Look out! Mom's behind the wheel.
When most women in her neighborhood didn't have their driver's licenses, she learned the rules of the road.
When I was growing up in New Jersey back in the '60s, none of the moms on my block had a driver's license. My mom was the first, and I still remember the day she drove solo.Skip to next paragraph
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I never saw the driving thing coming. It hit me head-on one day when my father got into the passenger side of our 1962 Chevy Nova. Then, a few moments later, my mother followed and slipped smoothly into the driver's seat.
A crowd of my friends quickly gathered, and I was in the vanguard. "Your mom's gonna drive?" asked Jimmy Briguglio, incredulously, as if she were volunteering for astronaut duty.
"Well, I guess so," was all I managed to say.
My dad rolled down his window and called out to me. "We'll be back in a bit." I raised my hand and waved goodbye, weakly. The car putt-putted out of the driveway and slowly moved off down the street. A few moments later it turned the corner and was gone.
My friends and I struck up a game of stickball, but my heart wasn't in it. I was distracted by what I had just witnessed. Why would my mother want to drive a car?
That night I learned the story. Every detail came up through the heating vent into my bedroom, as if my parents' conversation down in the kitchen were being broadcast. My family's economic circumstances had necessitated my mom's taking up part-time work. Money was tight (I heard my mother say, "Butter has gone up to 54 cents a tub. That's outrageous!") and something had to give. In the steadily expanding economy of the '60s, work was not hard to come by and my mother had resurrected her secretarial skills to land a job at a travel agency in Jersey City.
I slept soundly that night, now that I knew there was rhyme to the reason for my mother's license. By morning I had more than reconciled myself to the prospect of my mom behind the wheel. In fact, I began to see her as being pretty cool for being the first to drive. And so, as the days unfolded, the sight of her getting into the car with my father to practice her driving became a part of the landscape that I took for granted. Still, whenever she came down the street in the Chevy and we were playing stickball, we scattered to the safety of the sidelines – just in case.
Finally, the inevitable day came: her road test. She got up early and made herself all pretty in a blue skirt and white blouse. Then she drove off with my father. In the interim, my friends and I gathered on the stoop and hovered. An hour later my mom returned smiling, waving her new temporary license. The deed was done.
The next morning I awoke to a bluebird day, warm with bright sunshine. I got dressed, ate my breakfast, and girded myself for the eight-block slog to school. Then, out of the blue, my mother announced, "I'll take you in today."
I looked at her from under the bill of my baseball cap. I had never considered that my mother would actually drive me somewhere. It all seemed so strange.
"C'mon," she said, and I followed her down to the car. I got into the passenger side and watched in wonder as she started the car – all by herself. And then, as deliberately as a barge leaving its slip, we slowly backed down the driveway. When we got to the end, my friends were standing there, and they were applauding, as if my mom had done a heroic deed, which I guess she had. I finally realized that it had taken courage to break from the pack of nondriving moms and sally forth for a license.
When we arrived at my school, my mother looked over at me and asked, "Well? How did I do?"
I said the first thing that came to mind, which was, "Great, Mom. Almost as good as Dad."
That must have been the wrong answer, because the next day I was back to walking.