and grill made as they were being torn to bits by the sides of the train cars! Tha force of the impact pushed the vehicle sideways across tha road and into the ditch on tha other side.
Finally, the last car rumbled on by and it was only then that Leroy dared to breathe. He slid his eyes in Mr. Davis' direction, took a wobbly breath and said; "Geeze, I coulda stopped quicker but the snow slid me right up to tha train!"
Mr. Davis never even answered him, he simply put his shaky left hand up in tha air and snapped his fingers, and it was now Walt's turn to drive. Walt, who had been lying down in tha back seat with his hat pulled down over his eyes, struggled into a sitting position and for the first time that day, he didn't even bother to rearrange his mussed up "ducks ass" hairdo.
Martha Stevens-David Column Magic City
Childrens Stories include:
See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
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