Stupid Human Tricks

What do a cemetery and a heart attack have in common?


Not what you might think.

So there I was, home for spring break in the Midwest and taking a little side trip to place some cheery flowers at my parents’ grave.

The grounds were drab with only a hint of the green that is to come. The wind blew last autumn’s leaves past the headstones. It all looked a little sad. So I wanted to bring a glorious ray of floral sunshine to that chilly, somber place.


I arranged the freshly wrapped bouquets at either side of the headstone, took photos, then sat in my rental car, idling because my chilled bones  wanted a little heat. I texted photos to family members so they could see how lovely the grave looked. But then I noticed the left bouquet had turned slightly in its vase. The symmetry was off. Mom’s side was perfect, Dad’s was crooked. He wouldn’t mind, but I knew she would.


Must FIX this esthetic boo-boo. So I hopped out of the car and left the door open, car still idling. I rearranged the left bouquet and heard a car door slam behind me. I turned and saw—

No folks, it’s not what you think.

This is small town USA.

The cemetery lies next door to a farm.



And despite what you may have read in picture books, cows, ducks, sheep, etc. have no interest in driving rental cars.

Bicycles and tractors,

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 11.03.32 AM

maybe. Rental cars, no.

Ghosts, however, love joy-riding down cemetery roads in other peoples’ cars.

But I didn’t know this crucial factoid until I saw my rental car driving away without me—right down that cemetery road and headed toward a curve.


No, I didn’t say that. I didn’t have time to yell. I ran. 

I ran faster than I thought I was still capable of running. (Luckily, I was wearing tennis shoes.)

The car headed past the curve and onto the grass.

I powered on my jet pack and reached for the door handle as the car approached a tree and a headstone. I yanked open the door, jump-pulled myself in and slammed on the brake.

The car stopped two feet from permanent embarrassment.

No time to sit and shake, I put the car in Reverse and backed up before anyone passing on the blacktop to town saw me. When I reached the curve of the cemetery road, I shoved the gear into Park and turned off the engine. For ten full minutes, I sat and shook, staring at the muddy tracks of the car in the ground past the curve, the tracks that stopped in front of the tree and headstone.


This could have been me.


And then I cursed my ADD, my wanting to make the flowers look perfect, my leaving the car in drive, and yes, I cursed the depth of my stupidity.

I turned to see if Mom and Dad were shaking their heads. They were, but they were also smiling.

They must have known how it was going to turn out.




42 thoughts on “Stupid Human Tricks

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    Sounds to me like some ghosts were looking for a little excitement. Pulling some pranks on the visitors, I think. 😉

    The flowers are lovely, and it would be just like me, too, to step out of my car to rearrange them!

  2. Lady Fancifull says:

    Oh Jilanne, you had MY heart racing, I broke out in a mild sweat reading this, and my tongue went very dry!……….now I’m off for a slightly shortened run as I’ve done some of my cardiovascular workout reading your post.

    It was probably your Mum and Dad playing that little joke on you anyway…reminding their absent minded daughter to pay attention properly.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Ah yes, practical jokes. Either my parents or some of my other relatives who are buried there, as well. Lots of practical jokers in the family.

      So glad I could help you with your workout. Nothing like multi-tasking to keep one’s life running efficiently.

  3. Marcy Erb says:

    Whew! Way to catch that car, super-woman Jilanne! I was definitely reading this holding my breath – many years ago, I had the same thing happen to me, I forgot to put the car in park and got out because I forgot something. In my case, the car busted down a chain link fence, blew two tires, and took all the paint off the side of my mother’s house. I like your ending much better! 🙂

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Oh geez, clearly my luck was far better than yours. That’s one costly consequence of one momentary lapse in attention. But then, life is like that, isn’t it? Sometimes we get lucky, sometimes we pay the price. Glad the things that were damaged were inanimate.

  4. Vanessa-Jane Chapman says:

    Oh gosh, that made my heart race from the moment the door slammed! My friend had an awful experience several years back (I’ll tell you now that nobody was hurt so that you don’t worry!), she had just dropped her daughter off at pre-school, and when she got back into her car and turned it on, the steering wheel column caught fire somehow! Just a small fire but her immediate thought was that the car could explode or something (we’ve seen the movies right?) and she was right outside the pre-school! So she just wanted to get it away from there, she drove about 50 metres, leaped out of the car but forgot to put the handbrake on and as it was on a slope the car started rolling down the slope, the fire getting worse inside and the car gathered speed as it rolled down and ran into passing traffic on a crossing road at the bottom and a couple of cars hit it. All she could do while it was all happening was stand there terrified shouting “Nooooo!!!!” As I say, nobody hurt, but how scary!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Wow! That story is far more scary than mine. The only things my car was at risk of damaging were “inanimate.” How terrifying for your friend. I’m very glad no one was hurt. Kids, fire, traffic, hills…At least she had justification for not remembering to set the brake. Me? No justification whatsoever.

      I hope she notified the car manufacturer about the fire. Seems like the wiring was off.

  5. Ste J says:

    It could have been the ghost of some farm animal who regretted not trying to drive in real life, that’s what I would do if I was a duck in the afterlife…probably.

  6. Laurel Leigh says:

    I’ve heard that folks get squished doing that! Holy moly, no more chasing after moving cars, my friend. Of course, I think we all would have done the same thing. How nice that you have this blog to capture these moments! xo

      • Laurel Leigh says:

        Good point. It is rather hilarious to learn just how fast we really can run under pressure. I sort of would have loved to see your Olympic-style sprint through the cemetery.

        • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

          I’m thinking that a few cows got an eyeful. But it is just rural enough to limit human passersby to a handful every few minutes. I would have been mortified if someone had seen this show and stopped to see if I was OK or under the influence of anything other than anal retentiveness.

          • Laurel Leigh says:

            Oh, but then you might have a new BFF because we’ve all done something similar and you could bond over it. Growing up, a runaway car rolled down the street and into the side of my dad’s tavern. It was the third time a car had gone through the wall, and I thought he was going to go through the roof. But after hearing the lead-up to what happened with the car, we all had to laugh about it later.

            I’m sitting here trying to figure out what kind of ticket a cop would give you if your runaway car topples a headstone in a cemetery.

          • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

            A one-way ticket to Paradise? to Hell? Suppose it depends on whose gravestone you topple. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything in your stories about cars going through walls. It’s about time, don’t you think?

          • Laurel Leigh says:

            Yeah, you have to climb down into the inferno and retrieve them. I’m sure I once read something along those lines but I can’t quite place it!

            I actually started a story about the cars through the wall, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to end it. When I do, it will go to the Dogpatch.

          • Laurel Leigh says:

            Does the vehicle type affect your place in the circle, and are their any allowances for automatic vs. stick shift? We should really know these things, or at least you should, for future near incidents. I’m sure your tire marks were blamed on teenagers. So unfair.

          • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

            Those poor teenagers. I feel so bad for them and the bad rep that will haunt them. It’s my understanding that God, or perhaps Lucifer, is blind to vehicle make and model.

  7. Kate Johnston says:

    Parents have a funny way of getting in the last word. 🙂 for a minute there, I thought the car was going to lead you to the discovery of a buried ancestor or something!

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