Lara and Ainslee are picking apples off the ground at the far end of the garden and chucking them into two big bushel baskets. The task seems endless; three or four apples here, drag the baskets there, stoop and scoop and toss. There will be lots of bruises but they’re just stupid big old cooking apples. Does it really matter when they turn brown? They’ve been told not to climb the trees, but Lara does it anyway, shaking the branches so that apples rain down on Ainslee’s head.
From her lofty perch she gazes across the fence and into the field where a rusted old black ’49 dodge coupe sits baking in the sun. She knows it runs because their dad drove it there a few days ago and parked it. Going to use it to pick rocks from the fields. Now there’s a job that’s about a hundred times worse than gathering apples. She wonders if he’ll hitch a wagon to it, or if they’ll have to fire rocks through the windows into the backseat. And who will get to drive it, and if that person will have to wear a hard hat or a helmet. The mental image makes her laugh.
“Hey Ains – wanna go for a ride?” she says as she swings herself from a low branch and drops to the ground, squashing an apple under her left foot and releasing its sweet scent into the air.
They climb the fence and walk over to the car, open up the driver’s side door and both have to take a step back from the escaping blast of heat that hits them full on. Ainslee goes to the other side and wrenches that door open too and they both stand there for a minute or two, letting the interior cool down to a slightly less oppressive temperature, grinning at each other across the front seat. Ainslee wonders aloud if there might be a bee’s nest in the upholstery, or hornets, or wasps. They put their heads in close and listen, but there’s no drone, no buzzing, so they climb in.
They roll down the windows and Lara pushes in the clutch with her left apple gooped-up sneaker. She has driven their little ford tractor before, but never started it on her own. Dad gets her to push down the clutch, foot on the brake, while he starts it and puts it in gear for her. She figures this has got to be a similar scenario, but there’s a lot of steps to remember when it’s all on her own.
Ainslee is already impatient. “Come on! I’m so hot. Let’s go!” Lara seriously doubts they’ll get up enough speed for any breeze to be coming through the windows, but she doesn’t say so, and turns on the key. Then she presses the starter and the engine cranks itself to life.
She looks at the gear shift and realizes she has no idea where the thing is at. There’s no N, or 1, 2, 3. She lets out the clutch as slowly as she can and the car lurches forward with a great jerk and dies.
“Hey! Do you know what you’re doing?” Ainslee asks her, as if the idea that Lara might not actually know how to drive a car has just suddenly occurred to her.
“Well, it can’t be that hard”, Lara mutters, pressing the clutch in again and pulling the gear shift down until it wobbles around. She knows that’s neutral. The nothing gear. Then she maneuvers it up to the left, up to the right, down to the left. Decides that’s as good a one as any to try. Starts up the beast again and begins to slowly release the clutch. This time the engine sputters a bit, but the car starts to roll forward with little jerky spasms.
“Give it some gas!” Ainslee yells, and Lara finds the pedal and suddenly they’re off. Only then does she think to look where they’re going and realizes she can’t see over the steering wheel. She can see underneath the top of it, and out the bottom quarter of the windshield, but that’s a view that’s one part field and ten parts sky.
“Stick your head out the window and tell me if we’re going to run over anything” she tells Ainslee, who dutifully hangs herself out the passenger side window and tries to imagine what might be lurking in the long grass ahead of them. It’s not a smooth ride, but it’s not a speedy one either, because Lara’s heart is racing as she strains to see where she’s going and she has no desire to experiment with another shift of the gears.
They make a slow wide circle in the field, careful not to go down the hill too far where it could be wet and muddy and where even a tractor can get stuck. When they’re back to approximately the same location as where they started, Lara pumps down the clutch, presses hard on the brake and turns off the key.
The two girls sit back on the seats and start to laugh, releasing the tension they didn’t even know was there.
“Let’s fill up those baskets and then we can DRIVE them back to the house”, Ainslee suggests with glee. They do this in record time, stretch the fence wires apart as far as they’ll go so they can slide the bushels through, and drag them across the grass and into the back seat.
This time the start-up is much more smooth, and with her sister navigating and screaming instructions at her Lara makes it down the back laneway and up beside the back door to their house, all in low gear and slow motion, but driving just the same.
They are carrying a basket between them heading to the back porch when they run into their dad. He is standing with his hands on his hips and a sort of scowl on his face. But he’s kind of smirking too. It’s a hard expression to read, and they stand there staring at each other in silence until finally he speaks.
“You got that thing started then, did you?” he asks them. They nod with serious faces, knowing any kind of lie at this point will get them into even bigger trouble. He looks at the old doge, then back at his daughters.
“Well. Put ‘er back where you found ‘er.” And he turns around and heads for the barn.
They don’t say anything as they scramble to deliver the apples to their mother, who is delightedly surprised at how well and quickly they’ve got the job done; and, thankfully, quite oblivious to their exact modus operandi. Before the smile has left her face, and before she can think up another job for them to do, they have raced back outside and taken up their positions once again in the front seat.
Figuring out reverse and how to drive a car backwards – well. Let’s just say that’s a whole other story.