At dusk each night someone in my family would travel the gravel lanes meandering through our nearly thirty-acre cemetery to see if any visitors were still lingering. It wasn’t a good thing to lock the gates and imprison some poor unsuspecting widow inside the cemetery after dark. Leaving the grounds unsecured overnight also had its perils. The least of our worries were the lovers who were subject to a surprise when a spotlight was shown through the car window revealing their private tryst. More troublesome were the teenagers who wanted to spin their wheels in the open gardens of the back acreage, and the evil minded who thought it fun to vandalize a family memorial or a mausoleum.
I hadn’t had my license but just a few days when a friend and I offered to take Dad’s brand new four-wheel-drive Ford truck for the nightly gate duty. Dad didn’t object to my driving the truck for the first time. I didn’t even have to pull out on the road since our driveway was connected to the cemetery’s entrance. I would stay on the grounds. How much trouble could I cause?
We climbed up in the cab, found the appropriate rock n roll music station, giggled aplenty and started our trip. We took our time, cruised around chatting away, made several loops and eventually parked down by the cemetery pond to watch the ducks flapping their wings and chasing each other for a bit of entertainment.
As we made one last spin around the grounds, I realized we were being followed. And it wasn’t just anybody. We were being followed by a Fayetteville Police cruiser. Uh oh! This was a first-time experience for me. I anxiously glanced in the mirror, followed the ten-mile-per-hour speed limit inside the cemetery and eventually made my way to the gates. The officer simply followed and didn’t put on his lights. Stopping the truck just past the stone pillar entrance, I glanced at my girlfriend and climbed out of the cab. The officer had parked just a few feet from the chrome rear bumper of the Ford.
I hadn’t taken but a step, maybe two, when I heard a ‘pop’ and realized the truck was rolling backward. The officer, who had started to step out, jumped back in his police cruiser. I held my breath and hopped up into the driver’s seat, slammed my foot on the brake, and yanked the gearshift into park. I knew I’d put it in park once. Or, hadn’t I?
The officer was more than a little pissed. Questions exploded at me as I stuttered and shook my head, trying to look as innocent as possible. No, I didn’t have my license. I’d left my purse behind. I was the daughter of the cemetery owner and was simply trolling the grounds before locking the gates for the night. I pointed toward the house. He lectured and followed me across the side lawn.
I steeled myself for more lecturing from my father and tried not to cry. I explained what happened and that I thought for sure I’d put the truck in park. The officer added his own account of how I tried to run over him.
Fortunately, Dad came to my defense. He said the truck had a tendency to pop out of park, and that Ford had been talking about recall but there’d been no official word yet. He apologized as well for not warning me to put on the emergency brake. He even accompanied the officer back to the gates, officially closed them for the night and retrieved the truck.
I sat down and cried in relief. I could have crashed into a police car. Or, even worse, run over a cop. What a way to christen my new driver’s license.
These stories of my life growing up in a cemetery seem to be popular on my blog. I’ve incorporated a lot of ideas from these memories in my writing as well. . So, thank you to those who enjoy reading them and for any feedback.