In today’s western culture, most people can’t even imagine not having a car, or at the least, most had a driver’s license, just in case. But for my family, in the fifties, such a luxury was unthinkable. We took the public bus everywhere we could, including school, since my brother and I both attended special programs outside our “districts.” School busses were unknown to our community at the time.
When my brother went to high school, he was offered the opportunity to take “driver’s education” as one of his regular classes. This paved the way for our family to have a driver at last (around 1962), for good or for ill. Somehow, my mother, not long widowed, bought a a 1951 Chevy for $50.00. It threw a rod within a year and then we got a 1954 Chevy which my mother decided she would learn to drive. Considering her size, about 4’11,’ she basically looked through the steering wheel.
It took about three years for my mother to successfully pass her driving tests. In the Latvian community, she became the driver for many of the older ladies. My brother and I felt anyone who was in the car with her was basically putting their lives at risk. Amazingly enough, she had few accidents. The one time she ran over a median, she wrote a letter to the editor about the poor placement of the median and cc’d the Mayor. The city paid for her damages.
My brother managed to have enough car accidents for all of us. I wouldn’t say he was reckless, but he was impetuous. His worst accident caused several broken bones including his jaw. He lost a lot of weight that year since they set it incorrectly and he had to have it re-broken and wired shut a second time. To this day, he drinks very few shakes or smoothies.
I was younger than most of my classmates and thereby, did not take driver’s ed. until my senior year in high school. This was the give-away to my age and many taunted me for only being sixteen. Nonetheless, I was anxious to get out from the passenger side of my mother’s car.
Mr. Dill was my driver’s instructor and he found my name completely unprounounceable. Generally, he avoided saying my name altogether, but one time, while I was driving and two sophomores were in the back seat waiting for their turns at the wheel, a squirrel ran across the road in front of me. Naturally, I braked. Mr. Dill went apoplectic, stretched his foot over to my side to gun the car and said, “Step on the gas, Imengurdie, step on the gas.” The next week was unbearable with a new nickname to mock me and a close call with squirrel murder.