She was 55 years old at the time. Women of her generation stayed at home and raised their children. If she ever needed to go somewhere, there were only 3 options available….walking, taking a bus, or waiting for her husband to drive her once he came home from work. Being a strong and independent woman her whole life, I really don’t know what prompted her to finally learn how to drive,but at the age of ten I hopped in the backseat and went along for the ride.
She had signed up for driving lessons during the week but on the weekends my dad would take my mom to practice. “Get in the car” my dad would say. “It’s time to take mom for her driving lesson.” So into the backseat I climbed. “Dad, where are you taking mom to practice?” I asked. “Just wait. You’ll see.” answered my dad. We drove for what seemed like an eternity but we finally had reached our destination…..the cemetery. “Why here?”asked my mom. “Because dear, everyone here is dead. It’s the live ones you have to worry about.” answered my dad.
So my dad pulled over in the cemetery and parked the car. He had my mom get behind the wheel while he went around to the trunk and pulled something out. When my dad sat back down in passenger seat he had a baseball bat. My mom looked at me. I looked at my mom. In unison, we both asked “What’s the bat for?” Calmly he said in a matter of fact way, “It’s to hit the break if I need to. I won’t be able to reach it from the passenger seat.”
So my dad had my mom check her mirrors, adjust the seat, and start the car. Slowly she pulled away from the curb. Make sure you use your turn signals. Stop and look both ways at the intersections. Keep your hands at 11 and 2. Turn the wheel hand over hand in a turn and ease up on the gas. Gently tap the brakes. I can still hear my dad repeating these directions to my mom. Over and over, he had her wind through the cemetery first one way then another. Eventually, he told my mom to pull over to the side because he wanted her to practice going through the motions of parallel parking and backing up.”Ok, pull up along the “imaginary” parked car ,” he said. “Good now keep your foot on the brake and put the car in reverse. Now here’s the hard part. I need you to gently press on the gas while you turn the wheel counter clockwise and roll backward.”
I’m really not sure how it happened but the next thing I knew the car was propelled backwards and my dad hit the brake with the bat. “Holy crap!” shouted my dad. “You just rolled over the dead!” “It’s a good thing it was a flat tombstone.” I think my mom was so nervous about backing up that when she initially gave the car a little gas to back up and went to tap the break to slow down the reverse motion, she accidentally hit the gas again. During my mom’s driving years, she always seemed to have trouble backing up.One time backing down the driveway she knocked the water faucet handle off the house. Another time,she backed up on the street in front of our house and locked up the bumper with the fire hydrant on our front lawn. That accident caused quite the commotion on our dead end block.
In spite of all the mishaps and some gray hairs along the way, my dad and I were so proud of my mom. She was the only one of her five sisters that ever learned to drive. When it was time for me to learn to drive, off we went to the cemetery. My mom was now the teacher and I was the student. In my own family, this tradition of learning to drive in the cemetery continues on.