My sweet little granddaughter Claire is taking her first baby-steps towards toddler-hood. My exuberant grandson Bridger recites his colors, the ABC’s, and memorizes story books. As much as it is a joy to watch them grow and learn and accomplish, it’s bittersweet, too. They are growing up way too fast! I need more time in this chapter.
Ahh…Rites of passage. Milestones we all mark. First by looking forward to-and then by checking the box when we’ve achieved the thing we set out to do.
One of my favorite to-do’s growing up was Drivers Ed. Probably a highlight for most people. In Idaho where I grew up, you could take drivers ed at 14. Yup. 14!!! Exciting for me back in the day, but terrifying when my own kiddos turned fourteen and I realized just how young that really was for such a huge responsibility. Lucky for me, the roads I grew up on were back roads and farm roads, so other than staying on my own side when the occasional car or tractor went down the opposite side there wasn’t a whole lot of skill involved. And my school was less than a mile away, so that was a plus. Night driving was a big no-no…although I’m not sure why 14 year olds could drive during the day at all, let alone night time shenanigans.
My cool friend got her license over the summer, so drove to 9th grade like a boss! I took the in-school version and was randomly selected for second semester drivers ed, so I was not a happy camper. The day finally came though and I was ready to go.
I really looked like that at 14…
For some reason, in my family my brother got to practice driving with my dad over the years, so by the time he was ready to learn he already knew! Not so with the girls in our family. It was cold turkey all the way. Our school had a driving range-(not the golf kind-the car kind)- and the teacher had a two-way walkie system where he directed us from his ivory tower, while we navigated the painted-on roadways, complete with stop, yield, merge, and the dreaded parallel parking spaces. Very futuristic for back then!
Our class went alphabetically, and as it turned out all the other drivers in my group were boys. Which turned out to be a good and a bad thing. Good, because they wanted the “cool” cars with manual transmissions, and they were very gentlemanly and gave me the automatic. Bad because I may have zipped around the course in the only automatic car, but on testing day had to drive a stick. I tried to fake it-but its hard to fake leaping through intersections, killing the car, popping the clutch, and then leaping some more. It was grim, and I had those dumb boys in the back seat being extra helpful with their “Find ’em don’t grind ’em…” gear comments. Suffice it to say I got a “D”. Oh, and just for giggles my mother worked at the City Hall which doubled as the DMV, so I couldn’t even sneak it past her.
Luckily I am book-smart and aced the written exam with a perfect score. License with a side-view picture? YES, please!
Well once I ticked off that achievement, I shifted gears. (See what I did there?)
Now I couldn’t wait till I had a car. I had thought my license was the gateway to all kinds of freedom. But when you have cars that belong to the entire family, you don’t get to actually drive them very often. And so began the cajoling that goes with manipulating the old parents into buying a car just to shut me up.
Except for the fact that my parents didn’t fall for it.
Just when I was starting to despair, my grandma and grandpa came along and changed everything! They called and said they had an extra car they didn’t need and wanted to give it to us so that the “grands” would have a car. We couldn’t believe our luck. My grandma didn’t drive, my grandpa drove everywhere and everybody knew he was in love with his Chevy El Camino, so by deduction I knew which car it was. The VW!!! Oh happy day! It wasn’t a VW bug, which would have been my first pick, but it was a VW, and an adorable sparkly red car, even though it wasn’t new.
His only caveat was…no car unless we visited him in Oregon to pick it up. Ok, so a mini-vacation AND a car. This was getting better and better. And so we headed one state over to get our first set of wheels. My dad even let us take turns driving the Oldsmobile on the trip over! This was going to be great.
We got to Grandpa’s house and there she sat. Gleaming in the sunlight. Did we have the best grandparents or what? The El Camino was there too, just like an old friend. My grandparents rushed out to greet us, as all good grandparents do, and we all hugged our hellos.
Grandpa, sensing we were antsy about the car, didn’t make us wait. As we fawned over the VW, he dropped a bombshell. “That’s not the car for you.” Wait. What? We stared at him as he continued, “Come around the back, kids. That’s where your car is!—Sillies, the VW is your grandmas car.” I had never seen my grandma drive. That didn’t mean that she couldn’t drive just that she didn’t. (Hand to forehead smack.)
We sidled around to the back and our eyes widened. Not in awe. In horror. We had inherited what appeared to be a land yacht. In celadon. After anticipating the VW this was a shocker. Most certainly not even a distant relation to a V-Dub. A Galaxy 500. It sounded more like a bowling ball name than a car. And the color looked like a bowling ball too. A dirty one. If you squinted, you could tell it had been sparkly once upon a time-just like I had wanted. Only not red. More like faded metallic grasshopper. Mercy.
The Land Yacht
With my mom and dad giving us the evil eye,
we quickly composed ourselves and thanked them profusely.
We had a good visit and back-burnered our feelings about the car. On the ride home though, all bets were off, and we voiced our not-so-polite opinions with my dad as ringleader.
That poor old car had seen better days for sure. It’s not that we weren’t grateful. It was just this car was a jalopy. A beater, a crate, a clunker. A beast of a car. So embarrassing! We soon found out the car had more than its share of foibles. For one thing the drivers side window didn’t roll up all the way. (I was greeted by a front seat full of snow on more than one occasion.) It was a moody starter. As in, it may or may not start on any given day. The seat had one position—waaayyyy back, which made reaching the pedals a challenge. Oh, and the car belched smoke and did the shimmy-shimmy shake when the ignition was turned off…there is that.
On the plus side, at least it wasn’t a stick-shift. And the velvety interior was pristine. And I could haul all my friends to drill team in the mornings. On the days it started. One day it broke down in the snow just feet from the schools entrance. We all piled out, as busses of kids roared past and mocked. That was particularly humiliating. Another day it decided reverse wasn’t its thing anymore. It was mortifying. But cute boys pushed us out so there was a bonus in that. From then on I had to park in a pull-thru space where no reversing was required. I had been getting away with parking in the teachers lot up against the building because no one would ever think a kid would drive that big ‘ol car. Busted!
That car provided me, (and countless others) with hours of awkward and frustrating moments. But I grew to love those moments and to laugh with and at them. And by default, I grew to love the car as well.
A few years after high school, it was with real sadness that I agreed to let my brother put down that old car in a demolition derby for charity. But a fitting end for the old girl. She was quite well-known in the community by then!
Nowadays, that Galaxy 500 that was the bane of my existence in 1980 is considered a classic, and worth a boatload of money. Looking back I wouldn’t trade it for the red VW, or any other car either. Unwittingly my grandparent’s generosity provided me with some of my best memories of high school. The funniest ones for sure! And cherry on top? We were the Guardians of the Galaxy way before it was cool.
~We Don’t Remember Days, We Remember Moments~