Nights on the farm sometimes proved to be eventful. We lived about 8 miles from a little hick town, or more accurately, it was an entire hick-region, if there is such a thing. Being conservative in our religious culture and beliefs, our family was conspicuously unlike the culture around us and only vaguely aware of what ‘worldly’ people do. On these nights we got small glimpses of the ‘real’ world.
Whether it was prank phone calls that introduced us to language we had never heard before, or stragglers wandering in from the river, drenched and freezing because of a tipped canoe, there seemed to be no shortage of excitement. But none compare with that particular night…
It was early spring and several Sunday mornings in a row my father observed vehicle tracks in our muddy driveway that didn’t belong to our van or any of my brothers’ cars. He also noticed that the gas tank was emptier than he had recalled it. Gas was expensive and thieves were known to siphon from vehicles at night.
That Saturday night my father announced that we would go to bed earlier than usual, turn out all the lights and wait to see if anyone might show up. All of us younger children were sent up to our rooms and ordered to stay there with no lights. Rather than going to bed, we huddled around windows, waiting patiently for the action to begin. My father had parked so that any vehicle driving up to the van would be likely to get stuck in the ruts in our driveway. I don’t remember how much of the cause was snow and how much was mud, but either way, we expected a specific outcome.
We were a mischievous lot of kids, who loved to laugh. Laughter was survival. This particular night we were especially high strung as we anticipated an element of justice.
After what seemed like hours of wiggling, waiting and giggling by the window, it happened. A car pulled into our driveway and stopped beside our van. Immediately the driver realized they were in trouble and a commotion ensued. Clearly having indulged in at least one swallow too many, the young men stumbled and mumbled about as they collected empty bottles and a partial 24 pack of beer and hauled it into the trunk of the car.
My father, accompanied by several older brothers, went out to greet the young men and offer them assistance. We opened the window just a crack and heard my father offer to get the tractor. They accepted the offer.
Meanwhile one of my siblings had called the police to report suspicious activity in our driveway. My father stalled, taking time for small talk before getting the tractor. When he finally showed up with the tractor, we watched as he pulled the vehicle further into the deep ruts in the driveway, making it impossible for them to get out.
They begged him to try again. My brothers pushed, the tractor pulled. Still their vehicle stayed stuck. They stood there for a time discussing their options. Traffic was unusual on our road at night, so when lights appeared in the distance we were quite certain it was the police.
I couldn’t make out whether it was my dad or one of my brothers that spoke, or even what was said, but in an instant one of the drunken men staggered out the lane. Standing in the middle of the road he waved his hands furiously, shouting for the vehicle to stop and help.
The officer pulled into our lane and was greeted warmly by all, especially the young men who couldn’t believe they had randomly flagged down an officer to help them. The officer spoke first with my dad and brothers, and then questioned the young men regarding their purpose for being in our lane. They explained that they were simply pulling in to turn around. The officer questioned why they would drive in so far to turn around. I couldn’t make out their answer. He asked if they had been drinking and the young men assured him they were not drunk.
The officer walked to the trunk and asked for the keys. We giggled as the driver explained that the key was lost and it had been a long time since they used the trunk. The officer insisted on having the trunk opened.
“I think if you look really hard, you can find the key,” the officer encouraged. The young men dug through pockets, cubbies and various other places. Still they produced no key.
The officer opened the trunk of his cruiser, returned with a crowbar and offered to open the trunk for them. Suddenly the driver remembered one place he had not looked for the key and, after a quick search, he appeared with the key.
The officer finished up with the young men, ticketing them. Maybe the funniest part of the entire evening was the young guys beating themselves up for their luck at having managed to pull over a cop and getting ticketed.
My dad tried one more time to pull them out. This time he was successful. Miraculously the gas syphoning stopped after that night.
Some details remain blurred in my memory but the hours spent on my knees at the window, as a giggling 11 year old, are as vivid today as they were 30 years ago.
My father taught me to be creative and resourceful. He showed me how to confront problems and find solutions. For everything that life wasn’t, there were moments that I would not trade for anything in the world.