Civility steered them

We were breezing comfortably down I-95 at 55 miles an hour with the air conditioning on. We (meaning my husband, Robert, and I with our three grandchildren) were off to an exciting gathering with their aunt and adored cousin, Micah.

The drive south from Richmond, Va., to Raleigh, N.C., was smooth and easy. If we wanted to, we could put the car on cruise control and sail blissfully at 55 m.p.h. and then switch to 65 m.p.h. on I-85. We make the 200-mile trip in less than three hours.

Time was when speed limits were much lower. In the case of my parents, their speed limit was, absolutely, 25 miles an hour.

In 1922, the first sedan-type automobile, a Hudson, went on display. It wasn't till 1928 that my father and mother ventured into the most reputable dealer's showroom in our town to look for their first auto. They told the salesman, emphatically, that they wanted a used car, and, of course, it must not -absolutely must not -go over 25 miles an hour. I don't know how the salesman got around that, but my parents left with a fine Hudson sedan. Used, yes, but bright and shiny.

In the beginning, Daddy drove the car exclusively. It became evident, however, that his mind was more focused on creating stories and pieces for his writing profession than on driving an automobile. Several times he arrived home with a flat tire or two. Mother discovered that the rims had taken on a square shape from neglect.

After too many dismal tries on my father's part, my parents made a post-nuptial agreement. Daddy was never to get behind the wheel again. Mother would be the chauffeur at all times.

I can still see our family packed into our vehicle - parents in the front seat and we three children in the back. My father, always the perfect gentleman, would first open the driver's door to let Mother in, then he'd settle into the passenger's seat. And away we'd go in stately splendor.

In summer, Daddy's Panama hat was perched jauntily on his head, and in winter, his black derby was pulled down squarely to his ears.

Cars then had no power steering. Daddy would assist Mother whenever she had to make a sharp turn. With grace and dignity, he'd lean toward her, place his hands on the wheel, and Mother and he would negotiate the curve with great aplomb. Didn't everyone do this? We three children in the back seat would lean slightly in the direction they were turning, then settle back.

In those days, there were no directional signals. The driver had to use hand signals. First, roll down the window - in rain, sleet, or snow - bend the elbow, and point the index finger left to indicate a left turn. For a right turn, put the hand up straight. A circular hand motion meant, "You may pass me." A dropped hand indicated, "Slow down." In the winter, Mother's little white-kid-gloved hand looked dainty as she performed these important commands.

One day, we were off on a family outing, driving up Route 9, which hugs the Hudson River in New York State. There were many hair-pin curves, and Daddy faithfully performed his duty, leaning over as usual to help his wife negotiate the turns. After one particularly sharp curve, a state trooper charged up on his motorcycle and shouted at my mother, "Does it take two to drive a Hudson?"

My mother smiled graciously, my father tipped his hat, and we drove off slowly, with dignity.

Their routine never varied. It was a perfect solution, and they had no intention of changing such an agreeable arrangement. In today's fast-paced driving, how would they adjust to automatic seat belts, directional signals, car phones?

I suspect they would opt for the back roads, the scenic routes, and perhaps - with a few impatient drivers honking behind them - they'd signal for the cars to pass. Then they'd mosey along at 25 m.p.h., Daddy helping Mother at every turn. Civility would still be king and queen of the road.

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