The other day I was driving down Old County Road after the latest snowfall remade the Island’s brown and gnarled February branches into resting egrets. I took a left at the top onto Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. The fields were mayonnaised in fresh, cold white. My daughter was in the back seat. Her name is Fox, she’s 11 months old and prefers paper towels to ponies.

I love driving around after a snow with her in the back, listening to pompous French lullabies, especially when she’s not screaming. I drive around to vibrate her to sleep for the last nap of the day, when school buses set the pace, the turkeys are crossing the road and the coral flame of sunset is shutting the place down.

But I also notice that every other driver I pass is texting, and someone behind me is tailgating, most likely because the person behind them is tailgating, and the person behind them is leaning forward past their steering wheel as though they can will the vehicles ahead to move faster. And in a way, they can. There’s an acute power in making people feel like they’re going too slow. It’s a certain shame, the same one that makes you smoke a cigarette when you’re a kid though it stinks like alleyways. There are no horns or middle fingers here because you know everyone. You can’t hide behind the anonymous bird from the person who raises your chicken.

That’s the strange thing. This is a small community, a salmagundi of washashores and historic surnames dotted across a grid of mostly straight shots. We make one or two turns, in most cases, to get from our origins to our destinations. Yet there’s a rush and a medium rage that frightens me. The fear is familiar. There’s a complacency in this beautiful place, where tragedy seems to happen in mostly manageable measures. Many of us live here so we don’t have to rush. This is not a metropolis where a downed subway line can rescind your afternoon. It’s a hamlet where if your car breaks down, your neighbor will take you to work.


My father was the best driver I ever knew. He was, besides being a man’s man, a car’s man, a man about cars. Each night after dinner he would open the heavy door to the garage, and he’d play Johnny Mathis and Sam Cooke and polish his cars. There were always two, one for him and one for my mother, though my mother seldom drove. Sometimes they were fancy — a 1953 Alvis with an eggplant top and nickel nave plates, like the glossy thighs of a pinup — but most times they were utilitarian — a 1995 light iris Dodge Stratus, which was an egalitarian improvement on the 1992 teal Chevy Cavalier.

Even though he had a taste for the caviar of cars, he would get so worked up about any one of them that he had me fooled for years into thinking a Dodge Neon — the canned sardine of cars — was cool.

When I started driving, I, like 16-year-olds the world over, began to think I knew more than my father did. I saw him as a wild renegade. He did not drive safely enough to pass the state driving exam I had just aced. He drove spiritedly. He drove willfully. He drove so very confidently. Meanwhile I was coming to A-plus stops at stop signs. I was slowing down the instant I saw a brake light ahead. I had both hands on the upper half of the wheel and my father’s voice in my head, telling me to focus on the line of the shoulder when an oncoming car was shining its high beams in my eyes.

Until one day it was my voice in his ear. He was driving too fast, too cavalier, too aggressive, too rushed. He didn’t look over his shoulder when he changed lanes. He received these criticisms gamely, which is to say he completely ignored them.

My father, before his accident, had never been in an accident, but his style of driving inculcated a fear in me that had me calling the police when he was late coming home that day.

“Don’t worry, kid,” the state trooper said. “He’s probably stuck in traffic, there was a bad accident on 280, it’s a freaking parking lot.”

Troopers aren’t permitted to give out information over the phone but if you scream you can get the model. Before the Cav in Cavalier was out of his mouth my entire childhood passed out of me. In that way, I died before he did.


Fatal car accidents are rare on this Island because the roads meet the farms meet the oceans, and the clink of metal is exchanged for the whoosh of wind and space. We have the luxury of caring for each other on a cellular level, and we have the luxury of not giving a reason for being late because time is a different currency here. Rare are the appointments that cannot be jiggered. There is nothing in life that is more important than life; its corollary — what banality are we so afraid of missing that we would risk missing the first time our daughters fall in love.

Ideas pop into my head that I must immediately email myself at a stop sign, behind a school bus. Revoltingly, I find myself pretending there is more honor in doing this than in sending a text, as though an email were a more erudite distraction from driving. I haven’t forgotten my father, but when I do these things, perhaps it’s truer that I’m not suitably remembering my daughter, and all our daughters, and our sons and brothers and mothers and chicken raisers and dentists and artists and everybody who gets in a car or a truck or an oil tanker, who is loved by anyone else, by Labradors or birds or books.

May we all keep that idea in the fore of our brains instead of the last thing we read on our phones, and may we all slow down and put down those phones, not ride the tail of the photographer in front of us, not pass on the dotted line just because we can, just because the architect ahead is going two miles under the speed limit and we want to get home to throw the ball with our son before dusk, or see our daughter who’s just back from her first trip to another, northern country.

I know that’s what my father was coming home to do. That’s why he was rushing.

Lisa Taddeo lives in West Tisbury.