As a boy growing up on a ranch, I learned to drive at the tender age of five. I remember helping my dad feed the cows. He would stack hay in the bed of the truck, put the pickup in granny gear, and I would stand on the seat and steer while he dumped hay over the tailgate. As I grew older, my skill set improved to the point that, by the age of ten, I was driving the old Farmall—a tractor with no power steering, sun shade, or shocks. But, I didn’t care. I latched on to the grain drill and followed my dad, who was turning fresh soil a few rows ahead of me. There were a few times I ran my tractor through the fence and got barbed wire wrapped around the axles. (I could do a whole series of stories about my tractor accidents.) Thankfully, my dad was a kind and patient father, who simply unwound and rewired the fences, and let that be the end of the matter. I learned to respect the fence and stay on my side.
Once, when I was about twelve, my grandmother put me in her old Pontiac and sent me to the store to pick up a few groceries. I drove a few blocks down and back without incident. I have no idea why she did that, but it was a huge event for me! I know,Sweetwater, Texas, is not a huge town, but still!
As I got nearly old enough to take Driver’s Ed, I felt pretty confident with my driving skills. And then it happened … I’d been watching a Charlie Chaplain movie where he would drive his Model T to a gate and, without stopping, jump out of the car, run ahead of it, open the gate, and then close the gate for the driverless car. He would then run and catch up with the Model T and keep going. Lickity split.
Several things went wrong when I tried it. First, I should have put the pickup in low gear. Second, I should have remembered the iron gate was chained and pad locked. Third, I should have jumped out sooner and given myself more room to work. Fourth, I shouldn’t have tried it at all.
I lined the pickup on the road, and then jumped out and started running to the gate. The driverless pickup passed me before I got to said gate, which was still secure with a chain and a pad lock. I remember the sound the pickup made as it slammed into the gate, and the reverberating sound the gate made as it rang like a bell while the pickup continued down the road and was about to cross the highway. I managed to get back in and stop the truck before it hit the cattle guard across the highway. In retrospect, I should have let the pickup run over me rather than have to conduct the drive-of-shame to the house to tell my dad what I’d done. (I even tried to bend the gate back in place with the pickup before I concluded the entire situation was irredeemable.)Imagine trying to explain how this happened.
Gates and fences are important. They provide boundaries and protection. And they make for good neighbors! If you respect the fence and properly use the gate, it will help you keep your act together.
Writing is like this sometimes. Authors envision grand plans, but sometimes the characters refuse to cooperate and the plot laughs at you as the story takes a different turn than you anticipated. The gate that was designed to keep you safe within the boundary is busted open, and can’t be repaired without help. It happens. Fortunately, it’s only words on paper, and no one actually gets hurt. Well, not until the editor sees what you’ve done. But, that’s a different post! Writers know they have boundaries and they usually respect them. When a gate is locked, there’s a protocol to open it. Just pushing against the boundary or gate is not something we should do without good reason. Busting through the barrier is something you should only do in an extreme response to something else. Sometimes, once the gate is busted, it can’t simply be put back in place without help.