As I sit in a fast food restaurant creating this episode, my son is 15 years old and wants to drive everywhere. In a few months, he’ll be going for his driver’s license and I’ll begin the era of parenting when my heart thumps a million beats per second every time he’s out on the road by himself. And he’s doing really well. He takes Driver’s Ed right now as well, so he’s getting plenty of practice, but he prefers me to go out with him to his mother, who apparently goes into a screaming panic whenever he makes the tiniest mistake, like crossing into the oncoming lane when there’s oncoming traffic and that oncoming traffic is a tractor trailer. I’m cooler in those situations and give constructive criticism like, Should probably get back in your lane, instead of doing like Kayla, who would grab the handle above the door and scream, WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! I understand it, but I’m the one who taught my wife to drive and there are a couple of quips from those days I thought you might find interesting. And there’s one from her mother’s driving days that was funny enough to make it into my first novel. I’m Michael Blackston and this is a fast and furious episode of my Funny Messy Life.
I just remembered I’ve never told you how my wife and I met, so that’s coming soon It’s a cool story that makes women-folk go “AWWWW!”, but for now, we’re going to jump a little further beyond that about 30 minutes into our first date. We’d been talking for a while, but we’d never been in the same car together. I picked her up for that date and headed into town for dinner and a movie. I was driving an AMC Spirit. It was tan and looked a lot liker a Pinto, but probably didn’t drive as well. It had about 800,000 miles on it. My dad had given it to my sister as a gift when her car died, but she couldn’t steer it because the wheel was like trying to turn an anchor that had been planted in a block of cement. It was hard for me, but Steph is a small woman and she preferred to drive something that didn’t require her to only drive in a straight line. So I took the car and that’s what I picked up Kayla in for our first date.
We were nervous heading into town. We only knew each other from the telephone - a sneaky tidbit I’ll tell you more about in the How We Met episode - so I don’t think there was that much being said during the drive. My mind’s eye remembers a lot of sticky sweet giggling and me trying to look as macho as I could. The one thing I’ll never forget is being suddenly berated by my would-be bride.
I could show you the piece of road because it scared me and honestly, she still fusses at me for the same thing to this day.
I had found a voice and was telling her something - probably trying to solidify myself in her eyes as Mr. Macho Big Shot Impressive Hunk Of A Man - when she suddenly yelled at me. I had gotten a little animated with my story and when I do that, my hands fly around like they’ve got an infestation of bats inside them and those bats have been disturbed.
“KEEP BOTH HANDS ON THE WHEEL!” she yelled at me. “Never take your hands off the wheel when I’m in the car!”
I put both hands at 10 and 2 from then on and had to work up the courage to carry on a conversation.
So I know how Noah feels when he says she’s a nervous passenger. In fat, she drives 99% of the time that we’re in the car together and only gives up the wheel when she has to. Which is hardly ever. She claims it’s because she gets sick, but I wonder if there’s a little bit of her being in the car with me for so many years now … me and my bat hands. But she’s had her moments too.
I taught her to drive and not only that, but I taught her in a manual transmission. My wife drives a stick as well as anybody, but that wasn’t the scariest part of teaching her to drive. Her problem was that she loves animals so dang much, especially a kitty.
By the way, I had to stop after that last part and leave the fast food restaurant because I needed to get back to work. Now I’m continuing the story after work in a table service restaurant and yes - I know I have a problem. At least at the fast food restaurant, which will remain nameless because I don’t advertise for free, but it rhymes with Nubway, I had a salad. My diabetes dictates that I should incorporate some leafy greens into my diet and also a crap-ton of Caesar dressing and croutons. The report I read didn’t exactly have those last two things in it, but I believe that to be an omission typo. At this restaurant, who’s name rhymes with Larfield’s, I am not having a salad. Let’s just leave it at that, except to say that I ordered extra sour cream.
Anyway … driving lessons and kitties.
I started my wife out with a few easy, non-threatening jaunts around my neighborhood. It’s a peaceful neighborhood where my parents still live to this day and you can walk around all safe without fearing for your life. It’s even a place where kitty cats and puppy dogs gallivant about, just happily licking their paws and smelling butts with reckless abandon.
It was one of these paw licking kitties that caught the attention of my wife as she was learning to drive. The cat was paying us no attention because it was all the way across the yard from the road, up next to its house. But Kayla noticed it and suddenly we were no longer on the asphalt. There was grass in front of us and a cat that suddenly did notice us as we barreled toward it.
Okay that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. She did point the car toward the cat and veer off the road, but me grabbing the handle above the window and screaming, WE’RE GONNA DIE! brought her quickly back to the reality that she could not at that moment and from behind the wheel of a metal death machine, pet the kitty.
Why would I even make such an exaggeration? Because of this last nugget from when Kayla’s mom was a presence on our roads.
Hazel. I need to dedicate an entire episode to stories about Hazel, but I’ll let Kayla and her sister provide me with the content because … well, you could make a movie about Hazel. She’s gone to be with the Lord now and I can only hope she has a way to listen to this from one end of her kitchen table in Heaven, probably nursing a cup of strong coffee.
As the story goes, she was driving somewhere and something caught her eye. She was passing a local cemetery and there were three or four workers filling in a grave by hand. As most good southerners would have, Hazel thought to herself, I wonder who died.
Now, after I heard this story from Hazel herself, who told it and every other story like nobody ever could or ever will be able to again, I started to understand where Kayla got the tendency to point the car in whatever direction her head was turned. I think you can probably see where this is going.
When a person sees other persons digging a grave by hand, I would think it’s logical that they would find it more interesting than the other stuff around them like the speed limit and the road in front of them. And that seems to be consistent with how Hazel felt about the situation. According to her, out of nowhere, she started to see through her windshield, shovels flying in the air and she heard lots of yelling. She barely realized she had turned off the road and was heading through the cemetery, straight for the grave workers, in time to stop before she drove the car right into the fresh hole. It’s a good thing she did stop because into the fresh hole is where the workers had jumped to avoid getting run over.
Whenever Hazel told that story, she’d get beside herself and tag it with her signature cackle. The grave workers that day hadn’t found it so funny, but Hazel sure did and I can see her now, sitting behind the wheel, cackling like she did while they climbed cussing out of the hole and picked up their shovels.
Like I said, that one made its way into my first novel, Mr. Long Said Nothing, with the difference being that the character influenced by Hazel wasn’t alone and it was a horse and buggy she almost plunged into the grave.
I’ve had close calls of my own and maybe one day I’ll tell you those. I already told you about totaling my Hyundai in a rainstorm, but there are others, like the close one that fixed my little red wagon when it comes to driving sleepy.
For now, I’ll leave it there. I just pray safe travels for you, always and tell you to remember to keep both hands on the wheel … at least when my wife is in the car.
I’m Michael Blackston. Until next time, thanks for taking a drive down memory lane with me and my Funny Messy Life.
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