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Coffin: Northern Lights

One chill winter night, my girlfriend and I were parked on a farm lane in the hills north of Woodstock. It was well after midnight as we admired the curtains of green-gold light of the Northern Lights sweeping across a star-flung sky. The radio of the Coffin family's 54 Chevy was tuned to WKBW Buffalo, playing the top forty tunes.

Suddenly, the car horn, about the only thing that really worked on that third-hand sedan, started to blow. And it was LOUD. I turned the key - nothing. I hit the horn button - nothing. I opened the hood - nothing. Up the road, farmhouse lights came on. I headed for home, horn blaring.

Down through Prosper Village I trailed the big sound of that car’s mighty instrument, then over the hill and into the driveway of my girlfriend’s home. Her father soon was shouting something I could not hear. But his daughter got it all going in the door - about noise, the time, and her choice of friends.

Into Woodstock Village I roared (the muffler wasn’t much good either) though the horn nearly drowned out the motor. Passing through the village square, I woke up the night cop in his black Chrysler on the corner.

By the fire station, an elderly lady bundled against the cold was walking a dog – which commenced barking, leaping and straining against its leash. The lady first looked surprised, then angry.

Turning into our neighborhood and giving the Chevy more gas to make the Lincoln Street grade, the horn gained decibels. In the rear view mirror, I saw lights flash on in the homes of friends and neighbors. I was disturbing the sleep of an entire village, tucked in for a long weekend slumber.

Finally, blessedly, I roared into the Coffin driveway. My father appeared in an instant, hair tousled, unsmiling. He loved few things so much as his extra-long Saturday-Sunday sleep.

His words were not kind - starting with a comment on the hour's lateness and did I know I was waking up half of Vermont? His language might have gotten stronger if my mother hadn’t appeared in the doorway.

For a long moment, Poppa just looked at me. Then he went into action, giving the steering wheel something like a judo chop. The horn went silent.

“Kids,” he muttered. heading back to bed. But through the kitchen window I saw smiles on my parent's tired faces. Then I knew that I would ride the hills on other nights, and perhaps even see again the Aurora Borealis.

Howard Coffin is an author and historian whose specialty is the Civil War.
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