When I began college, my parents moved into their newly custom-built house. My mother took particular pride in her new, and almost child-free, home. (My sister was a sophomore in high-school when they built it.) I came home one weekend late in my Freshman year to study for my French final. On Saturday, I had the house to myself because my parents and sister left for a day in the mountains. I hated French…and if I knew how to say that in French today, I would. I felt confined and cooped up, and maybe I was just a little resentful of studying while they were out enjoying the world.
So, I decided to drive just down the hill to a nearby fast-food restaurant for take-out. However, this meant that I would need to back Dad’s Cutlass Oldsmobile out of the garage. I did not have my own car at that point in life, and the marigold colored Oldsmobile was my only option. Cautiously, I began backing out.
Unfortunately, I was not cautious enough. I caught the right front bumper on the garage door frame, and swiftly thereafter, the garage door wooden framing separated from the brick, and the garage door track crumpled together so that I couldn’t even lower the automatic door. This was a horrible turn of events and I knew that Mom would have a hissy fit of major proportions upon hearing my confession.
I had not yet met the neighbors across the street. But, the man of the house was home and outside. After a brief introduction and an awkward description of what I had just done, he gave me a mallet with a large rubber head, and I trudged alone back to the garage to hammer away at the track so that at least the door would be down when they arrived home.
They arrived home after an eternity, and without much French being learned. I inhaled deeply and went out to face the executioner. Suffice it to say that Mom reacted as I had predicted. “I can never have anything nice without you girls ruining it! My new house! Jo! Jo, look at what she has done to my new house!” Dad stood silently as he surveyed the damage to both his car and the garage and only pursed his lips while wearing a look of quiet consternation.
But, as we all know, what goes around comes around. Or, in our case, goes downhill.
We moved into our present house when the boys were two and a half and Sarah Grace was one. Although we didn’t custom build it, we were the first owners and were very blessed and proud to have moved into the house we envisioned living in for many years to come.
We never were fortunate as parents to have late sleepers. 5 a.m. anyone? And, always up by 6 a.m. no matter what. Weekend, weekday, or holiday, our children were no respecters of our need for sleep. Up early meant outside early too. So, any given morning there were three little ones in the driveway on tri-cycles or just toddling around.
One Monday morning in July, about eleven weeks after moving in, I left for the office while Joel stayed home with the children. Mondays are Joel’s day off and this was just another routine summer Monday. Kisses! Love you! Have a great day!
At precisely 8:47 a.m., my office phone rang. I stood at my desk, drinking my first cup of coffee when the caller i.d. showed our home number. I answered and Joel, in a voice and tone I’d never heard before (the strained tone of I-am-just-trying-to-hold-it-together) said, “The kids are fine. A truck hit our house. It is bad. You have to come home.”
The route between our house and my office follows a curvy, hilly rural two-lane road named after a local creek. Much like a creek’s path, this road bobs and weaves with only a center line dividing the lanes, several blind spots, a cell phone dead spot or two, and often no shoulder for comfort. Joel called me en route.
Joel: Who is going to call 911?
Me: Um, what do you mean 911? YOU are! You are home and I am driving! And, why do we need 911?
What an absurd question to ask who would call 911? Had he lost his senses? Perhaps, just perhaps, I wasn’t as sweet as I should have been when answering his question. What on earth was going on?
Our house sits in the back of the neighborhood at the end of a cul-de-sac. Importantly, our street is a double cul-de-sac and the street slopes fairly significantly at the top from the other cul-de-sac all the way down to us at the rock bottom. I approached the critical point in the roadway where our house first became visible, and I suddenly understood the full import of the situation. A truck didn’t just hit our house, it went through our house! And, it wasn’t a truck. It was a tanker! And there it sat rammed in our garage.
This wasn’t just any tanker though. Oh, no. Not at all. This tanker emptied and collected the human waste from porta-potties on construction sites. A house was under construction at the top of our street and the bright blue porta-potty sat on the sidewalk up the street from us. We had seen this truck and its driver on several occasions.
But, on this fateful morning, when the driver hopped out of his tanker to connect a hose to the porta-potty, he failed to engage the brakes and scotch the wheels. And, gravity took it from there. Down, down, down the hill the truck blazed. The driver’s attempt to jump in the cab failed. The truck raced backwards down the street, then jack-knifed backwards and jumped the curb–still backwards, plowed down a sizeable tree in our front yard – still backwards, went through our landscaping –backwards, of course, and backwards through the front of our garage where a city molded plastic trash bin wedged between Joel’s Suburban and the tanker to put an end to the carnage. Good God Almighty! Shit really does flow downhill.
Inside the house, Joel felt and heard a large thud and perceived the house shaking. An earthquake maybe? His quandary was quickly interrupted by the truck driver pounding on the door. Are you okay in there? Huh? Joel opened the door to the bizarre scene and a panicked driver, and walked straight to the phone to call me.
Joel and the kids stood outside in the driveway as I exited my car. An angry swarm of yellow jackets flew around our yard and driveway. The bees were much more upset about their nest being destroyed than we were about our house because on this morning, the first morning ever, the boys slept late. Samuel was asleep in bed (directly over the point of impact) when the truck struck the house, and Joel was dancing in the den with Sarah Grace while Noah was just rousing. They were not in the driveway this morning.
The truck driver frantically repeated to me, “I thought I killed your kids!” He had seen them in the driveway on other trips to empty that toilet. The crash was so loud that neighbors who were home heard it and stepped onto their front porches to see what happened.
Within minutes, fire trucks and policemen arrived. Natural gas, water, and electricity were shut off to prevent further disasters. Firemen made us evacuate the house while they and others conducted structural assessments. Our contractor began shoring up the load bearing corner of the house that had just been obliterated. And, I prayed fervently “Lord, please do not let that tanker leak.”
While standing outside with three confused toddlers among buzzing bees, a shell-shocked husband, astonished neighbors, one hysterical truck driver, and multiple emergency personnel, Noah sweetly asked “Mommy, why did the potty truck hit our house?”
Yes, our new house. Oh, Mom. Now I know how you felt.