Unplugged.

I once drove over twenty-five miles on a highway with an extension cord plugged into my car and dragging out behind me about thirty feet. 

As someone who isn’t a fan of winters, it’s always a family joke that I continued to move north. First to Green Bay and then across the border to Canada. In the winter depths of the Frozen Tundra, Kurtis loaded up all my worldly possessions into a trailer and I said goodbye to my darling duplex in DePere—bound for a new chapter in Saskatchewan. We stayed overnight in North Dakota and I remember wondering why there were all kinds of little stations in the parking lot. I thought they were parking meters at first but upon closer inspection they were outlets. I probably asked Kurtis at the time but sometimes I only half listen to his answers, so there’s a chance he explained and I just forgot. It was cold. My mind was likely on a warm shower.

Anyway, we moved up to Canada in the coldest possible winter and I just about didn’t marry him on account of the thirty below temperatures that lasted from the time we moved in January until July (or so it seemed). One of the first things he wanted to do when we got there was put a block heater in my Jeep. Do you know what that is? Wait, let me rephrase that…has anyone reading in the states heard of a block heater? I sure as heck hadn’t. I actually didn’t ask when he mentioned it and let him do whatever car thing he needed to do to my vehicle. I’m not a big car person. I don’t like washing them, gassing them, oil changes any of the things. Wouldn’t it be nice if people still put gas in our cars for us? Ugh, what a luxury that was. Back to the story—I didn’t pay attention to what he was doing to my car.

When he arrived home with my block heated (or whatever he did to it) vehicle, I watched him run an extension cord from our outdoor outlet to the hood of my car and then he plugged the end somewhere under the hood of the car. I was so confused. I freaked out at first because I thought he had just converted my car into one of those electric Urkelmobiles. Exasperated and confused, I asked if he had turned my vehicle into an electric car. That was probably a dumb question. Kindly, he explained (probably for a second time since North Dakota) that up north when it gets really cold, people plug in their vehicles to keep the engine warm so it starts after sitting out overnight. Considering the thirty below temps with wind gusts strong enough to send a bungalow home to Oz, it made sense.

Fast forward a few years. Winters were just as cold and technology hadn’t gotten any better for us, so we still had to plug in our vehicles. I don’t think I actually ever did plug mine in to be honest—that was Kurtis’s job. I cooked dinner, he plugged in the cars.  We lived in a tiny town of 500 people and for me to go do anything like groceries, shopping, fast food, meet friends, or workout, I had to drive thirty miles to either Estevan or Weyburn. Any time I left, I’d call Kurtis and let him know we were heading in to whichever place I’d decided on that day—usually just flipped a coin to be honest. Heads: Weyburn Wholesale. Tails: Estevan Jason’s No Frills (those are grocery stores). He’d always tell me before I left, “Don’t forget to unplug the car.” I would get annoyed sometimes. Who would forget to unplug a car? Me.  

One March afternoon, I bundled up the girls, got myself put together and decided to go see a friend in Weyburn. She had a little girl Tia’s age, so we were going to do a play date and enjoy some coffee time together. I loaded up the girls, locked the house (just kidding we never locked our house up there) and then started the thirty mile trek to Weyburn. The highway to Weyburn is a two lane mess of jacked-up trucks, oilfield equipment, farm equipment, super-b’s, and international travelers. It’s a well-traveled highway connecting the northern United States through Saskatchewan to Alberta. People either went 20 or 120 kilometers per hour on it—rarely with much in between. Remember we are in Canada friends—kilometers per hour. Ask Kurtis sometime about my comment when we crossed the border for the first time and I saw the speed limit was 100. That’s a different story though. My point is that it was a busy, dangerous highway with lots of crazy drivers and you always said a little prayer anytime you went on it.

Well, I pulled out from Midale onto the highway and took off like a bat out of hell heading to Weyburn. Not far out of town a man in a Toyota Topaz–or something like that–pulled up on my left and was waving his hands and pointing. First I pretended not to see him. I hate awkward situations and this felt especially strange. I didn’t know the man and I wasn’t exactly sure what he was upset about—I was going the speed limit and minding my own business. He kept pulling next to me then backing off. Pointing and shaking his head. I was sure he was going to get smoked by a semi. After about the fourth time, I was getting a little scared  and certainly annoyed, so I looked at him and asked, “What’s your problem!?” Do you ever do that? Talk to someone outside of your car when there’s zero chance they can hear you? I do it a lot actually. I threw my hands up with a frown, rolled my eyes, shook my head and turned away. I mean, he was being so rude. I had a car full of precious cargo and I needed to concentrate on getting them in to town safely. After that, he shook his own head and sped past me.

About halfway to town I kept thinking I heard something other than my pounding heart from the random strange man incident. I was feeling a pull on the Yukon. It was still snowy so I figured a chunk of ice or snow had fallen off the back of the car or maybe something was still frozen onto it and dragging.

On I went the thirty miles to Weyburn ranging anywhere from 110-115 kilometers per hour. As I slowed to make my turn into town, I definitely heard another clank. Now I started thinking I had popped a tire or something was really wrong with the vehicle. As I toodled down main street, people walking the street were even looking at my vehicle and laughing. 

I pulled into my friend’s driveway, got out and grabbed Hadley. I then walked around the other side of the vehicle to grab Tia and saw it….the extension cord. The once fresh, bright orange cord (last seen plugged into the side of our home) was now dirty, beaten, knotted and the plug-in end was all kinds of bent from being ripped out from the socket on the side of our home. Oh boy. I had left without unplugging. What I would give to have been a neighbor witnessing me, stuffed into the drivers seat with all my winter layers, backing out of our driveway with the cord still plugged in. Driving off obliviously singing along to “Roar” while my cord drug along behind me. A bright orange pop of color against the bleak winter background.

The man on the highway—the one I thought was an ass—was actually a really good samaritan trying to tell me that I had an extension cord flying out behind me. He had risked his life multiple times to get my attention. Can you imagine what he thought of me!? 1.) That I was an idiot (because I was) and 2.) That I was a jerk store idiot who didn’t even know what was good for her (because I was). The people on main street staring? Not at my loud vehicle but at the person cruising around town with a thirty foot extension cord dancing behind her over all the potholes. Kurtis? He was speechless. This happens sometimes. It’s not always a good speechless. It’s more of a oh my god speechless. Not like oh my god baby baby speechless but oh my god you didn’t but you did speechless. Anyway. Speechless. Thankfully it turned out ok. I won’t get into all the ways that could’ve gone terribly wrong. We’ll just leave it as a lesson learned and a friendly public service announcement to those of you up north–remember to unplug.

Good Effort, Kendra!

I watched her dump the volleyball into the net for about the fifth time that game. I put on my frozen smile—which by now likely looked similar to the Joker’s—and clapped encouragingly. I waited for it. I knew it was coming. There, from the top row of the bleachers it came raining down, “Good effort, Kendra!”

I played on a traveling volleyball team for the better part of my youth. Truth be told, I had some talent. Unfortunately, talent only got you so far in my volleyball world. What I had for talent I was lacking in last name, relation and financials. I was also a little chubby. Maybe that was it? We played on a team called Lightening. There were three teams in this particular age group in this particular club. Lightening was the middle talent team after Thunder. I maintain to this day that a few of us should’ve been on Thunder but whatever. Politics of youth sports—what can ya do? There was a girl on my team named Kendra*. She was not one of the people that probably should’ve been on Thunder. 

Looking back at how the teams were stacked, I’m wondering if it was just an age thing for us girls at the time. You were either good or you weren’t. In-between didn’t really exist. Thunder was good. I can’t even remember the other team name—Cloud? Rain? Hail? I don’t know, but they, well, weren’t. Lightening was a mix of people who should’ve been on Thunder and people who should’ve been on third team I can’t remember. That made for a mess of a team. So there I was with my frozen smile, internally screaming at Kendra because I had no clue why the heck she was even thinking she could’ve hit the ball that she took away from Emily. And all the time that voice, “Good effort, Kendra!” 

Why do some people have such a lasting impact on us? I have boyfriends who left less of an impression on me than she did. It wasn’t because we were bosom buddies. We were two very strong personalities. I may have also accidentally chuckled when she sprained her ankle. That was actually rotten of me but I remember it clear as day. She went up to hit a ball—pass, set, Kendra jumped (maybe an inch off the ground) spiked it directly into the net (which was to be expected) and came down. Next thing I know, she’s on the ground screaming. Kendra had a loud voice. I didn’t mention that. You know people who have loud voices and then people who have loud voices. Hers was the latter. Anyway, we learned that her loud voice also translated into a loud crier. Screaming. Screeching. Some kind of dying animal cry. When I looked over at her, I was expecting to see bone coming out of her skin it sounded so bad (it was a minor sprain). Her dad, taking two stairs at a time, came leaping down to carry her off the court because she couldn’t even get up to hop off with our help. It was just too much. I chuckled. It’s terrible. I don’t wish pain upon anyone. But I chuckled, so there’s my confession. I’m sorry Kendra. 

It got to the point that Kendra was super reliable for being unreliable during games. At thirteen I wasn’t ok with losing games. You know how you get put on a group project with a C student when you are a straight A student? Suddenly, your entire grade depends on this person magically bringing his or her “A” game? So naturally you just take over everything and tell them you got it? Or was that just me? Maybe that’s why the checkbox for “works well in groups” was always a zero on my report cards? The point was, that was the unreliable feeling driving me crazy during games.

I wanted to play the sport moving into high school and I was highly competitive. I’m also the type of person that when I make a mistake, I want to acknowledge it and try to find out what I did wrong so I can improve on it. Kendra was not that person. She was a it’s-all-just-for-fun-this-doesn’t-matter-participation-trophy-kind of person. So were her parents. After every single error her dad would shout from the rafters between cupped hands, “Good effort, Kendra!” I kid you not, after every single mistake. Missed serve. Good effort. Whiffs the pass. Good effort. Dives for a ball that’s five feet away. Good effort. Good effort, good effort, good effing effort. If hashtags were a thing back then, his would’ve been #goodeffortkendra…on a t-shirt. To make it even worse, he started thinking he could good effort me anytime I made a mistake. No, no Mr. Hawkins* it was not a good effort. It was a terrible serve that I missed and should’ve made. Don’t you start good efforting me! I never said that to him—but I thought it. My parents understood. They weren’t good effort type people either. The first time he said it, I think my mom said something like, “Well it wasn’t really. She should’ve made that serve.” God bless moms for knowing you to your core. For two seasons I lived through the good efforts. Two trying, painful seasons I was haunted by them.  

All sarcasm and joking aside—these were good people. I have nothing against them and I appreciate they were so supportive of their daughter. We were just very, very different. I mean, I just watched Tia play basketball the other day and there are the really nice, good effort moms and then lunatics like myself yelling for her to focus on the ball and stop waving at Payton. So neither is right nor wrong and we are all, quite frankly, just doing the best we can. I get that now Mr. Hawkins. Totally. Little did you know that after all these years, “Good effort, Kendra” is a staple term in my family.

A few years after I hung up my volleyball spandex shorts, I was playing tennis and totally missed a shot. Laughing at the folly (tennis ended up being my sport), my dad yelled down, “Good effort, Kendra” and I busted a gut. It stuck. I mean, stuck. Mom makes a homemade lemon pie that resembled lemon soup? Good effort, Kendra. Kurtis falls out of the penalty box at a playoff game? Good effort, Kendra. Lauren plans an epic dinner and a family fight breaks out? Good effort, Kendra. Friend hits a terrible golf shot? Good effort, Kendra. Friend looks at us, confused, who’s Kendra? She asks. Months later, she’s saying it to other friend who hits a bad shot. I mean, people in my circle hear this phrase often—likely without a clue as to where it came from or who it’s referring to. But it lives on…and I think of her. I think of thirteen-year-old Kendra and me playing volleyball on our mediocre team. I don’t have a clue where she is these days or how her parents are doing. I do, however, look back fondly on those days. Somehow, that loud-voiced little girl and her effort-loving father have managed to be a part of my life for the last twenty some years. And with each folly in my life or that of anyone around me, their legacy lives on—good effort, Kendra. Good effort. 

*Name changed.