Drat the Luck

A friend recently suggested that I lead a “charmed existence.” It got me thinking about all the things in my life to be thankful for. A beautiful wife who still loves me after so many years. Wonderful children who still love me after so many mistakes.  Grandkids who care. A decent home that keeps us warm and dry.  A boat that floats. I admit that I’m a pretty lucky fellow.

But like most people who have attained some degree of maturity – or at least like many who have managed to reach a certain age – in the process of growing up I spent a lot of time looking back. Regretting some of my choices. Suffering my disappointments. Grieving my losses. Dratting my luck. It is only in retrospect that I see what a waste of time and energy that is. For one thing, I was almost always wrong about bad luck. I’ve come to wonder if there really is such a thing.

After the death of my father years ago, I was leaving Eufaula, Oklahoma where I’d been visiting my mom, fixing leaky faucets and changing hard to reach light bulbs.  Heading back to Arkansas in my van, I was driving about 70 on the interstate and approaching an overpass when the engine died. No ignition. No stereo. No power. Nothing.

I coasted to save some hiking, and when the van had slowed sufficiently I steered onto the shoulder of the highway. Immediately after that slight maneuver, I lost complete control of the steering. The wheel in my hands spun freely, no longer connected to the wheels that mattered most. How could this be?

The van careened wildly to the right and was halfway down the steep, grassy slope of the overpass before I managed to bring it to a stop without the benefit of power brakes. This was pure bad luck. The engine was dead, I had no steering, and now I’d probably have to walk miles for help (cell phones had not yet reached the market that included guys like me).

I was no mechanic, but I knew enough to have trouble understanding why the steering wheel disengaged from the front wheels just because the engine died. Obviously the two conditions were related – they had happened at almost exactly the same time – but it made no sense. I spun the wheel again in dazed disbelief. It twirled freely in both directions, like a child’s toy. I tried the ignition — nothing. No juice. No steering. No sense at all.

I set the parking brake, left the van facing downhill on the side of the overpass and began hiking, cursing my luck – dratting it, in fact, while wondering with each tired footstep where the word “drat” came from in the first place. Something to pass the time.

I’ll make the story shorter than the long walk to the mechanic’s shop. When the van had been towed and inspected, two things were found. First, at some point my alternator quit working. When there was no tiny spark left in the battery, the engine died. Second, it was discovered that the van had been wrecked by a previous owner. A jagged piece of metal had been working on the steering column like a crude hacksaw, possibly for years, slowly but relentlessly cutting it through. Moments before the steering column finally fell apart, my engine quit running for a reason that was completely unrelated. If it had not, I would have been doing 70 mph at the top of an interstate overpass when my steering went out.

Drat the luck, indeed.

Perhaps I was saved from disaster because, years later, I would have this monthly Houseboat column to write, and maybe one day would actually write something important and worthwhile. In the meantime, I just try to make you laugh now and then while we all watch and wait. Something to pass the time.

As I look back on my life I realize that there have been few times, if any, that my bad luck turned out to be all bad. More often the opposite has been true.

It is natural to give thanks for the blessings we have. It is easy to be grateful for good luck. It is a little more difficult to appreciate all our wrong choices. All our losses. All our disappointments. All our “bad” luck. Yet these things, as much as anything, contribute to making us all we are.

In this month of Thanksgiving, let’s count our lucky stars, the good ones and the bad ones. Let’s appreciate everything in our lives that makes us what we are, and celebrate the charm of our existence.