Tag Archives: driving lessons


(sign on a side road 9 miles north of Fort Scott, KS)

Hi, Mom,

Here’s some driving trivia for you. Kansas adopted specific seatbelt laws in 1986, and Colorado followed in 1987. The ages for having to wear seatbelts vary slightly, but both states fine drivers when they–and their riders, especially under-age riders–do not wear seatbelts.

You used to drive anywhere and everywhere, Mom. You transported your children and grandchildren and anyone who needed a ride, and this was before seatbelt laws. When our dog Stardust scratched open her abdomen stitches after surgery, you wrapped her in an old quilt and drove her to the vet’s. I know because I helped hold Stardust in the front seat. She was miserable and her blood was seeping through the quilt, but you stayed calm, kept driving, and talked softly to Stardust as you patted her head.

That was the only time I remember us making a mess in any of the cars. We always drove D-license plates, meaning the cars were for sale at the dealership. So when you drove us and our friends to the swimming pool or youth group or any activities, if we stopped for treats or ice cream cones, we got out of the car to eat them. No messes in the car. That was the rule.

Stardust left a bloody mess in the front seat that day, and the vet couldn’t save her. Dad never said a word. We’d just lost our dog, and the rules changed when we lost a beloved pet.

Sometimes while giving our friends rides, you’d also give rides to their little brothers and sisters. I remember when you once took our young neighbors along on an errand for their mom. Brad was maybe two, and little Pammie was just a baby. Brad stood between us, kind of tucked behind your right shoulder as you drove. I held the baby, and none of us had on seat belts because I think it was only 1962. The older siblings were in the back seat, and I’m sure we all arrived safely.

Now, even though everyone wears seat belts–including children in heavy-duty safety seats (in the back seat, of course), I still resort to a safety technique I learned from you. If I have to stop or slow down quickly when I’m driving, my right arm automatically flies out to protect my passenger, even if it’s my husband, Jim. He just smiles, but our policeman son-in-law probably thinks it’s nuts. Old safety driving habits die hard, even when we’re using seatbelts.

I think you’d probably be glad you’re not driving any more, Mom.  In addition to seat belt laws, there are now laws against using cell phones or texting while driving, and some states are starting to fine drivers who engage in any activity that might distract them. (Which, in your case, Mom, would mean no putting on lipstick while you’re behind the wheel.)

Still, I smile and feel perfectly safe remembering your right arm flying out to protect your passengers, and the gentle, comforting way you patted Stardust’s head as you drove her to the vet’s.

You were a good driver, and you were–and still are–a good mom. But just between us, when you and I are out together on a ride, I get a kick out of buying us ice cream cones and eating them IN the car.

Love, Marylin

~   ~   ~




Filed under driving laws, friends, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, neighbors

Who’s The Best Driving Teacher?

Dear Mom,

Until recently, I assumed your father taught you to drive, or maybe it was one of your brothers.  In most of the family stories, it was the men in your family who did most of the driving to town and on the farm, and because of that I made a wrong assumption.

Dad had tried to teach me how to drive a standard transmission when I was fifteen.  But thanks to my brother David snorting and laughing from the back seat, I ended up taking summer Driver’s Ed and driving an automatic.  Then, in a heartbeat, it seemed, your granddaughter Molly was sixteen and learning to drive.  The male tradition continued when she asked her dad to teach her to drive a standard transmission.  After all, the girls of her generation were really into proving they could drive a stick shift as well as the boys.  So Molly and Jim went to Coronado High School’s empty parking lot to practice in the evenings, and her dad never laughed, cringed or said a harsh word as Molly jerked the car in circles around the lot.  Soon she had it mastered.

We all have our stories about learning to drive, Mom.  I didn’t learn yours until I was going through one of your old writing folders and found several versions of your article, “The Driving Lesson.”  Your father had died in 1933, and Grandma had one car, a 1931 Model A Ford Roadster he purchased for $425.  You were sixteen when Grandma said to you one afternoon, “Let’s take a ride out to the farm.  It’s time you learned to drive.”

Some of the article versions are longer than others, but they all end the same way.  You wrote that the more at ease you became with the Ford, the more apprehensive Grandma was.  “I’m not going very fast,” you assured her, laughing as the breeze ruffled your hair.  Then two miles from home, at the foot of a hill you faced a sharp turn onto a gravel road.  Grandma yelled for you to slow down, but it was too late.  You gripped the wheel and turned, and kept turning and turning…until you landed in the ditch with a bounce.

“Oh, my God,” Grandma said in terror.  According to your article, her exclamation was more frightening than the accident itself.  Grandma never even said “Gosh.”

“Mother!” you said, horrified.  “You took the Lord’s name in vain.”

Grandma didn’t miss a beat.  She took a breath and said sincerely, “That wasn’t swearing, Mary Elizabeth.  That was praying.”

She gave you a few words of advice, guided you out of the ditch, and you drove home safely.  And every driving memory of you in my life time is of a relaxed, confident and competent driver.  A little reluctant to wear a seat belt, but as soon as your granddaughter refused to start the car and drive until you fastened the belt, you smiled and made it a habit.  At least in her presence.

Well, Mom, if we ran a contest to see which of the females in our family had the best driving teacher, who would win?  That’s a hard one.  Two of my favorite men, my husband Jim and my dad, were both wonderful driving teachers.  And as much as I hate to admit it, my brother turned out to be a driving ally, too, so the men in our lives really do deserve a vote of thanks for all their help.

I think, though, that Grandma–Letta Naomi Hoover Smith–deserves the first place prize.  The Missouri country lady who kept the farm going and five children thriving after her husband died, also taught her hair-blowing-in-the-breeze sixteen-year-old daughter to drive a 1931 Model A Roadster on a country road.

That was your mother, my grandmother.  She did whatever needed to be done, taught whatever needed to be learned, and punctuated it all with prayer.

I love you both very much.



Filed under Marriage