In about 1985 Hugh Grant starred in a movie called “The Englishman who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain.” It’s about a World War I-era village whose inhabitants didn’t like the idea of their local mountain being classified as a hill by a map maker because it wasn’t tall enough to meet the official size criteria to be called a mountain. So the local residents piled dirt on top of the hill to make it higher so it could be officially called a mountain. A few years after the movie was made, a certain Alabamian named David Lowry (my husband) went up a hill and when he got to the top and started to come back down it didn’t looked like a hill any more. It looked like a mountain—a steep, icy, treacherous, mountain. I know because I was right behind him in the back seat.
It was a snow day in Birmingham. Schools, daycares and businesses were closed because the streets were too icy for safe travel. It wasn’t a pretty, fluffy snow that was good for playing. It was wet, soggy, icy snow that made you want to curl up on the sofa with hot chocolate and a good book. But David is not a curl up with a book kind of guy. He had just finished restoring and rebuilding the engine on a 1981 full size Ford Bronco with huge tires and four-wheel drive. When he bought the thing it was a burned out wreck that had to be towed home. He rebuilt all the mechanical parts, had the frame straightened, detailed the interior, installed new carpet, had the outside professionally painted and purchased new tires. He was really proud of the result of all his work and in his mind a snow day and a closed office was the perfect opportunity not to stay home, but to go out driving to road test his toy. He drove around the block and was so excited about how well it did, he wanted to take me for a ride too. He installed Jennifer’s safety seat in the back and we loaded up for a trip to the grocery store (everything else was closed because of the snow so there wasn’t really anywhere to go).
On a snow day in Birmingham a grocery store is a happening place. When the whole city shuts down, everybody wants to eat snacks and make chili—and it’s almost a rule that the minute the weatherman says the word snow, every resident in the city goes to the store for a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, and a jar of peanut butter. Don’t ask why; that’s just what we do in Birmingham. The Bruno’s store on Montevallo Road was packed that morning. The store was operating with a skeleton staff and the lines were halfway back to the meat department. In the store, people were talking to friends and neighbors telling their war stories of how high the snowdrifts were in their yards, how many fallen trees they’d seen, and how they had managed to get to the store. David talked to someone he knew who had walked all the way from Crestline. When David told him he had come to the store in his four-wheel-drive Bronco, the guy asked David if he could give him a ride back (it was still freezing outside after all). David was thrilled to be able to help.
The man thanked David for the ride and said if we’d drop him off on the corner of his street he’d walk the rest of the way home. He lived on the high side of Euclid Avenue and he never imagined that anyone—not even in a four-wheel drive vehicle—would attempt to drive up such a steep, icy hill. But this is David we are talking about—the Alabamian who went up a hill…
I don’t know what David was thinking. He drove up that long, steep hill like it was a sunshiny day in springtime. He was quite proud of himself for making it to the top. After the friend got out and again thanked him for the ride, David turned around. That’s when the trouble started. Somehow it just never crossed his mind how he was going to get back down. From the top the street looked like a cross between the grand finale drop of a roller coaster and a bowling lane where a gutter ball could be deadly. David drove over one block to see if that route looked easier and it didn’t. Like a crouching cat about to leap, David sat in the driver’s seat of that huge green Bronco with his eyes darting from side to side down that long, steep, narrow lane. The street itself was covered in ice and snow. On either side were small perfect yards, posh houses, and street-parked European luxury cars covered in snow. The cars’ hood ornaments peeped out of the snow blankets like sparkling dollar signs mockingly reminding us of how expensive this downhill drive would be if David did it wrong. We both knew that once he took his foot off the brake and tapped the gas pedal, he’d be committed. (The word committed here has a little double entendre and they both fit. He was obviously crazy to try this but that didn’t seem to matter.)
I sat in the back seat praying and holding onto Jennifer’s car seat. She craned her neck to see between the two tall front seats and gripped the chest guard of her child seat so tight her little fingertips turned white. No one said a word. About halfway down the hill that huge vehicle started to slide. I became acutely aware of a house on the left side of the street. Built low on the hillside, the house’s sparkling picture window was right at street level and we were sliding straight toward it. With the momentum we had going I figured we’d go airborne, miss the yard, crash through the window, and land in the living room right in front of the fireplace.
Instead, David managed to guide the skid. The slight lip at the edge of street changed the course of our slide and like a queue ball on a billiard table we bumped from side to side between the cars parked on both sides of the street. We only hit one mailbox but it sustained no visible damage. There was just a small scratch on the Bronco door—a souvenir of the trip.
Once we got home and our knees quit shaking and our heart rates returned to normal, David said that there would be a permanent imprint of his rear in the driver’s seat from where he had gripped so tightly. For the next six months, every time we got into the Bronco or drove down Euclid Avenue, Jennifer said, “Please Daddy, not go up that hill again.” My sentiments exactly.