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by Tamara Hillman

May 2009

Mama Learned to Drive

I Love You MOMI Love You MOMMoma learning to drive

Happy May Day & Mother’s Day to all you fine gals out there. In honor of my own dear mother, I offer one of my fondest memories here on the page…

My mom is in her mid-eighties, and though Parkinson’s disease has ravaged her frail little body, her mind is as sharp as a tack.
I suppose you could say she was a typical country housewife—passive about most decisions made by my Dad, but with grit and stubbornness that goes deep…

I was around four years of age, my brother three, when Mom decided she was going to learn to drive. Up until then, Dad had pretty much ‘Ruled the Roost” as they say, on her comings and goings, and she was stuck on the farm with we two older kids born at the time, until Dad returned from a long day of logging.
As she tells it now, in the early hours before dawn, over fried eggs, bacon, toast and black, black coffee, (dad’s usually meal before heading out in the truck) Mom announced she was going to start learning to drive that very day. Dad saw it as a whim and said, “Ok,” as he tossed the keys to our old pickup on top of the refrigerator for later use. I’m positive at this point, he figured by mid-day she’d have forgotten all about such a crazy idea, and those keys would still be in the same spot he’d left them when he returned home.

We owned an old ‘39’ Chev pickup that was white with black fenders. Attached to each side of the truck bed were tall white racks that encouraged the driver to swing wide between sheds, out buildings, and gated lanes so as not to clip a fence or some other obstacle that seemed always to be set too close in those days. This was not the best car to learn to drive in since it had a clutch and four-on-the-floor shifting column, plus several other non-female devices to make it even more difficult for a ‘learner’ attempting such a fete. But, Mom was determined to at least be able to go to town for groceries, pick up supplies at the feed-store, or maybe haul one of us kids to the doctor if we needed stitches after one of our many accidents on the farm.
I can still picture in my mind our old farmhouse with the wide circular driveway out front where her mode of transportation was parked when she gathered us kids into it for her first trial run. If not for that circular drive where she could go forward only, she might well have never driven at all because ‘no way’ could she get that pickup in reverse, or would even attempt backing up for some time after mastering driving straight ahead.
We kids stood next to her on the seat, (as was the custom in those days—we survived without seatbelts) as she fired up the old pickup, ground it into first gear after several failed attempts, revved the engine while trying to let out the clutch smoothly, and jumped madly along ‘til reaching the main road.  So far, so good! The thing was still running, and she thought the first hurdle was behind her.
She turned right heading for the little town of Carlton, five miles down the road, where she had attended school in a one-room, brick building her first eight years. The pickup hopped with motor screaming ‘til she could figure out how to get the dern thing in second gear. That would be as high as she’d have to shift because she sure didn’t plan on going over twenty-five mph.
Of course, we kids thought this was ‘high adventure’ since it was a totally new experience to be hopping down the road with Mom behind the wheel.

We somehow reached our destination, and lucky for the new driver, no one was at the country store at the time, so Mama could make a big half-circle in the dirt parking lot, and head back in the direction she had come without having to back up. I’m sure she was saying under her breath, “Glory be to the Saints!”
When Dad returned that evening from work, he could tell Mom had actually driven the pickup since it was parked all askew. He said nothing at the time.
The next day, and the next, and for weeks to come, Mama repeated the same trek heading east of our farm to build her confidence, and at the very least, know how to steer that beast to town if she so chose.
Dad never offered, and she never asked for his assistance, though he was a wonderful driver. Guess she thought they’d fight if he got frustrated with her attempts—and I too believe that would have been the case.
Mama did get her license eventually, but she never was a good driver. Her reverse actions brought many a scrape and frustration, and as each of us kids were taught to drive later on by Dad, we would usually just make Mom a passenger in the car, or at least, back the car outta the garage for her to go on one of her journeys to town, the legion auxiliary meetings, bowling team, or a church function for the lady’s at the Lutheran church. 

It’s funny, how simple life was back then, without question—so pure in moral values, and common respect for one another.

Granny Tam

Below is a little poem I just scribbled down to applaud Mom’s determination to be independent, if only in a wee, small way.

Mama Learned to Drive

Moma learning to drive

Oh, for the days of simple tasks
when nothing seemed major,
yet, nothing seemed lax.

When one could decide to learn to drive
with two little-ones
standing close by her side.

When hell or high water
were not in the way
of determination gone astray,

When a young little gal
got in the old truck—
crossed her fingers just for luck,

Then, started down that lonely road
with fields on each side
not yet mowed,

With sun shining bright,
birds chirping in trees
and nothing knocking but her knees,

Mom mastered driving—
determined as such
to travel those roads she loved so much.

Up hill and down dale,
she motored along
singing a jolly, happy song,

As that pickup bounced—
skipping a gear,
we kids were laughing—full of cheer…

For those fun adventures
I still yearn—
in fond memory, Mom’s driving returns.

Tamara Hillman


I Love You MOM



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