Ordinary. Ordinary is a word that many try to avoid. But ordinary is something that, clearly, most accept. I happen to believe that “ordinary” is not a foul four letter word. Nor does it mean that you can’t achieve the extraordinary while remaining, at least on the outside, quite ordinary. What I mean to say is that we do not always see the extraordinary in someone until just the right moment.
Fynn, for most respects, was an ordinary young man. Born in the small town of Alden in the Southern part of Wisconsin, he lived with his parents who spent the majority of their days farming.
As a child he didn’t stand apart from the crowd. He did not show any early signs of promise. He simply was a fine young man with a good nature and a helpful spirit. Maybe a bit devious a times, but a good boy.
Despite all of his “ordinary” traits, something happened to Fynn at the age of 10 that opened a window of possibility. With his mother away for the day and his brothers and sister all gone away to college, Fynn finished his chores in the barn as his father yelled excitedly. When he peered from around the barn door and out into the yard, fear gripped him. Roy, one of the workers, was injured and lying in the drive. Fynn’s father had apparently shouted for any other of the workers to no avail. Not wanting to leave Roy’s side he was now beckoning Fynn and in response Fynn began to run.
It was quite a predicament to be trapped without telephone contact. But because of a failure at the phone company, the town of Alden had been left without telephone for the past few hours. Clearly it is times like these that family and community are tested.
Fynn’s father, hands pressing, mouth counting and breathing directed him to take the farm car and get help from town. His father later told the story of how, as he watched the car drive away, he didn’t know which to fear most, the death of the worker, the death of his son driving on the road for the first time or, and maybe most importantly, the deaths of the poor unsuspecting citizens of Alden who might have the windshield of a VW beetle as their final memory.
This moment became an extraordinary event in the life of a seemingly ordinary boy. Fynn, was actually very comfortable in the old farm car. His chores regularly required him to drive the car and other farm equipment about the property. However, he had never driven on the open road, a road made of tight turns, narrow bridges, and steep embankments that led into a river.
In a moment Fynn was racing toward town with the wind at his back and a single minded focus. As time stood still, he seemed to take in the roads as if they were as wide as a boulevard, the trees and riverbeds seemed as distant as the hills on the horizon. He drove on without fear or concern.
As Mr. Glendale peered from his pruning and Mrs. Glendale released the door of the mailbox, both were drawn by a peculiar sound. Their eyes were taken to the road where they watched in anticipation. As Mr. Glendale reached the fence where his wife stood frozen, quizzically, his mind raced with possibilities.
The Glendales lived on a private road that they shared with the Alden family. Yes as you might have imagined, the Aldens were the direct descendants of the town’s founding family. This had little meaning in town, but it was a prized possession of the family itself. That said, the Aldens never sped on the drive and so it was that this sound had added peculiarity.
There were often different forms of farm equipment. Many times the farm hands would take a truck to town. And every so often a salesman would fancy a trip up the drive.
This sound was quite different. It had a shrillness and yet a rattle. It was moving so quickly that Mr. Glendale could not imagine where it would end up. Certainly a vehicle moving this quickly could not possibly round the corner at the edge of their property.
To their right they could see the end of the drive as it turned sharply, 90 degrees around the corner of their yard. A tall row of trees blinded their view from the road beyond.
As the Glendales stood, perplexed, they began to see the rushing of leaves and the blur of the oncoming car. It was at this moment that the first glimpse of Fynn’s “extraordinary” was witnessed, and in earnest.
As it came into view they could see that Fynn had managed to turn the car so that they could see straight in through the front windshield and straight into the wild eyes of what couldn’t possibly have been a 10 year old boy.
An interesting dilemma presented itself, a problem for most. While the car was pointed in the right direction, that was not the direction that it was traveling. The car, traveling sideways, immediately ran out of road. Careening off of the embankment, the pitiful little beetle was turned on its top. But this is where it became most interesting to the Glendales. Without even the slightest cough or hiccup, without any hesitation at all, the little car rolled squarely back onto its wheels, and, pointing in the right direction, never having taken his foot from the pedal, the little boy carried that pitiful beaten car on its way. As dust settled around the Glendale couple all they could manage was a wry smile and a long, distant stare as the little beetle disappeared out of view.
The story is one of folklore in Alden. It has been told in many forms and has evolved in many ways. But this is how the story truly unfolded. With fear pushed aside and wild abandonment oozing from every pore Fynn held firm to the wheel and kept his foot to the floor. His thoughts were already in town, on whom he might search out first.
“The doctor’s at the other end of town.” He thought to himself. “Dad’s friend, the lawyer, is in the first building I’ll get to. No, the barber’ll get people to help quicker.” So as soon as the thought had begun, it was complete.
This was the first sign of “extraordinary” that no one was able to witness that day. In the heat of the moment, in the face of potentially mind numbing pressure, Fynn wrapped himself around the issue and was at immediate peace with the answer.
As the car righted itself and Fynn came back into focus, he saw that the car was pointing down the drive. As instantly as this had occurred to him, it had also occurred to him that he had never taken his foot from the throttle. Without a moment to spare he focused on the road ahead and continued on. Through the dust and determination, he didn’t notice the lovely couple, watching in amazement as he sped by.
Horace had just sent Mr. Willard on his way and stepped out onto the walk when the little farm car came drifting into view. It was like something out of a movie. It was not all that often that you see a car come out onto Main Street drifting like an ice dancer. The little beetle, with its wheels crossed, glided out across the northbound lanes before collecting itself, heading straight towards old Horace.
By now the Beetle was completely unrecognizable from the state that it had been in earlier that morning on the Alden ranch. With large sunken depressions in its roof, shattered glass, wheels askew, and water draining from the floorboards, Fynn brought the car to rest at the feet of Horace Thurman.
His face covered in dirt and dust, Fynn stepped from the whimpering car to the barber’s amazement, the words coming out of Fynn’s mouth were swept away by the old man’s utter disbelief. But with the assistance of Fynn’s persistent chatter, Horace was able to come up to speed with Fynn’s request for help.
In the days that followed, the only thing that you would hear coming out of the mouths of the people in the little town were stories of towns-people who had witnessed splintered portions of Fynn’s fantastic and wild drive.
The pieces of the story that are not so often spoken of are tales like the one of the pilot of a helicopter, a local crop duster, who risked his own wellbeing in an effort to ensure Roy’s timely transport to the distant hospital. Or, the medical technician whose careful hands eventually were the cause of the farm worker’s survival. Or, the immediate response of the town’s people that accompanied Fynn’s cries for help. The day itself was fantastic in the way in which it drew a small community closer together. It was also an event which would alter the course of Fynn’s otherwise very normal life and one which brought his cousin, whom he had never known, to the town that he was not at all fond of.
Ty had never enjoyed the idea of a small town and now the store fronts of Alden appeared as images from a classic film. The surreal feeling crept across his mind as his MG wound its way into a space in front of the diner. It had been a very long time. Nothing seemed remotely familiar and he was glad that they had opted to meet at the diner. He had thought that it would be easier to meet his uncle in town as opposed to getting lost trying to find the ranch.
Ty sat in the driver’s seat soaking in the moment. As he had passed the yard it had been there. It was shocking to see the beetle sitting there in such a state. The stories that had been relayed were too good to believe and yet it sat there in the impound yard larger than life and as if it had been through war and back.
Ty stepped to the curb and breathed in the fresh morning air. He didn’t care for the little town. The thought of being here was something that sat awkwardly between painful and frustrating. However, today was a different kind of day. Today he woke with hope of a new appreciation for what he considered to be this little hole of an existence. Today there was curiosity to be satisfied.
His feet moved slowly as he watched locals enter the diner. Finally, after a few moments, he took his last breath of fresh air and entered cautiously. The haze that fled through the doorway was not welcome. This was a world which Ty had spent the better portions of his life attempting to avoid.
As he had expected, the waitress, in a ruddy blue uniform and a dirty white apron, all but ignored him and then when finally making eye contact did nothing but grunt instructions for him to sit in a corner. At the diner’s counter sat the typical compliment of society, Ty thought to himself. You had your farmer and your local dentist or something of that nature. One man looked as if he could possibly be a Principle or a school administrator. This man sat stiff and with a commanding presence. Ty wondered if he understood how small his fish bowl truly was.
He tore himself from his judgments long enough to pick up a menu and was confronted by the American greasy spoon. His stomach was no longer a match for pancakes or waffles. Not expecting service to come too soon he stood and walked to the restroom. When he returned, his uncle Jacob and another man were sitting at the counter. “Good morning gentlemen.” The men looked at one another, not accustomed to hearing the word “gentlemen”.
Jacob Alden looked to his neighbor and back to Ty, “This, Harris, is my nephew Ty who’s come, I think, for a visit. Is that right?” Ty returned a cheap grin and a shrug. Harris turned to shake Ty’s hand and spoke to Jacob, “Sister’s boy?” “Yeah, the political consultant sister…the one who got away.”
Then Harris asked “What brings you out here Ty?” Ty thought about this for a moment as a plume of smoke drifted past. “I haven’t heard the stories first hand, the stories of Fynn.” Jacob looked to Ty, “Now Ty, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen you out here. Do we have to turn our under-aged son loose on the streets wreaking havoc to entice you to come for a visit?” Another sheepish grin. “Randolph -Ty’s father- tells me that you’re living in London still? And you’re driving a race car?”
Ty’s voice grew softer and he leaned forward, “Yeah, something like that.” Mr. Glendale’s curiosity was piqued and he asked, “Truly? You drive a race car? What type of car do you drive?”
Ty thought carefully before responding, “I can answer your questions guys, but I really came to find out about Fynn.” With a pat on the shoulder Jacob said “Ok Ty, we’ll tell you what we know and then we’ll grill ya.”
Looking passed Ty, Jacob found Dom Molinary sitting alone at a table for four. He stood and guided Ty and Mr. Glendale to the table. Excusing the intrusion they sat and pointing to Ty he said, “Dom, I think we have a story to tell. This young man is my nephew and he wants to know what really happened to Fynn.
They dispensed with pleasantries and after Jacob explained the circumstances that led to Fynn’s drive, Harris Glendale walked through the excitement that he and his wife had witnessed.
As the baton was being handed to Dom Molinary, Doris, bellied up to the table and with the same look that she had given Ty earlier, she somewhat demanded to take orders. When they had satisfied her Dom began, “Well my story is much like Harris’, I was casting at the foot of Nelson’s Bridge when I heard a car approaching. Nelson’s, mind you, is a one lane bridge, and by the sounds I heard, I just had to go up for a look. I made my way up the embankment to see a little car finding its way, back to the road, between two trees in Ben’s field.”
“It wasn’t clear to me, at the time, where the car was coming from, but as I could later plainly see, he had rounded the bend, left the pavement, leapt straight through the old wooden rails of the Ryan fence, drifted wildly through the field before apparently narrowly missing two very solid fence posts and merely crushing the two unsuspecting rails, bounded into Ben’s field then, regained control in time to slip between two of the trees that bordered the highway.”
“It was stunning to realize this after having witnessed the remainder of what came next. As the car slipped between the two oaks, I realized that I might be in danger. As soon as I moved to run, I noticed something strange. The little beetle turned sharply to its left, causing it to lurch into a wild drift. With rear wheels spewing gravel, and front wheels turned aggressively to the right, the old farm car drifted and then disappeared over the embankment.”
“I was at a loss. It had clearly been the Alden farm car, but for the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything that would explain this behavior. I ran to the edge to see what carnage lay at the bottom of the riverbed and to my amazement, again, that little car, spraying river water in its wake, was racing across the sandbar on the far side of the river, making its way back onto the highway beyond.”
“It could not have been intentional. It would have been impossible. But, the more I wrestled with what I had witnessed the more I was struck by the reality of it. The bridge leads out into the hills before the highway makes its way back to the river below. The drive would have added 10 minutes to a trip into town. Was it possible that the driver had confidence that they could have made the poor farm car forge the river and climb the bank to save time?”
“I was so excited by the possibility that I made my way straight down to the water. It dawned on me, as I moved down the embankment, that, of course, this was the old access road, overgrown, that led to the river’s edge. From the bank I could see, with little effort, that the river had built up into a natural pool on the western side of the bridge. The downstream edge of the pool...was ankle deep. I crossed the river and noted that there was a gradual rise out and onto the bank. The bank in turn had a gradual rise into the highway’s dirt turnout where families park as they stop for a swim in the river. To my disbelief, it seemed completely intentional.”
As Mr. Molinary had been telling his tale, Doris had brought their breakfast. She didn’t seem interested in the conversation and had continued to move along with her work. Now that she sensed his story winding down she returned with a coffee pot and a snarl. Dom gave her a smile and said, “Thank you Dorris, you’re a sweetheart?” With a roll of the eyes she moved on.
Dom watched her walk away and as she past one table he noticed Mrs. Abernathy. With a strong voice Dom spoke out, “Hello there…Mrs. Abernathy, could we borrow you for a minute?” Confused the woman stood and walked to the table where others had gathered around. Doris grunted some kind of instruction as to not block her path to the kitchen and continued on her way once again. Dom waited until she was gone and then said to Mrs. Abernathy, “We’d like you to tell your part of Fynn’s story.”
Ty turned to see who Dom was addressing. Jacob Alden waved a hand and said, “Ty, this is Mrs. Abernathy she was Fynn’s second grade teacher.” Ty smiled and Mrs. Abernathy’s eyes gave away the excitement that began bubbling under the surface.
Now, Mrs. Abernathy was not accustomed to story telling, unless of course the story came from the pages of a classic children’s book. However, in this instance the story was of personal experience and came with a bit of passion. As she began to tell her tale, the crowd grew larger and moved closer. “I had just begun my afternoon walk down the lane to Zeke’s market when I saw a large dust cloud over the rise. Within a few seconds a tiny little car came into view. The closer he came, the stranger it appeared. The car looked as if it had come directly from a wrecking yard. The crushed roof appeared to leave no room for a driver until he became visible, his eyes barely peering over the top of the wheel. The car dashed by, water spilling from the floorboards.”
“I turned and looking beyond the young Alden boy I could see the barricade of the road construction ahead. As the thought passed through my mind I noticed a twitch in the little Beetle. It veered right for a mere moment and then, in a flash, it spun sharply to the left swapping ends in the middle of the street. Without so much as a wink, that car came racing back up the highway. At that point he had me puzzled. The car had clearly been heading for town and there was no other way back to the highway but by Richardson Road which we all know would have lead miles out of the way. The wait for the road work, would have been inconvenient, but it would pale in comparison to the path that the boy was on.”
“Knowing that he would have to make his way back around to Ashly, parallelling the highway, I ran through the Fineman’s yard and out onto Ashly. When I got there it was quite a sight to see the car appear to dance as it threw itself out onto the street, coming toward me. I imagine that with the water spilling from the floor that the rear wheels were fairly slippery. With a hop and a lurch the Beetle popped up and onto the sidewalk as it ran out of road. I anticipated a large crunch and held my eyes closed tight. When I opened them, he had gained control and made his way back onto the street coming by me full steam.”
“Thankfully for me and my curiosity, Ashly leads down into that little valley, I had a clear view as he drove away. I’m not certain what he was planning, but as he came to the bottom of that little hill he must have noticed that the Ramsey Barn was open, open on both ends, because he made a sharp turn into their drive and made his way up toward the house. When he reached the house he veered into the barn and out of sight.”
“I was in such a state that I ran down the street and up to the Ramsey house. I simply had to know how this would end. And…I prayed, to the dear Lord, that that little boy was in one piece.”
At this point Mrs. Abernathy gave way to Mrs. Ramsey, who had been to breakfast with her, new friends drawn together by this alarming experience.
Mrs. Ramsey continued the story, “Yes, well, as Gladys has said, the little car made its way up our drive belching smoke and water. I happened to be at the kitchen sink and noticed the movement out of the corner of my eye. The car was moving with such speed I dropped my work and ran to the porch. When he veered towards the barn I was shocked. I ran for the door. From the front of the barn I could plainly see the little beetle disappearing into the woods.”
“When it registered that the car was the Alden farm car and that, through all the twisted metal, it appeared to be just a boy, it struck me that it had to have been Fynn.”
“Things, while not making any more sense, did become a bit clearer. What I mean to say is that though it made no sense why the boy had chosen our barn, it did make sense that if anyone was to make a chance visit to our farm and expect the barn to be open, Fynn was a good candidate. You see Fynn and the Aldens spend time with us. He’s taken rides on Missy into the woods with Devon and Marty. It made complete sense that he would know both the barn and the trails, but I stood there confused as to why.”
“Mrs. Abernathy woke me from my thoughts, as she came running up the drive and Ted was just making his way down from the loft. He had missed all of the excitement. But as he quickly moved to where we stood, and saw our concern, he suggested that we pile into the old Ford and go for a ride.”
Ty looked up at Mrs. Ramsey eyes still fixed. “From our barn there’s a straight path to the woods. From there things get a bit more twisty. At each turn I expected to find the little beetle wrapped neatly around a tree. We could clearly see that he had left the trail a couple of times, but each time he had somehow found a way to miss trees, leaving and returning to the path at what appeared to be incredible speed from the tire marks.”
“Within a mile of the house is a portion of the trail that borders the highway. The trail however, is at the top of an embankment, about 10 feet above the road. There was little chance that Fynn and the beetle could have made it down that embankment without destroying the car. But amazingly, as we walked to the edge, there was nothing more than a patch of dislodged dirt where the car had made its way back onto the highway.”
Ty sat, soaking it in. As the silence grew, a small elderly woman looked to Mr. Alden and asked, “How is Roy coming along?”
Roy had been given sound treatment at the hands of an EMT before the helicopter had arrived. Once in the hospital, he had to be given a blood transfusion and was the most welcome recipient of good care for his heart. In all truth, seconds were all that Roy had available to him. Had Fynn not found such creative means, and had he not driven so ambitiously, help would not have arrived soon enough, and Roy would not have lived.
The stories that have evolved regarding Fynn Alden take on many forms, but they all are drawn to the same end and that end seems to involve cars that move very quickly.
Ty sat with a confused look on his face. He turned to his uncle and asked “Why is the car out there in the impound yard?” One of the few people in the café who was not part of the conversation was Sheriff Samuel Mason. He turned from his morning paper and gave a disinterested nod before returning to the news of the day. Jacob clarified, “Sherriff Mason didn’t take too kindly to the idea of a ten year old driving on his city streets. He threatened to lock me up since he couldn’t take Fynn. He wrote up a few citations before the mayor stepped in and dismissed them. The one thing that he did get was the car. It’s just sat there for the past few weeks with no word if we’ll ever get it back.”
Ty grinned, “Do you really want it back? It’s kind of a mess.” Jacob turned to the window and as the crowd began to break up he said, “Our friend Ed owns an autobody shop down the street and he’s agreed to give us a good price on making it drivable. It’d be useful around the farm.” Ty said “Well if he’s able to make something out of it I’d like to see it when it’s done.”
Then he said, “Uncle Jacob, where’s Fynn right now?” “Oh, Fynn, I guess he’s still down at Ed’s.” He laughed at himself. “He wanted something to do until you arrived and I got caught up in the story.” Ty responded, “Do you mind if I offer to give him a ride home?”
“Yeah Ty, I think that’s ok. But you still owe us something.” It took Ty a second to catch on, “Oh. That. There isn’t much too it. I’m just a big motorsport fan.” Mr. Glendale leaned in closer and gave Ty a look through his brow. “I can’t let you get away that easy, Ty. I do believe it must be something fairly special if you’ve moved all the way to England. And it must be something big if you’ve hidden it away from your uncle and his family all this time?”
Ty gave his uncle an apologetic look, “I’m not very big on talking about my life I guess.” This did not dissuade either man. Ty chided himself…that he had let this happen.
“Well, I guess the short story is that I live…” Mr. Glendale, hummed, “Come now Ty, we don’t want the short story we want the whole kit and kabuttle.”
When he had satisfied their curiosity, when breakfast was done and the bill paid they got up to leave. Breakfast wasn’t finished, however, until Doris said it was. She came out from the kitchen as they were in the doorway. With a plate of eggs in one hand and coffee in the other she honed in on Jacob saying, “Don’t come back if you’re gonna disrupt my diner again.” Ty looked to Jacob, shocked. Jacob turned to Doris as he held the door, “We’ll see you tomorrow Doris.” And then turning back to Ty he said, “All bark...nothing but bark.” Ty accompanied Jacob and Mr. Glendale as they walked down the street to Ed’s Autobody Shop. The day was warming up and the sun had poked out from behind a cloud. Ty felt the first warmth of familiarity that he had ever felt from this little town.