On one of the rural highways of Northern Alabama, I saw a dead animal on the side of the road. I didn’t get a good look and wasn’t sure that what I thought I saw was really what it was. But within the hour, I saw another one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live armadillo, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I wouldn’t readily identify a dead one, but that’s definitely what it was. Armadillo road kill.
And I started laughing. Poor thing, really, I don’t normally find dead animals funny. But this dead animal brought back a fourteen year old memory, and I had to resist the urge to call my husband at work and tell him, “I didn’t do it!”
In January of 1993, the end of my winter break during my senior year of college coincided with Bill’s graduation from the Armor Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I wanted to go, and since Fort Knox was an hour or so closer to my home in Ohio than my college on the eastern border of Pennsylvania was, my mom drove me and all my luggage down there the day before the ceremony. We would drive to his parents’ house in Pennsylvania afterward, and he would take me back to school in time for the spring session.
Bill had not packed a thing. And he had four or five months worth of stuff in his little Bachelor Officer’s Quarters. And he’s not one noted for his ability to throw things away: junk mail can sit for a year on his desk if he’s left to his own devices. In all fairness, he is much improved over the last decade, and there was very little junk mail here by the time I got home on Tuesday, but at the time, he was awful.
And I wasn’t much better. I had packed “lightly” for my 5 weeks or so at home from college and probably only had 3 or 4 hundred pounds of junk to haul back. It was really only those necessary items a girl can’t be without for a month. I left the other semi-load of stuff in my dorm room.
Oh, Bill drove a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. In dark gray. And the taillights weren’t working. This photo is not Bill’s car. This car is in nice condition, and the owner is asking nearly $20k for it. Six years ago, we sold Bill’s Trans Am for about a tenth of that (maybe).
After his graduation ceremony at something like 6 am, I set to work packing his stuff while he headed to the U-Haul dealer to see about a roof carrier for our luggage. That was our plan, and it would have worked nicely. Except that Trans Ams have a sloping roof and won’t hold a roof luggage carrier. And the frame on a Trans Am is not strong enough to pull even a small trailer. So everything would have to go inside the car.
On his way back to tell me this, some part of the engine cooling system went kablooey. And so I spent the day packing his stuff, while he spent the day fixing the car.
And we had it in our head that he had to clear his quarters by the end of the day. I don’t know if this was true or not. Looking back, it probably wasn’t. But at the time, we really thought that we had to leave.
When Bill finally got back with the repaired car, it was afternoon. We started cramming stuff in the trunk, in the back seat, in the back window. Every nook and cranny was filled. There was no airspace in the car. It was so full, in fact, that the driver could not get out without first handing stuff between the seat and the door over to the passenger. And then the passenger had to wait for the driver to get out in order to dump all of that stuff plus the stuff that rested on top of and around him/her onto the driver’s seat.
And did I mention that the taillights didn’t work?
It was late by the time we left on our 12 hour journey. We ate dinner on post and headed out. We were tired, having been up since the early morning. We drove for many hours, but then exhaustion took over. We began swapping drivers every hour, sometimes every half hour. It was awful.
Why didn’t we stop? We should have pulled into a rest stop for an hour or more, I guess, but we didn’t think it was safe (as if driving while exhausted was!). We should have gone to a Motel 6, but there were two reasons we didn’t. First of all, we were too poor. Secondly, as laughable as it seems now, I would have been mortified to check into a motel with him. We had been dating for three years, but we weren’t married. It was one thing to “crash at his place” for the night before his graduation – a typical college mentality. But to get a room at a motel with him? I naively thought that a motel clerk would be scandalized and might think me a harlot. The shame! The horror!
So, on we drove in the dark with no taillights and little traffic to keep us company in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Ah, those crazy days of our youth! I honestly don’t know how I survived past my 25th birthday.
It was my turn to drive, and Bill was passed out under a pile of stuff next to me when some thing suddenly appeared on the road. I had never in my life hit an animal with a car, but there was no time to react, and I nailed the poor thing. Bill claims it was the animal’s death shriek that awoke him; I don’t know how he could differentiate between its cry and mine. He asked me what happened.
“I hit an armadillo!” I sobbed. His response:
“How long have I been asleep and what direction are you driving?!?!?”
I had never seen an armadillo, but I had also never seen a possum either. I didn’t know that both these rodents seem to like crossing roads at the same time that cars drive on them. I also didn’t know that possums are rather ubiquitous throughout the U.S., but armadillos are generally only found in the Southeast. Since then, I have seen plenty of dead possums on the roadways and narrowly avoided hitting plenty more. But not until this week had I ever seen an armadillo, dead or alive.
And so, as my kids were asking me why I thought a dead armadillo was so funny, all I could choke out was that it looked an awful lot like a possum.