Driver’s Ed, GoodyGood Bakery, Gar Green and Mr. Stone

March 26, 2010

Before Dunkin’ Donuts turned every other street corner into an orange and pink explosion, eclipsing even Starbucks in a quest for world domination, Laconia, New Hampshire had delectable corner donut shops like Jimmy’s, which donated all their day-old donuts to Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church for Sunday coffee hour, but also made anatomically correct boob cakes, the perfect confection for a guy turning forty. (And no, they didn’t make penis cakes, a fact I know because my Gram’s friend Ann tried to order one for her birthday one year and they hung up on her.) And then there was GoodyGood Bakery, where the guys behind the counter all looked like they were either ex-Marines or on parole, but if you were brave enough to walk through the door and they were in the mood to come to the counter, you could get donuts as early as 3 a.m., and you always were brave enough to walk through the door at 3 a.m. if you happened to be driving by because the intoxicating smell simply demanded that you do so.

As far as Gar Green, what can I say? There are always people finding new ways to die too young, or people dying too young in the old classic ways—mixing fearlessness with the faith that nothing truly bad will ever happen except to someone else—just as there are people, many of whom are reading this right now, who know that they have somehow escaped that fate for no other reason but dumb luck and what they’re supposed to do with that luck—or that blessing, however they choose to look at it—they might have yet to discover.

I know I promised this selection would arrive in three parts, but I’ll just give you all the rest today. . . I just read that the ice is out on Winnipesaukee and it’s giving me spring fever.  Away from the computer I go.

Fast Forward, Part 2

Monday, 7 a.m., I pull up to GoodyGood Bakery and Mr. Stone unfolds himself from the passenger seat and goes in to buy coffee. I am behind the wheel of the driver’s ed car with its extra passenger-side brake and large sticker on the trunk reading “STUDENT DRIVER,” in bright, humiliating red. I am bleary-eyed and tired, but I have the morning drive slot because I like to get things over with early.

I get out of the car to switch seats so my partner, Gar, can get behind the wheel for our second hour of instruction. I open the back door and look at Gar slumped down in the seat, eyes closed, arms wrapped around his wrinkled Tom Petty T-shirt. I have known Gardiner Green since kindergarten, when I was sent to the principal after smacking him on the head with a notebook and aside from being a lot taller, Gar doesn’t really look too different. In elementary school Gar and I were always alphabetically linked thanks to our last names, and we also both were loud-mouthed obnoxious know-it-alls, so our kindergarten run-in was not the only time I considered him responsible for an undeserved trip to the office. But we have mellowed considerably and I like us both much better now.

Fast forward a few years and Gar will be gone, thanks to a car surfing mishap Mr. Stone could easily add to the roster of blood on the highway stories he sprinkles his driver’s ed lectures with. When I hear news of Gar’s death, I will immediately remember hitting him with that notebook, though the recollection will come without the mix of indignation and shock I’d felt at age five meeting my match. I will be struck instead by the insignificance of this memory when held up against the entirety of Gar’s life, and by the absurdity he has died doing something I’d never before knew existed. But today Gar is only sixteen, sitting in the backseat of the driver’s ed car, and despite appearances I know he’s not sleeping. Sure enough, as I stand there holding the door, his eyes flip open.

“It is way too early for this,” he says to me.

“True,” I say, and step back as he grabs the roof handle and pulls himself out of the car. I slide into the back and Mr. Stone walks out of GoodyGood Bakery with his coffee and two white bags.

“Donuts,” Mr. Stone says. “Only for you early crew. But not while you’re driving,” he adds, pointing to Gar before tossing both bags to me in the back. “Donuts and driving don’t mix.”

This is so completely unexpected from Mr. Stone—whose name always seemed an apt description for his stern demeanor—that Gar and I look at each other in speechless amazement, grins on our faces. Finally Gar says in a goofy voice, “Thanks for the treats!” and Mr. Stone smiles and shakes his head as he gets in the car.

I put on my seatbelt and roll down the window, the cool breeze of early summer morning blowing through the car. I pull off pieces of donut one by one, licking my fingers after each honey-glazed bite, happy to be done with my driving shift. Perhaps inspired by the unexpected gift of a donut, it occurs to me Mr. Stone is a pretty good teacher. His voice is calm even when he’s had to slam on his emergency passenger brake, forcing the car to an abrupt and jarring stop. His voice is calm even when I am in a panic, stuck in the middle of an intersection, traffic coming straight toward us.

Long after class is over, I hear Mr. Stone’s calm voice in my head as I drive, telling me to make sure I have enough braking distance, to turn into a skid, to remember my blind spot and be aware the road is most slippery in the first few minutes of a rainstorm. I remember Mr. Stone’s instruction long after forgetting so many other things from high school–the quadratic formula, my German vocabulary, all but the ending of Catcher in the Rye.

I wonder now if Mr. Stone remembers us too, if he ever scans the paper for accident stories, relieved when he doesn’t recognize names. But maybe he’s learned to put us out of mind as soon as we’re out of the classroom, knowing there are endless limitations to what he–or we–might ever be able to prevent.

It’s only when the second hour is almost up–when we turn onto Church Street to head back–that I think to look out the window for the bodies we traced so early Sunday morning. We had pictured families emerging from Saint Joseph’s 8 a.m. Mass, crossing the street for the paper at the Spa and pausing with sinking wonder at the ghosts of our four bodies splayed across the street. We thought it was hilarious–thought we were so clever–we laughed the whole way home.

But there’s nothing when I look out the window, just blank asphalt where the outlines had been. I crush my empty donut bag, thinking how easily chalk is erased from a blackboard, and I look out the window as Gar drives on–past the Spa and Saint Joseph’s and the old boardinghouse–only stopping when he reaches the red light at the Busy Corner Store. I am surprised to see that for once there’s no one on the phone. The receiver is swinging from its cord, rather than nestled in its cradle, as if someone had stepped away in the middle of a conversation, fully intending to come right back.

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One Response to “Driver’s Ed, GoodyGood Bakery, Gar Green and Mr. Stone”

  1. Kathleen Withey said

    When I had my first drive in the car with Mr. Stone it was the first time I actually sat in the driver’s seat and only used to steer the wheel or shift the gears from the passenger seat when driving around with my sister. I was 2nd to drive with Mr. Stone that evening because my driving partner (name withheld) said she had tried driving before. After a few rounds in the school parking lot he had her head to the main road where she proceeded for the next 10 minutes to totally drive in the ditch, inches from taking down every mailbox in the Forest Ridge neighborhood! Mr. Stone asked if I was buckled up in back and then calmly instructed her to try bringing it more center…to the pavement at least. Once we got back to the school parking lot I was freaking out, thinking driving wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Once I was on the road though I found I could stay in the right lane and eventually he lead me to the McDonald’s drive-thru. I think the fries and burger must have settled his stomach much like it does for some with a hangover!
    Loving your writing and stories Katie…it’s bringing back lots of memories for me too!

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