In 1982, I returned to Groton, Connecticut, home of the United States Submarine Force. This time I was reporting to my first submarine. In the interim, I had been to Virginia Beach, Virginia, then on to San Diego, California for sonar school. San Diego — Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, The Del, and magic lessons (this one is a story for another time), many of my classmates insisted I go to Black’s Beach, but I never made it. The next time I would go to San Diego, I would pass the test to join MENSA, but joined the United States Chess Federation instead. I enjoyed San Diego, but in my mind, Groton was where I belonged. I could feel the presence of my submarine forefathers everywhere I went. I would learn many things in Groton.
One of the earliest things I learned in Groton was how to drive in snow. This time in Groton, I had my own wheels, a 1978 Ford F-150 pickup truck. In the early 1980’s trucks were still work vehicles, and you could get a truck for half the price of a car. So, there I was, a Florida boy with my pickup and Florida plates. driving in snow in Groton, Connecticut.
I would see a green light at the intersection a block ahead of me, and I would start slowing down, the light would be red by the time I got to the intersection. On Sundays, little old ladies on their way to church would pass me. Of course, it did not take long before a Groton police officer pulled me over. He never asked for my driver’s license, insurance, or registration.
“Are you in the navy?” asked the officer.
“Are you actually from Florida?”
“Have you ever driven in snow before?”
He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card, which he handed to me.
“That shopping center over there closes at 9 PM tonight. I want you to go to the far end of the parking where there are no light posts. I want you to drive in the snow and lose control of your truck, then regain control of it again. I want you to keep doing this until you are comfortable driving in snow. If anyone stops you, I want you to hand them my card, and tell them I told you to do it, that you are learning to drive in snow.”
He did not chastise me, write me a ticket, or even give me a warning. In a calm and soft voice, he gave me the guidance I needed, steered me in the right direction, and allowed me to venture out to face my fear on my own. I was all over that parking lot. Long after I felt comfortable driving in snow I was still sliding all around that parking lot, and having one hell of a good time doing it.
I do not have the card any more, but I am a good driver in snow, and I am not the only one who says that. I sometimes wonder how many car accidents that police officer prevented. No matter how much snow is coming down, or how much snow is on the road, I am calm, confident, and steady behind the wheel.
We all do that in life. When we first venture out we are timid, then we go a little crazy. But, if we are lucky, we have someone who puts that hand on our shoulder, and in a calm voice, gives us the guidance we need. Then they stand back, and let us find our own way. The stepping back part is just as important as the non-judgmental advice and the hand on the shoulder. It lets us know that someone has confidence in us, confidence that we may not feel at the time. But, that confidence rubs off on us, and as we find our way we become calm, confident, and steady. After all, life is just driving in the snow.
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