269. Vroom, Vroom!

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.

This is a photo of me in 1933 behind the wheel of the first car I ever drove.  You can tell from the thumb-sucking how much I was enjoying it. Like getting a tetanus shot.

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!  

Of course, the Inspector and I both knew why I had passed it. He was in fear and trembling that if I didn’t, I Would Return To Take The Test Again.

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.

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3 Responses to 269. Vroom, Vroom!

  1. Joan Fitzpatrick says:

    And I remember like it was yesterday, while parking in Bohemie Town in front of the store, you ran into the light pole and knocked the shade off of it, and it fell on top of the car. Unfortunately a policeman happened to be right there. How embarrassing. Everyone was standing around watching us. O well, let’s forgive her. She’s just a cute little thing with a big smile on her face. We laughed all the way home.

  2. A relative says:

    Maybe she was having a near death experience. She saw the light and went towards it. Shades or in this case shade of excitement.

  3. Linda Lewis says:

    This is not going to be funny or enchanting, but hopefully a warning. Just yesterday I asked my insurance guy if I dare drive again. I got a call about an accident on my answering machine. I went, calmly, no less, to my grand daughter and asked if she had had an accident with my car. She looked puzzled and said no. I was relieved, not only that she had not, but that she had not kept something from me like that. I called the agent back and they said they were researching the accident. I said there had not been an accident. They said it was Friday. I asked what car, wondering if there had been a mistake. They said my car. I asked where. I remembered parking my car to mail a letter. It was behind a big red pick up truck. They were a bit over my space, so I decided to go up as close to their truck to not be over the line. From a stand still, I gently drove forward, but did not see their trailer hitch sticking out and barely tapped the hitch. It slightly dented my brand new license plate. As I walked by their opened window, I said I was sorry for tapping their truck. They shrugged their shoulders and asked if there was any damage. I said only a dimple in my license plate. They are claiming bodily injury for both of them. When inquiring to my agent, he said they usually pay when an injury has been claimed. I had to take time to make an appointment to go to their agents place to get a photo of the damage to my car. When the photo was taken, and I said I was not even going a mile or two an hour, he said I could not have possibly been going even that fast because the plate was not damaged, only slightly dimpled. I told the agent that it really made me unhappy that people from other countries come here and find out how to get rich quick. I asked the agent if they received any payment at all would my insurance go up. Yes. Thus my comment should I ever drive again.
    Other than that, things are perking right along quite well. I’m in St. Louis for my grand daughter’s high school graduation. I saw fire flies last night. That was awesome. Then I was warned about this being the 13th year so the cicadas are swarming and making loud sounds. Now I’m not only not wanting to drive, I’m not wanting to get swarmed.

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