Childhood Mistakes

Sweet Adelines is a nationwide women’s barbershop organization that has extensive choirs in almost every state. When I was a kid, my grandma was both a member and a director of the local chapter. She would bring me to rehearsals and let me sit up front on her stool, sometimes helping to direct. She would also give me cassette tapes of their rehearsals and concerts so that I could listen at home.
My favorite tape as a child was of the concert series they did on music of the 1920’s. I loved it so much that I not only played it at home, I also demanded my grandma play it in the car when we were running errands: “Play it again!” Grandma would bribe me with ice cream and Happy Meal toys to listen to something else, to no avail.
One day, after going to the post office, we drove home with the tape playing. I was nestled in the back seat with a few My Little Ponies, brushing their manes and singing along to the songs that I knew backwards and forwards. We got home too soon; the last song on the second side of the tape hadn’t finished yet. I begged my grandma to let me stay in the car and hear it, even though I had heard it at least one hundred times before. Grandma grabbed her purse from the trunk and went inside, leaving me alone in the car. I unbuckled my seatbelt and stretched out my legs, my tiny pink sneakers resting on the console in between the two front seats. I closed my eyes and listened to the music, in my happy place.
I was singing, and then, suddenly, I was rolling. Backwards.
The house my grandmother stayed at was on the top of a very steep hill, in the middle of the woods. The car was moving, slowly at first. And I thought it was a game. Until it hit the crest of the hill and gained speed. I cried out then, in perfect crescendo with the joyful choir. I wasn’t joyful anymore; I started to cry. My grandma came banging out of the side garage door, running after me, her poofy white hair a glow of light as I disappeared into the woods. Rolling down, down, down, and then the crash that I didn’t see coming because I never thought to turn around.
The car slammed into a tree in the middle of the woods, off of the main driveway path. My grandma plucked her way through the trees and wrenched open the door next to me, helping me out. The music still played; the fall had felt like forever, but it had really been less than a minute or so.
She told me later that she was never sure whether I had kicked the gear shift with my feet or she had forgotten to put the car into park. I always suspected she was protecting me from my own mistake.

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