By Kat Stickroth
Just as Dorothy was told upon arriving in the Land of Oz, “This isn’t Kansas,” I repeatedly am reminded, “Katherine, this is NOT the urban South.”
I am grateful for my personal council of Wallowa County elders who have time on their hands to teach me about Wallowa life. Among them are Manford and Vera Isley. How to drive in hazardous road conditions was the first lesson in my Wallowa Life education.
The problem of speeding climaxed last December. Manford and Vera invited me to their daughter’s Christmas dinner in Athena. We agreed to go in my truck. He drove up there; I drove back. It was when we approached and topped Tollgate in the freezing dark that he began firmly repeating, “Slow down, Katherine.”
Vera was in the back seat, probably praying.
The road was icy with a cover of light snow. I applied brakes, which gave the truck a sliding wiggle. I realized I didn't know what to do.
“Do you want to drive?” I invited him.
“No. Just keep going,” he replied.
Manford told me when to downshift and to keep a steady speed and whatever happens, don’t stop. It was more than I thought I could handle, but he insisted I could do this.
The tension in the air was oppressive by the time we pulled into Joseph. We were all glad to place our feet on terra firma.
After a few days, I knocked on their door and Manford answered. I blurted out, “The other night on the way home, it became obvious I don’t know how to drive on these winter roads. Would you teach me?”
With my instructor at the wheel, we headed for Imnaha. I felt like a 15 year old in Drivers Ed as he showed me how to recognize black ice. He pointed out how to approach a blind curve, with my eyes fixed on the limits of field of vision to anticipate the approach of an unseen vehicle. He explained how snow sits on ice, and how careful I NEED TO PAY ATTENTION.
After two weeks of practice, I asked him for a check ride. We wound through the canyons and back without my hearing, “Slow down.”
My teacher does not readily hand out A’s, but when Manford got out and said with a smile, “You’re learning,” I took that as maybe a B, and could not have been happier.
Originally published January 13, 2016 in the La Grande Observer. Reprinted with permission.