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Thursday, December 27, 2012

On the road with Mom

Mom passed most of her driving skill genes along to her kids, and I’m pleased to say I sent those genes, at least, on to my kids.  Both are very good drivers, unlike their father. (I knew him before the term Road Rage existed; that’s the descriptor, I’ve come to understand, for his passing a driver who irritated him, cutting back in front and hitting the brakes.)

When I was young I had no idea my parents drove well.  We never broke down, had an accident or were stopped by a policeman, so there was nothing to hear on that score except a remark on the wrong doing of anyone observed pulled over to the curb by a policeman.

Mom was more obsessed with speed limits than dad, especially concerning his love of beating a train to a crossing.  Any 1950’s road he tried this on could not sustain more than 35 mph, and he certainly would not have defied flashing red lights or descending gates.  I think she disliked the impression he might impart to three children bouncing in the back seat, urging him on. 

This is the same woman whose father taught her to put a car in neutral at the top of the hill “to save on gas.”  And certainly the same woman who did not protest when Dad speeded up a hill to give three jumping kids the thrill of being air born at the crest.

In thinking back on her stories, a lot of Mom’s driving skills came from her father, who I did not know, and her mother, my Grandma Rolf who took me on many trips with her.  Her dad loved cars, loved to drive and saw as much of the country as he could back in the twenties and thirties.  He taught Mom how to drive those big Buicks across country or through New York City.

Mom’s big city skills were impeccable. She was an excellent leader of a caravan of cars and took good care of her train.  For instance, my first rotary, in Boston.  I was following mom; we were in the wrong lane, and needed the rotary to stay on our route out of town.  She applied a firm rule:  my plates are out of state, let me in.  I followed in her slip stream; there was no metal on metal and not even loud application of brakes, we did it.

Her finest skill was “making the hole.”  She kept her caravan together, or changed leaders of the pack, by dropping back slightly and allowing another of us to pull in ahead of her.  We would return the favor if we needed to swap leaders.  Occasionally she would see the need of another driver, drop back and wait.  “Good, he saw the hole!” Or, “Come on, I’ve made a hole for you!”

The penultimate driving statement remained:  “My plates are out state.”   “Our plates are out of state.” “Can’t you see these plates are out of state!”  We saw the USA before interstate highways were invented.  Our plates were out of state!

My Uncle's caption.  Mom in the front seat, watching her father's progress.


  1. Courtesy among drivers is a dying art.

  2. Model T Ford what a classic. Try making adjustments on the side of the road with today's modern hi-tech cars, not a chance in the world, to many computer gizmos.

  3. What wonderful memories. I'm glad you received the good driving gene.

    Dad born in 1917 left home at a very young age. For a while he was a chauffeur for an elderly woman of "means"...meaning she had enough money to do whatever she wanted. She bought a new car...I can't remember what it was. The lady(in her eighties, had Dad drive it through the Great Salt Flat "Let's see what it will do, Pete," she said. Of course he said, "Yes, Ma'am," and floored it. They both agreed it did very well.

  4. I think more parents need to teach their kids to drive the way your parents taught you, with which you taught the next generation down. I think we would have less accidents out there and safer drivers. I'm sure a "no no" of your parents would have been talking or texting on the cell phone while driving (assuming cell phones were invented at the time you were learning to drive).


  5. I think out of state plates now mean "run over them."

  6. Fun read today ... you come by your skills honestly :)

  7. I love these pieces you write about your family. This one did make me laugh, imagining the kids in the back of the car lifting off the seat on a hill. I'm trying to improve my driving as I think I've been gradually getting worse over the last few years.

  8. I LOVE that photo, and your post! When we see out of province or US plates, we say "Tourist!" I always cut them some slack. :)

  9. Traveling in a caravan would have been a lot easier in those days with lower speed limits. Doing it nowadays with freeway entrances, stop lights and multiple lanes can be scary!

  10. Not everyone has the skill to keep a caravan of cars together. :-)


  11. My partner still puts the car in neutral on hills to save gas. Drives me batshit crazy.

  12. 'Our plates are out of state' sort of exists here too. Allowances are made (sometimes reluctantly) for the foreigners who know no better. I think your mother's attitude (and yours) is gentler, and nicer.