Lessons of keys learned the hard way

Posted Feb. 20, 2009, at 5:29 p.m.

Lessons of keys learned the hard way

If there is one thing Mainers know, it is to never walk around on winter’s icy surfaces, inattentive and with their hands stuffed deep into their pockets. One sudden ice-induced backflip, with no visible means of support in breaking a fall to the ground, and the wisdom of a hands-free approach to life in snow country becomes painfully obvious.

Like others, I long ago absorbed that particular lesson the hard way. History will record, however, that I am a bit of a slow learner when it comes to Part Two of the hands-in-pockets prohibition, which is that one’s vehicle keys should always be tucked safely away before undertaking any cross-ice adventure.

Earlier this week, as I stepped from my pickup truck onto the slick black ice of my driveway, keys in hand and headed for my house, it occurred to me that I must work harder at getting the hang of Part Two.

With no fair warning from the ice gods that my overconfidence in negotiating their turf was ticking them off, I was suddenly on the ground. Struggling to regain my balance on the way down, I involuntarily flung my key ring containing keys to pickup, home, garage, camp and post office box. Backward. Which meant out of my line of sight, leaving me no clue as to where they might lie waiting to be retrieved.

I first thought I might have hurled them over the garage roof and into a world-class snowbank beyond, where they might repose until the annual raking-of-the-gravel ritual come springtime. Eventually, I found them on the ground not far from where driveway meets highway. All is well that ends well.

It was not the first time I had made the car keys disappear in deepest winter. That memorable event occurred long ago at the annual Quebec Winter Carnival, to the chagrin of my merry band of traveling companions. As we arrived to check in at our motel in the fabulous old city, I stepped from my car, inexplicably twirling key ring on index finger like some Wild West gunslinger holstering his smoking six-shooter after a high-noon gunbattle with the local hotshot.

When the key ring slipped from my hand and buried itself in a couple of feet of fluffy fresh-fallen powder snow some 15 yards yonder, it left no clear mark to show where it had entered. The desperate Operation Key Search that ensued was not a highlight of that year’s winter carnival experience.

Perhaps the most spectacular lost-key caper, though, occurred at Greenville’s Indian Hill shopping complex overlooking majestic Moosehead Lake one fine summer afternoon a decade ago. When I parked my truck to go into the store for supplies for a weekend at camp, I had not — despite my status as a Highly Trained Observer — noticed that the spot was beside a large steel grate covering a storm drain catch basin beneath the pavement.

As I stepped from the vehicle, keys in hand, I dropped them. When they disappeared through a slot in the storm drain grate, the feeling was not unlike that which a person has at the exact instant he realizes he is locking his keys in his vehicle, but is powerless to stop closing the door. Except it was worse, because I knew there would be no retrieving the keys via the old wire coat-hanger trick that for years has served mankind so well in the locked-vehicle scenario.

A gracious store manager came to my aid, pressing into service a crew of good ol’ boys to remove the heavy grate so a small boy could descend a ladder into the knee-high muddy water of the catch basin. It took but a few seconds for the lad to rummage around and find the keys, heroically saving the day.

So here’s what I’ve learned in a lifetime of trial and error concerning this stuff: Never walk across ice with your hands in your pockets. Lose the key ring-twirling act. Give all parking lot storm drain grates a wide berth. And, after this week’s ignominious pratfall, put pickup keys in pocket the minute they are removed from the ignition.

Contrary to what you may have heard, you can teach an Old Dawg new tricks.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in

Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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