My Mother Versus the Car
My mother, like most women of her generation, did not learn to drive until her early forties.
My father first attempted to teach her, but after about 45 minutes of her trying to learn to drive, they would return and he would immediately have to go to the bathroom as his stomach was very upset by the experience.
After 3 or 4 attempts at teaching her, he gave up and arranged for a driving school.
She took lessons for a while and eventually felt it was time to take the driving test.
My father was working so she talked the son of one of our neighbors into taking her to the test site, since an applicant was not allowed to drive herself. I went along for the ride.
As I might have mentioned, my mother reminded me of Gracie Allen. Gracie Allen was a vaudeville, radio and television star. She would be the clueless comedian to her long-suffering husband, George Burns.
Like Gracie, she sometimes exhibited a comic and clueless innocence. This was one of those times.
First she tied a red ribbon around her pinkie on her right hand and a blue ribbon on her left hand. This was designed to remind her which direction would be “Left” and which “Right”. She was now ready.
We got to the test site and a tester was assigned to take her out on her test. The test consisted of her driving under the tester’s directions around a neighborhood where she would be expected to make left turns, right turns, drive straight, parallel park, and obey the traffic rules and his directions.
She returned shortly, the tester looking ashen and shaken. He ran into the office, possibly to the bathroom as my father had after driving with her.
We asked her what had happened.
“He doesn’t know how to give a test,” she said.
“I tried to follow his directions, but he spoke very softly and I couldn’t hear him. He started to yell at me when he told me to turn left and I couldn’t hear him so I kept going. I had to yell at him to speak up constantly,” she said. “I didn’t know what he wanted so I just kept driving.”
Miraculously, he gave her a passing grade, possibly because he never wanted to see her again.
Whenever she could after that she would want to drive the car. Since we only had one car, and my father refused to be in the car when she was driving, her experiences with the car were limited.
She liked driving and drove until she was 89 when my sister and I made her sell her car because she couldn’t turn her head to see if other cars were coming along side or from another direction.
The standing joke for 6 years was she wanted another car because her friends in the condo told her, the car was too old and she deserved a new car. My answer to her was to tell her how much a new car would cost and she would stop talking about it for a couple of weeks. Then she would bring it up again.
The classic car story involving my mother was when she drowned our family car.
We had just gotten a brand new Plymouth Belvedere. The one with the big tail fins. It was sleek looking, big, chrome covered, in short a Detroit special. We all felt proud of it.
One morning there was a bad storm in NY. There was a lot of rain that turned to sleet and then ice. The roads that morning were icy and there was flooding in low areas.
My father, who usually drove to work, took the bus that morning and called to tell my mother not to use the car, as conditions were too dangerous.
My mother, seeing how cold and icy it was, decided my sister needed to be driven despite my father’s instructions and warnings.
My sister and mother started off and got to the end of the block, about 50 feet, whereupon she got stuck on an icy patch and could not proceed.
I had not left for school yet and so she got me and my friend to push her off the ice. We did and started walking in the opposite direction to the high school. (My sister was in 6th grade at the time).
I thought my mother would realize it was too risky to proceed and turn back to our house.
She continued on to my sister’s school instead.
My sister’s school was on a hill. My mother managed to make it to my sister’s school, dropped her off and started back to the house.
She decided to take a short cut, which brought her to a street at the bottom of 3 hills (more inclines than hills).
This particular street was in the bottom of a slight valley formed by the 3 hills. Water and floating ice had accumulated in the street to a depth of about 3 feet in the middle.
For whatever reason, she forged ahead into the middle of the “ice lake’ formed by the water and the “valley”. She got half way across and stalled.
She now faced a dilemma. How was she to get out?
She could roll down the window and crawl out, or open the door.
She opened the door.
The water, up to the middle of the door rushed in, she fell out and was dunked under water. She sputtered to the surface and waded out to the main street. She was soaked and wet and in panic for fear my father would find out about this.
I was at the top of the opposite hill, just getting ready to enter the high school. My friend pointed to the car and woman below and said, “Isn’t that your car and mom?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “She wouldn’t be that stupid. It must be someone else”.
All day people in the school were talking about the lunatic lady who had driven her car into the middle of the “lake”. I began to have doubts about who that woman was.
Somehow, my mother flagged down a passing tow truck and convinced him to wade out there and attach a tow rope and get the car out of there.
She had it towed home and tried to dry it out.
Miraculously, the car dried out enough so it would start, drive and appear clean and undamaged. My father was never told about what happened.
He did keep mentioning how damp the car seemed, and how cool the interior felt in the summer (this was before air conditioning for cars was widespread).
We traded in the car 2 years later for a new Oldsmobile, much to my mother’s relief.
While she was never a great driver, and would get lost easily, she did like driving and let me behind the wheel when I was 13, just to see if I could do it.
My father didn’t think it was funny, and asked his most common question of her: “Jean are you an imbecile?” when told how well I had done.
I didn’t get to drive again until I was 17.