Eleanor And The Driving Lesson

All hell broke loose if two of we seven kid’s elbows touched in the cramped nine seated station wagon. I preferred the rear-facing “way back” bench, affording me a different point of view as well as the closeness of my eighty pound Boxer, Lady. Two random kids shared the bench as well, but who can remember their names. Nobody touched the other was all that mattered. For our family of nine, the station wagon ruled the road.

The one I remember best is the one with which I learned to drive. A white 1969 Ford LTD Country Squire Wagon with woodgrain sides. Me, a fresh out of the ninth grade, fifteen-year-old high school sophomore. The surrounding years of which our country floated adrift in a sea of anti-war protests. Walk-outs, sit-ins, freestyle rock & roll, hippies, the drug culture, grass, LSD, acid, Woodstock, Watergate, Richard Nixon, the giant steps of mankind, the sexual revolution, my right to vote, my right to drink. But first, my learning how to drive.

Dad had to work as did I and my four teenage siblings at our after-school jobs. Typical suburbanites, nobody worked next door. The two youngest siblings remained safely tucked under Moms wing.

We divvied up the LTD between the four oldest. Dad, Eleanor, my older sister by two years, Mom and myself. Mom got the job of teaching me, which she swiftly kicked off to Eleanor after lesson one. I remember it well. I still look both ways while approaching a stop sign, even if it’s the other driver’s stop, even if I’m thundering through it like Dad did.
Eleanor proved to be the best teacher in the family besides Dad. He was so good at it that he never showed up. Eleanor taught me that when passing a vehicle on the left, never cross back into the right-hand lane until I can see both of the drivers headlights in my rearview mirror. She included a moral lesson as well, quite like Mom or Dad. Eleanor said, “It’s a cardinal sin to pass on the right. Don’t ever do it, Nancy, ever, no matter what.”

After that, we pretty much had a free for all. Who wouldn’t with the monster Ford’s 7.0L 429 V8 with a two-barrel carb, 320 hp and a walloping 460 lb-ft of torque? Maybe we looked like a couple of innocent kids, but a gentle tap on the gas and watch out. That baby could move. You wouldn’t even attempt passing us on the right or the left. Eleanor knew her stuff behind the LTD wheel. She learned from Dad. Pedal to the medal is the lesson we learned. The lead foot runs in the family.

We cruised around plenty that year after waking up extra early to drop Dad at work. Eleanor did most of the driving, smoking, skipping us out of class, yelling out the windows to invite twenty of her closest friends aboard. Joy riding to Timmy’s Diner for breakfast, McDonald’s for lunch. We shared tons of sisterly LTD fun. Eleanor also managed to squeeze in a quick lecture or two about Drivers Ed. Enough for me to ace my driving test come the spring. Just in time to drop Dad at work then head to the beach.
Since then I’ve owned all manner of cars. Big, little, classy, German, plain, boring, American. Cars that impress the neighbors, cars that don’t. The truth is I never loved a single one of them. There’s nothing romantic about a car. It’s ever poetic to love a living soul. Or at least a dashing male someone with a handsome face sporting an engaging smile.
With regard to my commitment to healthy living, ecology and stubborn principle, I’d rather ride my bike or walk. But I’ll confess that within the past year, I traded that insufferable farty old thing with not a sputter of energy for another SUV. A big-ass Jeep with the old-fashioned V8 muscle engine. Ah, yes, a gentle tap on the gas.
I may look like your innocent Auntie Teresa, but don’t even think about trying to pass me on the right, big fella. The lead foot runs in the family.
That baby can move.


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