Driving Miss Ruthe

When my parents married in January 1946 after the briefest of courtships, there would have been an ample supply of newlywed adjustments for both. This union was the joining of two individuals from vastly different backgrounds.

My dad’s forebears were mostly no-nonsense, hard-working midwestern people of German descent. Upon arriving in the US, Dad’s grandfather had settled in St. Louis. He and his family led lives of predictability – work, family, church, work some more – with few  distractions or embellishments. They were ordinary folks leading quiet lives.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

In contrast, my mom’s east-coast (Philadelphia) upbringing turned her into an independent, free spirit, a woman eager to embrace the waiting world. From age six (when Mom entered boarding school), familial attachments had mostly evaporated; only her mother remained and mother-daughter visits were infrequent. Living at school was doubtless a happy and wholesome environment, but sans family.

In addition to education, the boarding school students received training in deportment and social graces. Though not formally launched as debutantes, the girls were prepared to follow proper decorum, reflecting favorably on their alma mater. Lacking on-site parental oversight, however, Mom grew to be headstrong, used to having her own way. (Her Bobbie Pringle adventure illustrates her willingness to defy authority.)

Though my parents loved each other passionately, they endured the usual assortment of challenges in their efforts to create a tranquil life together. A quick learner, Dad realized there were times he’d have to act directly to restrain Mom’s impetuous impulses.

On one such occasion when he scheduled an out-of-town trip lasting a couple days, he viewed the car parked in front of our house as an unnecessary temptation. (Mom hadn’t yet obtained her driver’s license.) Before he left, he kindly instructed her not to drive the car while he was gone, but he decided one additional precaution was appropriate:  he removed the vehicle’s distributor cap.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Exactly as Dad expected, Mom yielded to the temptation. She decided to start that car and go somewhere. Her destination didn’t matter. She was determined to satisfy her wanderlust.

Bad news, though! With every attempt to start the engine, she’d feel the manual-shift vehicle sputter, sputter, cough and take a small lurch forward! Each failed ignition attempt raised her ire and spurred more determination. After a good while, she gave up, angry and frustrated … and waited impatiently for Dad to return home. She’d chew him out, chew him out good!

On his return, Dad recognized immediately what mischief she’d pursued in his absence. He quickly defused her anger and agreed to give her weekly driving lessons so she could get the coveted driver’s license.

Image by James Osborne from Pixabay

Driving lessons? Oh, dear, the proffered lessons meant torture for my brothers and me, vocal “baggage” stowed in the backseat of our four-door sedan! (In our family, sitters were rare – as in never.)

Recall, this ancient sedan had a manual transmission. With Mom sitting behind the wheel while Dad gave instructions from the passenger seat, pesky little ones sat behind them, reacting (and over-reacting, I admit) every time Mom failed to find and negotiate the friction point!

I can’t imagine what a trial it was for Mom to concentrate, but for my siblings and I, driving lessons were our least favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon! As for the driver’s license, it might have been a decade later (about the time I took my driver’s test) when Mom obtained hers. She always did things her own way, in her own time.

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