Driving Home a Point

How NOT to See the Sandhills

I may not know many things for certain, but I do know this:  a 1959 Buick makes a lousy Dune Buggy.  Nobody had to tell me this.  I saw it for myself.

Let me begin by setting the stage.  You see, when you’re raised in the west Texas desert like I was, your entertainment options are pretty much limited to: A: chasing horny toads; B: building forts out of tumbleweeds; C: putting a bunch of red ants and a bunch of black ants in a jar and watching ‘em sting each other to death (this suggestion courtesy of my husband who was also raised in west Texas); or D: going to the Sandhills.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Texas geography, the Monahans Sandhills State Park is located about an hour southwest of my hometown of Midland, and it was comprised of almost 4,000 acres of pristine sand dunes – some rising more than 70 feet high – just waiting to be climbed up, rolled down, surfed on, and buried in, so that by the time we came home at the end of the day it was just like Bob Hope once said, "I had sand in places I didn’t even know I had places!” 

One of the neatest features of the park was a jeep ride in this rather odd-looking vehicle that ferried passengers on a wild ride up and down the dunes.  At least once during the trip the driver would pause at the top of a high ridge to point out something way off on the horizon, and just when everybody was focusing their attention that direction, he’d quickly swoop off down a sharp slope, sending our stomachs into our throats!  Yee-ha!

But of all my Sandhills memories, there is one in particular that stands out the most:  We’d spent the whole day at the park with another family, and as we all piled our hot, sweaty, sandy bodies into the car, my Dad turned to his friend Charlie and said, "Seems to me the trick to driving on that sand is the speed.  I’ll bet we could manage it ourselves, if we got up a running head start.”  My Mom, shrieked, "Jolly, don’t you dare!”  But as usual, those were wasted words.  He backed that enormous battleship of a car up and pointed it at the nearest dune.  Then he took off.

Did we go flying over the dunes?  Uh, not exactly.  Our car didn’t make it twenty feet before the whole back end sank to the bumper.  The more Daddy gunned it, the faster those wheels flung sand into the air like it was shot out of a cannon.  We kids were ordered out of the car to lighten the load, and Mom fired up the movie camera to capture her "I told you so” moment for posterity – but that was hardly necessary.  None of us were ever likely to forget this event!

I still think of it today, in fact, especially when I get myself into a mess I can’t get out of.  Take last week for example.  A woman I had recently met asked me if I’d consider helping her out with a writing project.  She told me what it was, and even though I had absolutely no background, training, or experience in that field, I had an unmistakable "Sandhills” moment and said "Sure!  It’ll be a cinch!”  I came straight home, turned on my battleship of a laptop, and took off.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t get twenty words, much less twenty paragraphs, into the task before I began to sink.  What on earth made me think I was equipped to tackle an important job like this?  I was a fool to even try it.  Finally, when it was obvious that I was hopelessly stuck, I had to call that woman back and beg her to rescue me from the project.

The exact same thing happened at the Sandhills too.  Just when my Dad had given up all hope of ever digging that car out, along came that odd little vehicle.  With more humility (no, make that humiliation) than I’ve ever known him to display, Daddy sheepishly asked for help, and thankfully the driver rescued us.

There’s a lesson in all of this, of course, and here it is:  the next time you’re tempted to do something really stupid, whether it’s driving a 1959 Buick into the sand or [fill in the blank!], you’d better listen to my mother when she shrieks, "Don’t you dare!”  Believe me, you’ll be glad you did.

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