Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Driveway

First posted 06/06

Our driveway is 625 feet long from the front door to the road we live on. That’s the equivalent two football fields. It’s not paved, but it’s covered every other year with 20 tons of coarse limestone and fine gravel that’s painstakingly spread from the back of an enormous tractor trailer truck.

The gravel has to be replaced because over the course of a year or two, it disappears. I don’t know where it goes, but for the past 25 years, about 250 tons of gravel has been spread on it, yet it’s still just one long driveway with a layer of gravel.

I don’t begrudge one single piece of disappearing gravel because that driveway represents the comings and goings of our life. The last leg of our newborn son Mike’s journey home from the hospital was on the driveway. The guests to the christening party, birthday parties, holidays and sleepovers came down the driveway to our house. From the stroller, to the little red wagon, to the tricycle, to the training wheels on the big bike, the driveway was a playground, a basketball court, a soccer arena, and a safe place for a little boy to discover the wonders of nature.

With every trip down the driveway I’m reminded of these times of new beginnings and first steps. The first trip down the driveway with Mike for kindergarten found me gripping his hand as hard as he was gripping mine. The driveway led him to the huge yellow bus and exciting experiences that lay ahead for him in school. Each new school year brought a level of independence to Mike’s walk down the driveway-from holding my hand, to tolerating my accompaniment, and finally, to solo trips while I watched from the front steps.

From that vantage point I had a bird’s eye view of a blossoming athlete and outdoorsman. The walk to the bus became the jog to the bus and then, the sprint to the bus. In elementary school, no trip to the bus was complete without a stop at the creek that flowed under the bridge halfway down the driveway to check for nests, birds’ eggs, paw prints or feathers.

Soon, we were buying tents, camping gear and flashlights so Mike could explore these outdoor wonders at night. Then, hiking gear and mountain bikes were added to the mix and summer camps in the mountains replaced lifeguarding at local pool. The driver’s license brought a new independence, and suddenly, the driveway became the first leg of many eventful journeys past the bus stop. The gravel was my friend, as the crunching sound at midnight told me he was home and safe from a camping trip, football game, or a night out with friends.

College came all too suddenly and once again Mike was on his way down the driveway to yet another adventure. We were with him that time as the van inched it’s way over the gravel, filled to capacity with gym bags, athletic shoes, extra long sheets, lamps, towels, and of course, camping and hiking gear. We paused for just a moment as Mike took a long look at the creek and then continued on, looking straight ahead, watching the road through tear filled eyes.

Four years passed quickly, and the Environmental Science degree and desk job followed in short succession. A new Jeep clipped up and down the driveway. The Jeep was perfect for camping and hiking gear on weekends and was a respectable vehicle for the workweek. But, it wasn’t long before Mike explained to us that the desk job was not for him, and frankly, we were not surprised. He yearned to be outdoors and had applied for a job as a track and field coach at a small Division III college in California. He was hired sight unseen and was to be in California within a week. A flurry of activities followed, culminating on the driveway at sunrise the following Monday. The Jeep was replaced with a used Cherokee, and a trailer hitch pulled the Uhaul filled with Mike’s worldly possessions.

The driveway and the world awaited him as we gave him last minute advice. I handed him a small package with instructions to open it later and hugged him too hard. With a hug, a handshake and a pat on the back from his Dad, he was off. We watched as the Cherokee crept down the driveway and, we were not surprised to see the red glow of the break lights come on over the creek… the Cherokee paused for just a few seconds and then picked up speed as it rolled up the driveway, past the bus stop and out of sight.
The package? Homemade chocolate chip cookies, a turkey feather, and a GPS compass…so Mike can always find his way to the driveway and home.

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