It was a Sunday afternoon, and I had recently turned sixteen. I had just passed the written test to get my Beginners Drivers’ license and I was impatient to start on a great new adventure, learning to drive! Dad and Mom were preoccupied at that moment with the kind of things families normally deal with on Sunday afternoons— that is, on the infrequent Sunday afternoons when we didn’t have visiting friends or relatives over for dinner. More than a few of them were notorious for dozing away intermittently in lulls in the conversation, and not reading the subtle and not so subtle signs that we were ready for them to go home. Perhaps they stayed in the hopes of being offered a third piece of my homemade apple pie if they lingered a decent interval of time after the second helpings of dessert had been consumed. Or perhaps that Red Devil’s Food cake of Marsha’s with the Boiled Meringue Frosting was the meal’s finishing touch when they visited, and they hoped for yet another piece if they lingered.
Right about then, when Marsha had just turned seventeen, her signature Red Devil’s Food cake made its debut. Mom taught us to bake in the way that some mothers prepare their daughters’ dowries. It seemed likely that she might very well tell us to take home made pastries to our marriage beds when that day finally happened. Marsha had perfected her masterpiece cake through constant repetition, hoping to lure for herself one of the neighbourhood guys she had a serious crush on. If only he would respond to an invitation to one of our parties. They always concluded with a midnight meal of all the things Marsha and I cooked best. Desserts were high on that list. As my Mom had severe eczema and a topical allergy to flour, we were handed our measuring cups and rolling pins very early. The outcome was that we had become inordinately good bakers for girls so young. Pies were my particular forté.
But I digress. Good foods, or even thoughts of food tend to cause me to detour. Perhaps “detour” is the wrong word entirely. More likely “yield” is more appropriate. In any case, I was well versed on all my traffic signs that day when Marsha decided to teach me to drive. I had only made one error on my written test—how far back to stop from a railroad track. I likely said something like 100 feet, which is actually how far you are supposed to run away to, in case your car gets stuck on the railroad tracks. It was likely a subconsciously programmed blooper, because I have always had a fear that a train would derail if mine was the nearest car to the tracks. How can one avoid this predicament? Make a U-turn every time it happens and go to the back of the line? It doesn’t work out too well in grocery stores when you forget where you put your money and want to get out of line and search through your purse for it. People don’t honk at you when you ask them to back up their carts but they might just as well. That would be less rude than their partially audible F bombs. It’s one of the reasons a lot of older people don’t bother to wear their hearing aids—my theory, anyway!
The Graduated License had not yet come into effect when I was young. When it did it eliminated the possibility that those learning to drive could be taught by other very young drivers. Of course we would have said that it was all terribly stupid and unfair, if such restrictions had been put in place when we were striving for our independence, just as teenagers complained when it happened twenty-five years later. Despite its drawbacks, having farm kids learning to drive cars and trucks early back then was a huge benefit to their parents, who quickly delegated many of the farm errands to them to save themselves time. So when my sister Marsha, who had herself only turned seventeen, asked for the keys to take me out and teach me how to drive, Dad quickly answered yes. She promised that we wouldn’t be long, which she likely thought inferred great confidence in the speed with which I would learn. On the other hand, perhaps it was a boast about her own teaching abilities, as in ‟We won’t be long. I am such a good driving instructor. I will instil in her all the knowledge she need ever possess about safe driving, as well as all the finesse of a perfect three-point turn. (and in record time too!)”
If Marsha had hoped to impress everyone with her teaching abilities, I subconsciously sabotaged her efforts— in all likelihood within the hearing range of Dad, who was doing his book-keeping in the dining room, just the other side of the side porch screen door. As soon as I turned the key and put the car in gear I stomped on the accelerator and threw loose gravel in an impressive power- displaying wake for three or four feet behind me. “Slow down!” Slow down!” she yelled. “We’re not going to a fire!” I slammed on the brakes and we both flew forward! A few more false starts and we were cruising down Fourth side road, then up to the corner at the Sixth concession. Again Marsha yelled “Slow down! Slow down!” as I cranked the wheel to the right and flew around the corner. By then we were just in front of the Glen Oak Church. A group had gathered at the edge of the road to visit, following some social function after the service, no doubt. As I veered towards them, like some deranged lunatic, they scattered like leaves in a wind storm, with shocked looks on their faces.
“Stop! Stop!” Marsha screamed, and of course, I pushed down on the gas even harder, “OK! OK! Let’s just keep going!” she yelled again, gasping for air after my near miss of a white-haired old lady with one of those little mink stoles— all their tiny beady- eyed heads flying away from her bosom as she leaped towards the ditch! A few houses further down the road, when I had somehow managed to let up on the gas pedal enough to be going at a little less than fish-tailing speed, Marsha said rather breathlessly “Slow down!” again. We were approaching a neighbour’s house, where the prospective husband, who hadn’t yet come to our party to be enthralled by her dowry of Red Devil’s Food Cake with Seven Minute Boiled Meringue Frosting, lived. I slammed on the brakes, with such enthusiasm at the thought of her marrying and leaving the house, to give me the bedroom all to myself, that I flew forward into the steering wheel and “inadvertently” honked the horn. “Inadvertently” is a very useful word to keep at the ready should you ever need it!
“You jerk! You did that on purpose!” The word “Jerk” is also a good one to keep on hand if you are teaching your sister to drive. Of course I would have only used it in this sense— “Sweetie. Try not to jerk so much when you stop. OK?” I did eventually learn to drive. It only took me another fifteen years!