Wife and I were taking a night out on the town to celebrate our twenty-first anniversary. We had chosen one of the three nice restaurants that we have in town. It was not a difficult decision. One of the places likes to push the coat issue, and our anniversary is in June. I am not wearing a coat in Mississippi in June unless someone very close to me dies and is being buried in a freezer. With two left, we chose the one to which we had been given a gift card. As I said, not difficult.
As we made our way down the sidewalk, still overdressed for the 90-degree heat with 90 percent humidity that lingers at 6 o’clock in the evening, the phone rang as I was reaching for the door to the restaurant. I look down, and it is one of our daughters. She had left at approximately the same time we did, driving to a friend’s house so that they could then go see another friend’s play. Immediately, I am thrown into a maelstrom of emotion. First, annoyance. Why is this girl calling? She is eighteen years old and knows we are going out to eat. For God’s sake, could she not have given us the hour? Then, when I hear the troubled tone, parenthood kicks in, and I want to fly to her aid, rescue her from danger, and make all the monsters go away. Hell, this is Mississippi; some fathers will fire off a couple of rounds into the closet just to prove their princesses are safe from the monsters.
I was no longer concerned that I was overdressed for the heat. My wife was getting nervous. Thoughts of accidents, ambulances, injuries, sexual predators, and that damned Liam Neeson movie Taken all sprang to mind recalling to me how much I loved my daughter and how underprepared I am to save her from the European sex trade. Her voice was trembling, and I could hear the tears beginning as she said, “Dad, I’m okay.” I repeat what she says to Wife, who is beside herself at this point. She wants to rip the phone from my hand as badly as she doesn’t want to hear anymore. My daughter continued that she felt a large bump as she was driving, but the bump went away, so she kept driving to her friend’s house. It was only her friend who had noticed the car. Again, a bump and then no more…I immediately went to the most logical place: Dear God, she hit the neighbor kid and dragged him to his death, stuck to the front of her car like the largest, most unfortunate grill-splattered beetle. No, and this is where parental over-reaction plays in favor of youth still waiting for their brains to come on, it seems that my princess, my angel, one of the three lights of my parental life, had, perhaps, just slightly grazed the eighty-year-old barn in our own backyard. I repeat, my daughter had tipped the side of a barn with her passenger-side headlight and then accordioned the metal of that quarter of her car until just in front of the passenger-side door. But kept driving. And left. And didn’t know anything had happened until her friend pointed in horror at her car.
Dinner was ruined, of course. It is so hard to enjoy over-priced food after having been sent a picture of your daughter’s wrecked and ridiculously underinsured car. Not only that, but after determining that she was never in any real danger (and aren’t we glad since I don’t have any “particular set of skills”), I was thrown into perhaps the biggest Mississippi White Trash dilemma of my life.
I have always prided myself on having a certain level of education and, therefore, have developed a certain social distance from a few people, not by choice necessarily, but a differing of interests. (And I must admit that at least one set of grandparents did foster a sense of superciliousness to which I took like a duck to water.) Honestly, it’s kinda my thing. With the exception of one preacher uncle and myself, every other male member of my immediate and extended family either drives an eighteen-wheeler, works in the oil field, or drives an eighteen-wheeler while awaiting the recovery of the oil field so that he can get that oil-field job back. They never attended college and never wanted to. I, on the other hand, started majoring in art and ended up with a Bachelor’s degree in French. I take my uselessness very seriously. The problem with blue collar work isn’t the blue collar, it’s all the work. I am an English instructor for goodness’ sake. White collar doesn’t get much whiter than I. Yet here I was on the horns of a dilemma for which even time served in a North Delta trailer park had not prepared me.
I was scheduled to get a tattoo the next day. I mean, not just any tattoo, but the left shoulder to match the design on my right. I had an appointment. My guy on the coast was prepped. (If you are in the neighborhood, go see Sean at Jack and Diane’s in Gulfport, Mis’sippi! He tattoos so gently that I assume he must also be a tender lover.) What was I going to do? On the one hand, I had a daughter, love of my life and fruit of the old loins, whose car needed immediate attention. On the other hand, I really wanted this guy to unleash a swarm of hornets on my left shoulder to cement my dedication to this mid-life crisis. I had never imagined the thought process would be so complicated when determining if money should go to car repair for my family or a snazzy tattoo for myself. It’s not as if we were saving up money for curtains so the baby could have the bed sheets back from the windows of the single-wide, right? I had never felt like such white trash.
Well, I am a responsible adult, a husband, a father, and a college instructor, so the decision was made. My new left shoulder looks awesome and is a true complement to the right. I will donate my rebel flag to the flag-less and claim that as the right to use my White Trash Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card in this situation. My daughter’s car? Well, let’s just say we are looking for the best deal on repairs. Honestly, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care if the I can hear the marble in the paint can rattle as they are trying to “match” the quarter panel (a word I have learned since this situation has developed) to the rest of the car. It will keep for now, and it runs perfectly…well, enough that we can move it to mow the grass and we can trust it to get my precious babies to the “cum’myoon’ty” college (where no one will notice) and back, and right now, that is good enough.