Several years ago, I began commuting to work. It is not my favorite thing to do. But I like the familiarity of the drive, and I am always at work honing my powers of observation, like all ladies of an age should.
On my drive I pass a house that sits on a slight hill, a bit back from the road and has a long gravel drive winding up to it. In years when we have had snow, I have felt both sorry for the owners that didn’t have a smoother surface that could be scraped or snow blown, but also somewhat envious, as they were undisturbed by the outside world, no SUV or truck tracks marring the snow covered drive.
One Friday early this spring, there were trucks at the end of the drive, temporarily blocking that lane of my commute. As I got closer, I realized one of them was churning cement. Were they pouring a driveway?
On Monday I craned my neck in the rearview mirror after passing the house, and to my surprise, it looked like only one fairly small section of driveway, right at the base of the hill, had been poured.
I looked forward to the end of work that day—ahh, who am I kidding, I always look forward to the end of my work day. But that day, I wanted to take a look to verify the tiny driveway they had poured.
Sure enough, as I slowed down to rubberneck, only one section of concrete was curing, surrounded on the other two sides by all that gravel. What in the world? Why wouldn’t you pour the whole thing?
When my husband got home, I shared the exciting, albeit puzzling details. Or at least I attempted to.
As my opener, I said, “I saw the weirdest thing today.”
Somewhat intrigued, because likely he thought I had seen someone with a third eye or a 50 something year old with a really good mullet, he inclined an ear toward me, a sure invitation for me to continue.
“Yeah, you know that house that sits sort of on the hill on the right, just before our turn, with the gravel driveway?”
“No,” he said, without even trying to access the route in his mind, “I guess I never saw it.”
“Well, of course you saw it,” I said, suddenly desperate to cement a reference in his mind for this fabulous story I was getting ready to tell. “You drive past it all the time.”
“I just can’t picture it,” he said, “but go ahead with the story.”
In that moment, I had a choice to pout about him not noticing the same things I do or to have at least a smidgen of a viable dinner conversation topic, so like Lewis and Clark, I pushed bravely forward.
“Well, they have a gravel drive, but…” I started, when he interrupted and said, “Yeah, that’s what you said.”
“That’s not the whole story!” I whined.
“Oh, well that is weird or at least kind of unusual to have a gravel drive in the suburbs, so I just thought that is what you meant,” he said, now fully engaged. “There’s more?”
Setting his threshold of weird aside, I told him about the cement truck and the resulting single section of driveway it had poured.
“Okay, go ahead,” he said.
“Well, that’s it. I mean who pours one section of driveway? That is just weird.”
Maybe it was my tone or the volume at which I emphasized the word weird, but he paused for just long enough to make me think he was thinking about what I had said and considering the level of weirdness.
“Hmmm. I have a question,” he said. “Do you want possible explanations, a rating from 1 to 10 of how weird that is or isn’t, or would you just be satisfied with my initial hmmm?”
I wanted a discussion, which was not one of his options. Before he could offer me his list, I offered mine.
“I know that sometimes concrete companies will schedule a driveway when they know they will have extra concrete mixed from a big job, and it saves the homeowner money. Maybe that’s it. Or maybe the grader they were using to level the gravel threw craps, and they couldn’t level the other sections. Or maybe they got to pouring it, and it was too thick or too thin. Or maybe some of the workers were sick with COVID, ” I said breathlessly.
When he didn’t bite on one of those explanations, I ruminated further.
“I think they poured it Friday, and wasn’t it supposed to rain over the weekend? Maybe they just thought the weather wouldn’t cooperate for it to cure correctly. Or maybe…nah, this is too crazy…maybe the wife commissioned the driveway and the husband didn’t really want it and he just stopped the work! Or maybe the crew got there with the invoice, looking for payment and the amount was way more than they anticipated, and they could just afford a section!”
He smiled like he does when he knows more than me. I should tell you it isn’t his best look.
“Maybe they just decided to do it piece by piece,” he mumbled under his breath.
Mind blown at his simplistic explanation and lack of willingness to gnaw that bone right down to the marrow, I said, “Well, that’s just dumb,” mimicking Ricky Bobby, one of my most favorite cinematic characters of all time.
To my husband, that was not at all dumb. He started a Perry Mason like defense of all the things that were better done piece by piece.
He talked about some dessert that you start one day that gets refrigerated, and then you complete it the next day, like in two pieces. I countered with the idea that recipes were done in steps. He countered with puzzles. He meandered his way into quilt making and mosaic art. I teased him about his love for crafts.
He said he thought there was maybe even an ACDC song with the name Piece by Piece, and I resisted the urge to tell him it was Kelly Clarkson who sang it and question his very manhood. ACDC, pshawwww.
We ate the rest of our dinner in silent contemplation about pieces, until our daughter interrupted just long enough to share her desire to have curtain bangs cut into her beautiful all one length hair, and the shock of her announcement sort of pulled me out of the debate.
About an hour later, my husband said, “Do you remember a TV show called Piece by Piece?”
I didn’t bite.
“I can’t remember if we watched it together or I just watched it. It was about graffiti artists in California,” he said.
“You Googled piece by piece, didn’t you?” I said.
Unphased, he said, “Pizza. Pizza is a piece by piece thing.” No argument there, most of us do eat it piece by piece.
I know why he understands the single driveway panel. He is a piecer, and yes, I just made that word up, according to my grammar checker.
He pieces together outfits, ones that incorporate lots of patterns and lots of colors, none of which the rest of us would match. The results are dazzling.
He pieces together long, often rambling prayers at family dinners, praising God for everything from good steaks to temperate weather and implores him for help with everything from slowing down golf cart drivers in our neighborhood to good boyfriends for our girl to real things like curing cancer.
He manicures our shrubbery in pieces, working until he tires, and then attacking it again another day. My Edward Scissorhands likes to piece away the branch which results in a sort of late 80’s asymmetrical bob on our boxwoods.
Under pressure from our maid (me), he cleans off his dresser top piece by piece, examining each item like it belongs in a gallery, whereas I would just rake my forearm across the whole mess the night before trash day and sneak it out.
In the months since the tiny drive was poured, I have romanticized that concrete, thinking about it on my daily commute. Perhaps they wanted to see the color of the concrete once it was cured, kind of like trying to find the right blue paint for a bedroom wall with little swatches. They probably just gazed out their picture window at it each day.
The deeply sentimental part of me imagined a little grandson who would be so enamored by a concrete truck, that they postponed until he could be there with them to see it poured. I assumed he lived in either Portland, where it rains so much it is hard to pour concrete or in Mississippi, where it is so muddy that the concrete just sinks in. Concrete is a big deal to little boys.
The patriotic part of me just knew their son has been serving in the military in an overseas occupation, had finally gotten word of his discharge, and they wanted to afford him one last view of his boyhood gravel drive, and thus had halted the work while he made his way home, perhaps not arriving until months and months from now.
A few friends with the same commute also noticed the drive, and it was a good topic of discussion. We assumed they had committed to the ‘soul patch’ look.
Then one day, as spring turned to summer, the concrete truck re-appeared. A friend texted me the news. Talk about exciting! The driveway would be finished! The grandson had come to visit! The son had said a tearful goodbye to the gravel!
I mentioned at dinner having seen the truck at the house again, and my husband patted my hand and said he was glad I wouldn’t have to worry about the driveway anymore. He didn’t hear me when I mumbled that I would give him something to worry about.
I looked forward to my commute, maybe even catching a glimpse of the chubby-cheeked grandson, holding the granddad’s hand, just standing there admiring the magnificent new driveway. I planned my neighborly wave, which would turn into a thumbs up, acknowledging their patience and the beautiful new addition, complete with the anchoring initial piece.
Why was I surprised when I saw they had just poured only one more single section, adjacent to the original piece? They truly are piecers, my husband’s kindred spirits.
I promise you I will not be bringing it up at dinner.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.