Years ago when my mother was still with us, I used to joke with her about her uncanny ability to enter the parking lot of the busiest store on Christmas Eve and find the parking spot closest to the door, whether it was occupied or not.
She had perseverance, that woman did. She would bide her time and eyeball a slot, and as if by magic, it would empty as she approached it.
She was smooth too. I mean who’s gonna wrestle with a grandmother?
When I was pregnant with my son, towards the end of the pregnancy I was unable to do a whole heck of a lot. My mother would drive us anywhere we needed to go when she made the pilgrimage from Florida to stay with me the last 2 months of my term.
I used to marvel at her ability to claim the spot, most coveted by every driver, especially on those wretched days where close proximity to a door, any door, would be construed as a very good thing.
My son grew up with the stories of Grandma MoJo and to this day, when we enter a parking lot, we thank the Grandma MoJo for guiding us to a convenient spot.
We are successful more often than not, and I like to think of it as my mom’s legacy to me after her passing two years ago.
We have extended her MoJo to virtually every encounter of traffic, pulling out of our favorite watering hole, the grocery store, the gas station, the driveway; which sits precariously between a steep hill from the west and a blind curve from the east.
As we pull towards any convergence of parking area and traffic, one of us is sure to murmur “Grandma MoJo” as we merge fluidly into that traffic without hesitation in our momentum. Once we are in motion, we tend to stay in motion when The Grandma MoJo is invoked.
Much like my mother was throughout her life.
Not that Grandma MoJo would be my automotive salvation; it’s nice to know I paid attention in drivers school (taught by my mother of course, who could give top racers a run for their money, or Secret Service drivers in the commission of protecting the POTUS) and having logged well over a million miles in my lifetime, I’m a pretty fair driver behind the wheel. But it’s good to have The Grandma by my side.
Grandma MoJo is my way to remember her and I am thankful for any memory that takes me closer to my mother. We both found peace behind the wheel of a car and I find it a fitting tribute that every time I turn the key in the ignition, I divine the Grandma MoJo.
So today I decide to travel west across the Catoctin mountains to visit with Pat Nolan and see Joe do something new in someplace new. I had not seen Pat in months and I missed being in the field with the enthusiasm of the dogs and the folks who train them.
I didn’t watch the weather report closely enough before I left.
I saddle up Joe, always excited about the prospect of adventure afield, turned my back to the weather report I did see (now who really believes the weather man?) and headed out, west on 77 until it ends at 64. Only 31.7 miles of smooth sailing through some very pretty, peaceful country.
Chugging through the narrows of route 77 up through the mountains, I see the river crusted over in spots, the current running underneath the ice. It looked cold. At an ambient air temperature of 21 degrees, I imagine it’s very cold.
Over the mountaintop and down the other side into the valley that comprises Smithsburg, the clouds threaten but remain inert.
We end up on a farm road through some pristine, open land. The road itself was a tractor path to which Rocky’s old bones creaked and groaned over the ruts. We fell in behind Pat’s rig, following him through a gully with about a foot of water in it covered by some pretty heavy ice. There was a dicey moment where I thought I would be pressing Rocky into service to pull Pat’s truck out, but with all that power, it’s pretty impressive what his dually can do.
We finally park at the top of a path that bisects two fields; corn stubble on one side, what looked like soy on the other.
Looking east towards the mountains, the clouds have dropped lower and taken on the steel grey mist of precipitation. Our snow had arrived.
We ran our dogs. Joe did well enough to not embarrass me entirely, and it was genuinely good to be there, among friends.
It wasn’t a hard snow, they weren’t predicting much, but it was covering the ground quickly, and now I was west of the mountains.
The area temps had been below freezing for over a week with wind chills in the single digits. What was falling was sticking. With no preparation on the part of the D.O.T. it could get pretty ugly pretty fast.
We said our good byes and I opted to lead the way in the event that Pat had trouble at the bottom of that farm lane again.
From Smithsburg to Thurmont, route 77 has it’s share of hairpin turns, narrowing of lanes and road crowning that could easily land an unwary driver ass over teakettle in the wash comprised of house-sized boulders and deadfall from last year’s blizzard.
It is an honest road. When the signs post speed limits of 30 mph and lower, there are valid reasons. On a good day. A nice little nest of turns and twists, uncomplicated if you are smart and only moderately challenging on a motorcycle with an experienced rider. On a good day. A couple of snowflakes on an untreated surface high up the mountain amidst all those snake-like turns and it could get rough.
Especially in an 11-year-old Expedition named Rocky with less than perfect front tires and rear brakes that needed replacing probably about a year ago.
If there was ever a time to invoke The MoJo, it was now.
It would seem that traveling 25 mph through the mountains may be an irritant to some folks, but I had a family to think about and I intended to arrive alive.
The vast majority of the trip down to Thurmont I was unaccompanied, with the exception of the dolt in the little silver toy SUV who was eager to go much faster. As I banked precariously to the right to allow him to pass, I conferred him some MoJo too, because at 7600 pounds and with only two good tires, Rocky was still better equipped that this poor guy. I waved him on and continued as slowly as I wanted.
Catching the brakes occasionally to reassure myself that I still had them, I would test the road surface and feel enough of a drag to realize that the ice was building up pretty quickly. But being in a state where common sense seems to abandon drivers with the threat of a rain drop or snow flake was a much greater concern to me.
Sure enough, the little silver toy truck was nose-first at the bottom of the mountain in somebodies front yard just before the SR 15 overpass in Thurmont.
I resisted the urge to wave.
Four wheel drive does absolutely nothing in icy conditions. It may not have been icy at RT 77 and RT 64, but it was icy on the mountain.
I hadn’t even engaged mine. At over 3.5 tons, I didn’t really feel the need…
But it does require dexterity behind the wheel and a modicum of common sense.
Thing is, the roads weren’t that bad. But if one was foolish, they could be very bad. Just an inch of snow on a frozen, untreated road surface should be sufficient to trigger some common sense. But this is Maryland.
Beyond Keymar, I ran into the bus traffic from the county releasing the kids early from school. Buses stopping and starting on hills to let kids out sent drivers skittering left and right if they were too close or traveling too fast. Me and Rocky and The MoJo stayed out of trouble.
As I pulled into the driveway, my husband was coming down the hill from the house with one of the pups. I invited him out to run some errands after he finished up.
Our final errand found us at the gas station and as we pulled away from the pumps into Route 140 traffic, my husband obligingly thanked the good Grandma MoJo.
I silently thanked her too.