Mom is eighty-four. She drives and gardens and does watercolor and has just recently taken up acrylics. She’s a force of nature. But, when you grow up with a force of nature, you take that power for granted. Yesterday I told a friend about mom’s first car. She laughed and said I absolutely had to write that in a story someday. This is technically a personal essay and not a story, but here goes.
Mom didn’t learn to drive until she was in her thirties. Which means my sister and I were nine and ten years old. Dad tried to teach Mom to drive, but that didn’t work out. Mom told us she took drivers training, but looking back on it, that seems unlikely. My best guess is that one boyfriend or another taught her to drive. Did I mention Mom was drop-dead-men-falling-off-the-sidewalk-and-onto-their-asses gorgeous?
Well she was.
So, one way or another Mom learned to drive, got her permit and then her license. She announced the accomplishment when the family was watching TV, our very own metal tray and TV dinner in front of us. She waited until the commercial. I had Salisbury steak and the gravy had slopped into my apple crisp. Dad had a near miss with a coronary.
When he recovered, she told him she’d bought a car. A ‘friend’ got it for her at a police auction. The car was a black Dodge. An old highway patrol car. Let me just interject right here. If you ever have an opportunity to choose a vehicle for a brand new driver, do NOT choose a car that will top out at a hundred-and-forty miles per hour.
A few years later when the astronauts talked about G-forces, I remembered early rides with Mom. Remembered being slammed and pressed to the back seat by the acceleration. After the first trip to the store, both my sister and I knew to never, ever, ever, get in the car with her. Not ever.
But there came a day when Mom had to pick Dad up from work. His pickup was in the shop. We were going directly from Dad’s work to someplace we all needed to be. The emergency room was my best guess when I climbed onto the bench seat of the Dodge. I don’t remember much of the trip from Eureka to Fernbridge where Dad worked. It’s all freeway. The ride was a blur of telephone poles, other cars getting the hell out of our way, and the roar of the Dodge’s engine. My sister and I held hands. I still have the scar from where her mood ring cut into my hand.
At Fernbridge Mom told Dad, “There’s something wrong with the car. It’s making a funny whistling noise.”
I thought that might have been me, but kept my mouth shut.
Dad drove home. Something for which I still thank God nightly.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Dad said when we pulled up to our destination.
“Well, of course not,” Mom said. “The whistling starts at 127 and stops again, just like magic, as soon as I hit 132.”
Now, at eighty-four, Mom drives a Volvo station wagon. Top speed, 98. I know this because I’m the one who talked her into buying the damn car and she bitches to me about it at least once a month.