Go to her Website

Thoughts While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller

An Angel in the Death Seat

My father said he could drive my grandpa's delivery truck by the time he was ten years old. "I just watched my daddy shift those gears and then I did the same thing. It was simple," he said.

My father was absolutely certain I could learn to drive as quickly as he did. I was his daughter wasn't I?

When I was 16, parents taught their children to drive. The Automobile Club instructed only those teenagers who were mechanically retarded. My father did not even consider such an option because I contained his genes and therefore I was brilliant. One bright fall day, a few weeks before I would become sixteen, he shoved a paperback novel into his pocket and told my mother, "I have a few minutes before they pick me up for my game, honey. I think I'll teach Lynnie to drive."

I followed him outside to our driveway. My father lifted the hood of our Ford convertible and explained how its engine worked but I couldn't make sense out of his words. Compression? Ignition? Exhaust? Why did I have to know about things like that? My father demonstrated how to operate the gears and then seated me behind the wheel of the car. He handed me the keys and opened his book. "Now drive," he said and he began to read.

I started the motor, shifted into first and rammed into the front of the garage. My father snapped his book shut. "WHY DIDN'T YOU GO INTO REVERSE?" he roared.

"You didn't tell me to do that," I whispered.

I changed gears, stepped on the gas pedal and crashed into the tree at the foot of the drive. My father snapped his book shut once more. "That does it," he hissed. "You obviously take after your mother. She still hasn't managed to maneuver a left turn. She can call The Automobile Club and enroll you in one of their classes. It wouldn't be a bad idea if she went along with you. They might be able to teach her what a red light means."

The student car at the Automobile Club was equipped with two brakes and two clutches, one for the neophyte driver and one for the instructor. It didn't take long for me to figure out that my teacher instinctively pushed down the clutch when he wanted me to shift gears. All I had to do was rest my foot on the pedal and change gears every time it moved. The day after I received my driver's license, my mother handed me her shopping list. "I have to get the ironing done this afternoon," she said. "Would you mind?"

I shook my head but I was paralyzed with fright. Our car had only one brake and one clutch and no instructor to direct me. I had to make all my shifting decisions alone. I gulped and took the proffered list, "Sure," I said.

I got into the car and adjusted the rear view mirror. I started the car and shifted into reverse. The motor purred and my confidence grew. I backed out of the driveway, hit the tree and bounced into the narrow road outside our home. A tremendous Chevie came down the street and pulled into my lane to pass the car in front of him. At the same moment, a Studebaker appeared behind me. I was doomed. If I moved forward I would hit the oncoming vehicle; if I backed up, I would collide with the one behind. I braked the car and both automobiles bumped into me. I got out of the car and motioned to my front door. "My mother is in there," I said. "I'll get her."

I walked into the house on shaking legs and threw the car keys on the coffee table "There are two angry men out there who want to talk to you," I told my mother. "And I am never driving again."

Two years later, my mother pulled into the gasoline station nearest our house. A very fat woman in a flowered dress walked over to her car. "Fill her up?" she asked.

My mother blinked. "Where is the man who usually pumps gas?" she asked.

"He quit," said the woman. "My name is Gracie. Regular or high octane?

"I have always wanted to be a grease monkey," Gracie explained. "Now that my daughter is old enough to drive, I let her do my errands while I earn a nest egg for us both."

"You are lucky," said my mother. "My daughter is no help to me at all. She's afraid to drive."

Gracie paused. "Afraid?" she said. "Why?"

My mother told her the story of my first day on the road. Gracie patted my mother's hand. "You bring that girl over to me tomorrow after school, and I promise I'll have her doing your pick-ups by the end of the week."

"But today is WEDNESDAY," gasped my mother.

"Trust me," said Gracie.

And so it was that I found myself sitting behind the wheel of our Ford convertible with an immense woman in a flowered dress wedged into the passenger seat. "Are you sure you want me to turn on the motor?" I asked her. "You're sitting in the death seat."

Gracie smiled. "Start the car, honey," she said. "There's absolutely nothing to worry about."

I gripped the steering wheel, my fingers cold with fright. "What if I hit something?" I asked.

"If I see a problem, I'll just turn off the key," said Gracie. "Now drive."

I obeyed. I drove out of that gas station and down the street. I turned left at the light, did a U turn at the next intersection and parallel parked in front of my house. "I did it," I said.

Gracie nodded. "Of course you did." she said.

"You are an angel," I said.

Gracie blushed. "I know," she said.

I honked the horn and my mother hurried outside. "Do you have your shopping list ready, Mrs. Miller?" said Gracie. "I want to teach your daughter how to negotiate a parking lot."

"You are an angel!" said my mother and Gracie blushed again.

"So I've been told," she said.

e-mail Lynn Ruth e-mail me! Go back to:
The Gantseh Megillah
Click icon to print page
Designed by Howard - http://www.pass.to

subscribe (free) to the Gantseh Megillah. http://www.pass.to/tgmegillah/hub.asp
A  print companion to our online magazine