The Chicken and the Road

As a young child growing up in rural Wisconsin, life was filled with unique challenges, crossing the road, for example: My mother always told me, “Look both ways before crossing the street. Make sure you watch for cars.” As an obedient child, I endeavored to follow her advice to the letter. My opportunity arose when my brother and I had to walk to the end of our driveway, cross the gravel road, and wait for the school bus. Simple, you say? Not quite!

My mother failed to consider that we lived way out in Washington Coulée. Cars were few and far between. Walking to the end of the driveway, which was half a mile from the house, my brother would immediately cross the gravel road to wait for the bus.

I, however, would hear the voice of my mother: “Look both ways before crossing the street. Make sure you watch for cars!” So I looked both ways: up the gravel road, down the gravel road, down, and up. My brother would be yelling at me to hurry up and get over there, while I stubbornly continued to “watch for cars.”

Eventually, I would see a cloud of dust in the distance: a car! A tendril of excitement developed in my stomach. Mean-while, my brother was hollering at me.
“Come on!”
“No! A car!” I replied, one shaky finger pointing at the little puff of dust.
“COME ON! It’s WAY down there!”
“NO! Mom said to wait for cars!” I looked at him as he gestured in the exasperated way that older brothers have.

And so our conversation would go; my brother yelling, while I anxiously waited for the car to pass. The closer the car came, the faster my head swiveled back and forth between my brother and the car, and the more excited I became. Jumping up and down with nervous excitement, I would continue to refuse to cross the road, irritating my brother to no end.

“COME ON!! Get over here!” My brother waved me over like a policeman motioning to traffic. Dancing with the suspense, my stomach tight with panic and extending my shaking hand in the direction of the oncoming vehicle, I refused.

“NO! There’s a CAR!” Panic increased as the car approached. My eyes swung between my brother and the car. My breathing came fast; suspense was building. Finally, when the car was about a block away, I couldn’t take it anymore. As my brother continued to holler at me to cross, I suddenly complied.

“Okay!” I yelled shakily and dashed directly in front of the car. As I was dashing into the path of the oncoming car, my brother suddenly changed his mind.

“NO!” He yelled, his arms frantically waving me back. Of course it was too late, and I was already on his side of the road, the much-anticipated car whooshing past us.

I think this happened a few times, before my brother decided he couldn’t handle the stress anymore. If I saw a car anywhere down the road, no matter how distant, I would refuse to cross until it passed. Of course, I never was able to wait and would end up running in front of it. Finally, he decided that he would have to wait with me. I have vague memories of my brother standing behind me, his skinny arms crossed over my chest. As I strained against his arms, wanting to run in front of the approaching car, I would hear his voice in my ear.

“Calm down. Breathe! Breathe!” He would repeat this over and over, as I wriggled with the terrible suspense of an approaching car. As I was only about 6 years old and completely caught up in the stress of learning to cross the street, I am not sure what my mom was doing during this time. Perhaps she was the one who suggested my brother wait and cross the road with me, instead of allowing me to carry out my death-defying ritual on a daily basis.

Some time later, we moved to a small town where cars were a more common occurrence. You can imagine what effect that had on me! Somehow, thanks to my brother, I survived learning to cross the road. In fact, eventually, he didn’t have to hold me in a death grip in order to prevent me from running in front of cars.

It’s hard to determine why my brother could receive a warning from Mom and take it in stride, while I, hearing the same warning, would become an obsessive lunatic instead. Perhaps you think this is an isolated incident from my childhood, that I really couldn’t be so strange. Little do you know! I have quite a story to tell about how closely I listened to my mom’s warning not to play with matches... But that, my friend, is best left to another day. jkb 2000