Opposites do attract. Take cars, for example.
I never liked driving them. My husband Gene, on the other hand, LOVED navigating anything on four wheels. In high school, Gene was known as “Jingles” because he always had at least one set of car keys jingling in his pocket.
Enter his wife-to-be. How did he get so lucky? Nearsighted, direction-impaired, and hostile to anything resembling a steering wheel, I wasn’t a car buff’s dream bride.
When we were first married, I managed to side-step Gene’s questions about “Why do you want to avoid learning to drive?” But eventually, he won out and forced me to get a driver’s license when I was 24 years old. We were the parents of sons Mark and Matthew by that time and Gene was convinced that the family was going to need another licensed driver.
We lived in Schenectady, New York at the time. New York had fearsome expectations as to the competence of those who would be awarded driver’s licenses. Not only did they administer an evil and tricky driving test, but you could only get four chances to pass it. After that, “You’re OUT!” I’m proud to say I only failed it three times. I finally passed on the fourth try primarily because that was the only one I completed without getting a Citation for Traffic Violation.
Once I had my well-deserved, hard-earned license safely secured in my hot sweaty billfold, I thought that would be the end of it. It never occurred to me that my New York license might not be accepted as valid in all other states and countries, like, say, in South Dakota or Mexico.
And indeed, the next place we lived was in Iowa where they had the good sense to appreciate the value of my splendid New York license, thus sparing me the ordeal of facing another driving test to prove my competency (or lack of).
We managed to deliver two more children in Iowa – Lisa and Susy. We only had one car so Gene had to do the grocery shopping and errands. With four pre-schoolers afoot, there wasn’t time to go anywhere, but I was nonetheless confident that if ever required, I could get out there and wrangle that silly old car, just as well as somebody who had good sense. I treasured the knowledge that after all, according to the sovereign States of New York and Iowa, I was a certified Licensed Driver.
Then we moved to Seattle and the axe fell. The State of Washington, I discovered to my horror, wouldn’t recognize any other state’s drivers’ licenses.( If I’d known that, we never would have moved here.) I learned that I would have to undergo a written exam and (shudder) another driving test conducted by an Inspector. I knew the jig was up.
I did the only thing I could think of. I got pregnant again.
As my girth expanded in that unfriendly gestational way, Gene persevered with his quest. “Patty”, he kept repeating, “We’ve got to go down and get you a driver’s license.”
“Soon”, I’d say. “Pretty soon, now. I have a plan.” I was doggedly working on “Plan A”, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to tell him about it.
“Well, when did you have in mind to execute this important plan?” he’d ask.
“Maybe next month?” I’d suggest hopefully.
And so it went, as I continued to polish and refine Plan A. . . . But, perhaps I should explain.
Whenever I neared the end of my pregnancies, I gradually turned into a whale. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Even other pregnant women, who were likely due to deliver their full-term twins at any moment, would try to get up to give me their seat on the bus.
I waited. Finally, on Friday, April 3, 1958, the obstetrician, Dr. MacKamy said the magic words. “Mrs. Ford”, he said. “If it doesn’t happen over the weekend, you’d better come in so we can induce the birth on Monday.”
“Doctor”, I said, “Can we make it Tuesday? There’s something I have to do on Monday.”
Gene, thrilled and relieved that his wife was finally going to fulfill her mission as a Real Adult, drove me to the Driver’s License testing place where I took a numbered ticket and sat down to await my turn. When my number was called, I stood at the chest-high counter and filled out the written exam and took the eye test.
Then the world’s crabbiest driving Inspector assigned to my number said, “Okay, let’s go do the driving test”. Then he stepped to the end of the counter and came around it to where I was standing.
To this day, I remember the look of shock and disbelief on his face. He was appalled. I think he was trying to figure out a way to escape having to deliver a newborn baby on his shift, but giving up, he muttered, “Oh, all right. Come this way.” And I, pure as the driven snow, innocently waddled right along after him.
The driving test was unusual even by my standards. I couldn’t do anything right. “You’re not supposed to have the seat so far back”, yelled the inspector.
“But, see here?” I tried to explain, pointing to my mammoth frontal architecture, “If I don’t sit back this far, there’s no room for my belly.” “Listen to me, lady,” yelled Mr. Crabby Inspector. When you put your foot on the gas, your shoe isn’t supposed to fall off.”
He was pretty much a nervous wreck by then, and so was I. It didn’t get any better. I still don’t think it was fair how sore he got when he told me to turn left at the next stop. It wasn’t my fault it was the wrong way down a one-way street.
The worst part though – the very worst – came when he said I had to park the car. I don’t approve of parking cars because I don’t think they’re supposed to go sideways like that. It never works.
The Inspector was such a bundle of nerves and rage by this time, that as nicely as I could, I at least tried. Once. And then twice. “Well, I’ll try one more time”, I said helpfully.
“Stop!”, he yelled. “Don’t try any more times. Don’t strain yourself any further, lady. This test is over.”
Leaving the car kind of jutting out in the street, we returned to the Motor License building. I’ve never seen a man’s face so ashen. Just because he was afraid he’d have to deliver a baby, for-goodness-sakes. Actually, my daughter Gretchen will never know how close she came to being born in a parking lot.
Dejected, I accompanied the quivering wreck of an Inspector back to the license counter. I was doomed. I was sure I had failed the test and would have to give up on Plan A and start working on Plan B.
But the next thing I knew, I was getting handed a cardboard temporary license. The clerk said I would be receiving the official one in the mail in a few days. I PASSED THE TEST. I PASSED IT!
And I would of, too, because that was Plan B. According to Plan B, I was going to wait till after Baby Gretchen was born. Then I was going to have Gene drive us back down to the Motor Vehicles License place.
The scenario would be the same only when Mr. Cranky-Pants Inspector and I went out to the car for the driving test, there, waiting for us in the back seat sitting side-by-side would be my five pre-schoolers: Mark, Matthew, Lisa, Susy, and in her car bed, Baby Gretchen. All waiting in eager anticipation to enjoy watching and helping Mommy pass her driving test.
I know it would be an unforgettable day for Mr. Sourpuss Inspector.