1962 – We lived on a major highway, between Flint and Lansing, Michigan. It’s now part of Interstate 69. But at the time, it was a state highway called M-78. Four lanes – divided – populated by swift 4-wheeled steel titans – some sporting fins on the back that garishly displayed the taillights; with the newer ones having abandoned those “heights of automotive fashion – for 1959.” Yes, this divided four-lane concrete ribbon displayed Detroit’s finest products of the day – at 65 mph.
Ours was a 1960 Dodge. The fins had already been dialed back from the previous year. But with its big chrome bumpers and massive beige finished doors and fenders, the giant passenger tank loomed large – but didn’t exactly turn heads.
And from a five-year-old’s vantage point, the Beige Bomber seemed even more immense.
Now, when you live on a four-lane divided highway, and you’re just a little tyke, Rule Number One is: “No playing in the front yard!” We had several ample neighborhood backyards that were safe. So- no front yard – the front yard was dangerous – it could get you killed… by Mama.
As a good mom, she put the “fear of God” into us about playing near the road. So it never happened. It’s like we had one of those invisible fences – there was a “maternal force field” that kept us behind the house. I never did find out what our front door looked like from the outside.
So by default, we learned to respect both the highway, and the lumbering semi-trucks and speeding automobiles it bore.
Now, Daddy was a professional driver, delivering a truck full of cookies each day to stores all over Mid-Michigan (Yep, my Daddy was the Cookie Guy – there’s nothing cooler when you’re five years old!) So when we actually did take to the road in our ’60 Dodge – we always felt safe – Daddy was behind the wheel – and Daddy was a professional.
So it was more than a little unnerving when Daddy thought it would be fun for the boys to drive the car! As she clutched baby Rhonda, Mama made it clear – she did not share in Daddy’s amusement.
That never stopped Daddy. He pulled off to the shoulder and put Bobby on his lap. No worries about seat belts… don’t think we had any. With no traffic in sight, Daddy pushed the pedal and Bobby steered onto M-78, becoming the youngest driver in Michigan.
Until it was my turn. Of course, Bobby did a great job, and now, somehow I was supposed to equal his effort. But c’mon! Bobby was a whole six, fer cryin’ out loud! And knowing him, he’d probably already read the driver’s training manual and aced the test!
I was afraid… but sibling rivalry wouldn’t let me fully express it. Daddy pulled off again and Bobby and I swapped places. Okay, sitting on Daddy’s lap – that was cool…and grabbing the steering wheel – well we’d done that before – playing “racecar” in the driveway. But then, Daddy pushed the pedal.
We…were…moving! I was scared spitless, and knowing me, I’m sure I voiced my concerns in no uncertain terms. But then…
It got a little easier… I relaxed a little. So then Daddy sped up, and a curve was coming, and I didn’t really know how to steer! This isn’t fun! Daddy, I’m scared!
Ever felt like that little guy behind the wheel? Me, too. Even now. Life comes at you – territory you’ve never navigated before –but you’re supposed to plow ahead, all by yourself, gripping a steering wheel with fear and trembling – because it’s all up to you. And just when it gets a little easier, a little comfortable, life steps on the gas – and throws a curve into your path – hang on –we’re in serious danger!!!
We were never in any danger. Daddy had just been allowing Bobby and me to sit in the driver’s seat. And learn not to be afraid. To understand – and trust – that he was still in control. Daddy had the wheel the whole time. My eyes, my thoughts, my focus, my worries – everything told me that it was up to me – that I – and I alone – had to keep this all from crashing – my family’s life was in my little bitty hands.
But if I could have peeled my eyes off the road ahead – for just a second – I could have seen that Daddy had his mighty hand on the wheel, too.
Instead of being on our own while life is racing full-speed ahead, the reality is, we’re safely sitting in the lap of a Daddy who loves us.
And lets us steer once in a while.
Photo courtesy of Randy von Liski