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Sunday Afternoons MAG
Daddy told me that his father was the most ruthless, stern and awful man on the face of the planet. I had heard horror stories about a belt that hung from a horseshoe in Grandpa’s bedroom. From what my uncles and Dad told me, I imagined Grandpa never actually wore that belt. It served as a warning to his sons, reminding them of the punishment for broken rules.
When he became my grandpa, it seemed he learned patience, how to laugh, and a whole new kind of love. Instead of the menacing belt, the horseshoe held a canvas bag filled with Tootsie Rolls that Grandpa would sneak to me behind Grandma’s watchful eyes.
When I was 15, right before I got my learner’s permit, I was itching to get behind the wheel. My five-speed mountain bike and roller blades no longer satisfied my transportation needs; I was ready for bigger and better things. I begged my mom to take me driving, but she always had an excuse. I think she was too scared to think about me driving, let alone take me herself and endure the experience firsthand. My dad couldn’t take me either, but that’s a whole other story.
I had to utilize my last resort: Grandpa. Dad told me Grandpa had taught a lot of people to drive, including him, my uncles and even my grandma. Dad explained that I might even be able to expand my vocabulary after Grandpa took me because he could come up with some pretty interesting words in a car.
I was pleasantly surprised when Grandpa willingly agreed to supervise. I was even more astonished when he volunteered his car, especially since he never let my grandma drive into town to get groceries. He used to make her walk with a wagon or drop her off at the door and wait in the parking lot. And this was a man who used to think it ludicrous for my dad or his brothers to ask for the keys on a Friday night, even when they were home from college!
I waited by my door, not blinking in case the maroon 1992 Dynasty were to come and go without me. I had always imagined my first driving experience would be more exotic than this. As I waited, I imagined my father pulling up in a fire-engine red convertible and tossing me the keys. As I pulled out of our driveway, my hair would wisp around my face and the squealing tires would attract the whole town’s attention. Beggars can’t be choosers, however. When the rusted car finally turned up our steep driveway, I darted outside.
My pudgy grandpa looked like he was going to explode through the windshield. He had the seat pulled way up so his stubby legs could reach the pedals, which left little breathing room between his belly and the steering wheel. He opened the door and half-turned himself, swinging his legs out before taking a deep breath and struggling to stand. His oversized sunglasses and John Deere hat, which he wore to every family event, made me giggle.
“If you’re going to be so giddy, may-be we should call off the trip,” Grandpa teased. “Now, get in the car!”
He hobbled to the passenger side and fastened his seatbelt. I sat in the driver’s seat and moved the seat back so I could stretch my legs to the pedals. The big steering wheel sat on my knees and my nerves suddenly caught up with me. What was I doing? I had never driven anything before, and now here I was behind the wheel of my grandpa’s only vehicle. I glanced at him with obvious worry, secretly hoping he had been
joking and wasn’t going to take me for my first driving lesson after all.
“Well,” Grandpa’s voice was filled with excitement and impatience to start and end this excursion as soon as possible.“Let’s go.”
Suddenly we were on our way. I put the car in reverse and let it roll backwards. When the time was right I shifted into drive, tapping the accelerator. I took a deep breath and made my first turn onto the road. Driving too slowly, I got a mile out of town. My knuckles had turned white from gripping the steering wheel so tight.
I remembered my dad telling me about the first time he went driving. He and his dad, the same man sitting next to me now, had delivered some hay to a neighboring farm. When my dad returned to the small truck, Grandpa was seated in the passenger seat with the window rolled down and a lump of tobacco protruding from his lip. My dad said he just got in the driver’s seat and pulled out of the driveway. Nothing was said for a few blocks.
“Better pull over, Bruce,” Grandpa stated tiredly as he spat tobacco juice. “Don’t want your mother seeing you.” Dad complied and every Wednesday they continued this routine. My dad was surprised and thankful that the usually nervous, babbling man didn’t say a word during their drives.
During our short drive, I had skidded a curb, turned too fast, and driven too slow. Grandpa had yet to say a word. My thoughts were finally interrupted by the cool voice of this patient man.
“Why don’t you practice turning around up there at that gate,” he encouragingly and nonchalantly suggested.
“Okay,” I nervously complied. I gracefully turned onto the short dirt surface and pulled up to the closed gate. I carefully swiveled my head to see the road behind and touched the accelerator softly. I had forgotten to change gears and the car slid frighteningly close to the menacing gate. My brain seemed to turn to mush and tears almost sprang to my eyes. I was certain that I was about to witness the undone Grandpa my dad used to hate, the angry man who would take off his belt and teach me a lesson.
“Oops,” I tried to hide my embarrassment, praying my voice wasn’t as shaky as my hands. I glanced at my grandpa, waiting for him to order me to switch places, but he didn’t. He just semi-smiled like he hadn’t noticed. He didn’t even make eye contact, just looked straight ahead, appearing to enjoy the Sunday drive.
We finished our trip virtually mistake-free, excluding the accidental brake checks and early turn signals. I dropped myself at home and expected him to come inside and confess my near accident to my less-forgiving parents. He strolled around the car to the driver’s side. He didn’t utter a word to my parents. Instead, he adjusted his John Deere cap and inquired, “Same time tomorrow?”