Approaching my sixteenth birthday, my mother reluctantly agreed to let me practice my driving skills using her car while she rode shotgun mashing her invisible brake repeatedly. We lived on an island called Belvedere in Marin County just north of San Francisco. Belvedere streets are narrow and twisting; there are no shoulders or safety edges to speak of, just slim turnouts that residents and guests use for parking.
As we returned home from another harrowing day of near misses in my mom’s estimation, we rounded a corner approaching our house and I started to pass a paneled station wagon belonging to our neighbor, Mona B. Thus far, every reaction from the front passenger seat had been, in my opinion, hyperbole, so when my mother cried “Watch it, you’re too close!” I assumed it was the overblown shriek of anxiety . But when I heard the metallic crunch that has become somewhat familiar to me over the years, I panicked and kept going, peeling back the wood on the Woodie as I went.
My mother was furious with me, scolding me as we descended the stairs to Mona’s house to deliver the news:
“You would have to hit the car belonging to the meanest woman on the street!”
She told my stepfather that they would enroll me in driving school, that her sanity was at stake and that she would no longer be available for instruction.
The day after Mona’s car had returned from the body shop my mother and stepfather were driving home separately from a cocktail event. She said:
“Joe was being playful”, relating that my stepfather began a game of teasing, flashing his hi beams on and off as he followed her. The blinding lights and the likelihood that she had been over-served, or more accurately, over-poured at the party combined to disorient her. As she rounded the corner she managed to clip the newly restored Woodie and nearly duplicate the damage that I had done previously. She said walking down the steps to Mona’s house to deliver the news—again—was as close to a death march as she’s ever experienced. ‘We’re even.’ I thought.
Recently my daughter, Lily wrote an essay in which she mentioned my mother’s faltering brake foot that caused her to lurch forward at every moment of uncertainty. I am intimately acquainted with that faltering foot and accompanying surges, but on a recent visit my mother dispensed with her usual extreme caution as we idled in a line of thirty cars, all waiting to turn right or left at a T up ahead. We were returning on a Sunday afternoon from Napa, a wine country destination, to Petaluma where my mother lived. She pulled out suddenly onto the right shoulder, asserting that all of the cars ahead of her were most likely turning left to go to San Francisco. Her sudden bout of prescience notwithstanding, I could clearly see that there was a right hand turning lane near the intersection and many cars between us and it.
She barreled up the shoulder just as a car began to shift into the turn lane and in what I hoped was a calm, reasonable tone I said:
“Hold on, Mom, hold on…..hold on!”
She finally found her trusty brake foot and managed to yield to the law-abiding car on her left. She turned to me and said tersely:
“In the future, rather than ‘hold on’, it would be helpful if you would simply say ‘stop’”.
“Sorry, I was busy watching my life pass before my eyes”.
Then I thought, the future?