Parents can be a real pain in the butt.
|The Axle Affair
When a young man earns his driver’s license, he embraces one of the most important moments in his life. New vistas open – independence, freedom, and the unfettered ability to romance his girl without prying, parental eyes. Yes, the moment I slipped that clean, new license into my wallet, the door to manhood opened.
However, freedom never comes without a price, and neither did the use of my parent’s car. My friends called our 1955 Plymouth sedan “cherry”. In the lingo of the day, the word “cherry” meant perfect, sparkling, and without blemish. Dad took pride in its appearance and kept it looking brand new. After every drive he ran a clean cloth over the surface – just a quick rubdown to tide it over until the next wash and wax.
Before I asked to borrow it, I made sure my behavior was beyond reproach. I completed all my chores without being reminded. I mowed the lawn and raked leaves (even though the yard didn’t need it); I even washed and dried the dishes without being asked. The quality of my work was impeccable; even my father, a perfectionist, could find no fault. When Thursday finally rolled around, I sidled up to my father after he'd finished dinner -- his most approachable time of day. I assumed a nonchalant tone of voice and popped the question, “Say, Dad, can I borrow the car tomorrow night?” I wasn’t prepared for the third degree that followed.
Where are you goin’? How long are you goin’ to be gone? Not past eleven o’clock, I hope. Who’s goin’ with you? Remember – any gas used is gas that you’re payin’ for. And if anything happens to the car . . . . He didn’t have to finish that sentence. I got the point.
Then I received the ten-minute-lecture ( long for my father, a man of few words) about how driving a car was not a right, but a privilege, and that in order to maintain that privilege I would need to demonstrate responsibility, etc., etc., etc.
Well, where was I going? Of course, I was going to see Virginia, my girlfriend. For the first time, I could motor up to her house in my parents’ perfect Plymouth, rap on her door, and escort my raven-haired princess to her coach. I would open the door and see her safely into the passenger seat. From that point we would drive and talk.
And drive we did – driving about the countryside. And talk we did – talking about everything from the weather to school to communism. But when you’re seventeen, there’s only so much you can talk about in one evening. Besides, the car needed a rest from all that driving. I ended up parking the Plymouth on an old logging road where Virginia sometimes rode her horse. True confession: there wasn’t much of a view, except for Virginia.
We spent about an hour enjoying each other’s company. We held hands . . . and even hugged and kissed a little. Just being with each other was enough – young love, you know.
It was nearing the “witching” hour of eleven. I started the car, put it in first gear, and rolled down the grassy road – the bladed stalks of grass slapping at the hubcaps. Five minutes later, after following the quarter mile driveway, we arrived at Virginia’s house. A perfect gentleman, I rounded the car, opened her door, and ushered her to the front porch. She turned off the light. After an appropriate good night kiss we parted company. I drove home that night floating on a cloud with a song in my heart. Gee, Henry Ford sure thought up a great invention.
The next morning I floated out of bed still walking on air. But when I arrived at the breakfast table and saw my Dad’s face, the air beneath my feet turned into cold, hard linoleum. I knew there was something wrong. I thought, What could it be? I hadn’t wrecked the car. I hadn’t even gotten it dusty. I pulled in the home driveway a full ten minutes before eleven – more than early enough. Why the frown?
Then Dad let out a long sigh, shook his head, and asked the question, “Where did you go last night?” The question startled me. Did he know? If he did, how did he find out about me “parking” with Virginia?
A bit unnerved, I replied, “Errr, I drove over to Virginia’s. Uhh, we went for a drive in the car in the country. And, um, we came back to her house and watched some TV.” Well, I did see her TV through the window from the porch, I thought, not wanting to lie.
My dad, taking a deep breath, stared me straight in the eye. Then he demanded, “Explain to me how that long grass got wrapped around the car’s rear axle.” He paused and waited, his eyes boring a hole through me.
My mind began to race. Long grass! Wrapped around the axle! How? Oops! The logging road. I never dreamed he would check under the car. He must have gone over it – and under it – with a fine-toothed comb. How am I going to get out of this one? Then it hit me, “Virginia’s driveway!” Her parents’ long driveway out in the country. That’s it!
“Well, Dad,” I began slowly, “Virginia lives way out in the country off of Mullenix Road. Her driveway must be at least a quarter mile long, and there’s some long grass growing between the tire tracks. I guess I must have picked up the grass there.” Then I added, gathering confidence, momentum, and volume, “Gee, I could have even picked it up turning around in their field.” I could have, but I knew I hadn’t.
He turned his head, then twisted back, pinning me with his gray-eyed stare. He never accused me of lying. He simply said, “Next time you take the car, be careful where you drive it.” I thought I saw the corners of his mouth turn up a tiny bit.
“Oh, I will, Dad. I’ll be real careful.” And I was. I took great care where I drove it. And each time before I brought it home, I checked every inch of the car, making sure there wasn’t one single dent anywhere, one single smudge of grime on the finish, or one single blade of grass wrapped around the axle.