Monday, April 22, 2013

Rebel Without a Driver’s License

My Dad liked buying second hand cars from his friends at the office.  In 1961, he came home with a used Oldsmobile.  It was to replace the 1950, dark blue Ford he had driven for the last eight years. 
He decided to sell the older car since we had no need for two, but Mom asked him for it. Dad nixed the idea because she was pregnant and she didn’t know how to drive.  He didn’t want her behind the wheel.      
That was all Mom needed to hear. She called two of our aunts and they made secret plans behind Dad’s back, a secret everyone knew about except for him.
The aunts took turns teaching Mom standard shift while Dad was at work during the day, and in a few weeks all she needed was practice. That and courage – courage to pass her driving test and tell Dad what she had done.  
One weekend a month, Dad would take all of us to visit his mother in south Texas.  Nothing kept us from making the monthly trek, but Mom was hugely pregnant by now and used it as her excuse to stay back.  She complained about the one-way, four-hour trip and insisted he leave her at home to “rest.”
We all begged to stay to take care of “Mommy.” He suspected something was up but could never figure it out. We were not about to snitch, so he gave up and every month chose one of us to go with him.  He rotated among the three of us, and the other two tried not to look too happy.  
Dad was gone from Friday night until late Sunday, so that left plenty of time for mischief. Mom would wait a couple of hours after he left (just in case he returned because he forgot something or was checking on her) before grabbing the keys to the old blue Ford.  She would yell for us to get our shoes and off we went. She’d buy our silence with joy rides about the neighborhood and greasy hamburgers and thick milk shakes from the closest Dairy Queen.
She never did quite get the hang of the standard shift, but that did not keep her from attempting to cross two very busy streets.  Our car would sputter and die or jerk and whiplash while cars honked and people yelled bad, angry words at us.  We would squeal with delight as she gripped our lives in her hands.
Persínense, she yelled as she eased up on the clutch and stomped on the gas.  We cackled with laughter as we frantically blessed ourselves with the Sign of the Cross.  Lean forward.  She shifted into second and we would bend at the waist, honestly believing our skinny little bodies helped propel that old tank to safety.
I don’t think Dad ever learned the whole story about how Mom learned to drive, but she got her driver’s license and the old blue Ford. Years later when he had his stroke, she became his chauffeur and he bought her a brand new car for her efforts. No more old, second-hand bargains.   
If there is a museum for old memories, that old blue Ford is parked right there, front and center, a symbol of my mom’s determination and independence - my rebel without a driver’s license.