Riding in the back seat of the car with my brother Gordy, we screamed and covered our eyes as my dad gunned it and the Green Chevrolet roared up Ramsey Hill. This moderately-steep one-block hill that connects Grand Avenue on the bottom with Summit Avenue on the top was a kind of thrill ride for us – especially in the winter.
My mom always argued to take the alternative Grand Avenue route, which softly winds up the side of the Hill at a gradual and non-threatening angle. It takes a little longer and lacks the drama of the more vertical route – and you end up again on Grand Avenue, not Summit. She usually lost the battle, however, as the two of us in the back seat begged to be scared to death one more time: “Take the hill! Take the hill!”
Once I learned to drive myself, there was no way I was going to trust my stick-shift driving skills at the top of that hill. I did it once and repeating that horrible moment — not quite at the top of the hill and having to stop and shift from third to first gear – foot off the brake for a second as the car rolled backwards, however briefly—was not something I cared to repeat.
When I attended the University of Minnesota, I drove from West St Paul over the High Bridge and yes, around the Hill. The pieces of junk that were my cars could not be trusted with any special challenges. And they were stick shifts.
Once I had my first job and bought my own car – an automatic shift was the major requirement – I tried the Ramsey route again. Thanks to the automatic transmission (a wonder of the world, to me) in my little turquoise Mustang, that “moment of rollback” was no more, and so the thrill of the Hill diminished.
Even in the subsequent days of other cars (with other automatic transmissions, needless to say), I sometimes avoided the Hill, especially if I was sad. If it had been a particularly hard day at my parents’ house as their health failed, sometimes the Hill just seemed too much and I pensively stuck to Grand Avenue. As my dad grew weaker, driving up the Hill where his driving had given us so many thrilling memories seemed just not right, somehow. I went around it.
Going down the hill didn’t seem like such a big deal, especially with your foot on the brakes the whole way. Pausing at the top, you could look down and see St. Paul laid out before you, with the High Bridge – my route back and forth to my parental home – spanning the river. This view was only for those who were at the top.
But the Hill has yet another role in my life, one I never would have envisioned at any point earlier.
Three years ago when I was sick, I had to confront the Hill going to and coming from medical treatments at the clinic on the corner of Smith and Grand. Every three weeks for four months, I went there to have toxins pumped into my body to help me not get sick again. Then five days a week for six more weeks I went there to be radiated until my skin was burned, again to help me stay well. I was “scared to death,” but for reasons far different than the fun-scary childhood rides up the Hill.
For some reason, on my way to and from these treatments, I drove right up the Hill every time, and down it, too. I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t see the Hill as an obstacle any more, or a point of decision. It was just part of the journey and I came to trust it would take me where I needed to go.
I trusted it in the same way I have come to trust that God will not leave me at the bottom of the hill without the strength or help to get back up, and as God has helped me to be gratefully aware of the gifts that awaited at the bottom.
See you in church.