Sunday, July 31, 2005

A square peg, a round hole, and a cool father

The day I got my Driver’s License, like all teenagers, I wanted to spend my day out of the house and in the car. I found myself suddenly willing to do all sorts of errands for my parents that I wouldn’t normally consider. Sure I’ll pick up your dry cleaning, happy to do the grocery shopping. Anything at all to get me behind the wheel. And the reason for this is because, initially, Mom handed down a rule on my 16th birthday that I was not allowed beyond a painful one-mile radius of the house. And not allowed to drive at night. So you can get more practice at what an important responsibility you have now. Right; I was all ears for that message.

At the time, my father drove an enormous Cadillac. I’m pretty sure that the CRV I drive today is about a third of the length of that thing. I loved that car; it was as if I were driving the livingroom sofa. It was that comfortable. And when I needed a car, Dad was – at least on the outside – more than happy to let me use it. So long as I followed Mom’s rule and stayed within that mile radius, and came home before dark.

My patience lasted for only so long. Then I unpacked a skill I was only just discovering at the time: flirt-begging. Please. Please, please let me drive to the movies. I'll come straight home afterwards. Promise. And, looking at my father, I'd cock my head just a bit to the left, smile beneath my widened eyes, and hold the pose. It took a while to wear them down but they finally relinquished and allowed me to drive my group of friends to the movies.

But, at sixteen, the movies were the last thing on my mind. Or my agenda.

That night, I picked up two friends and we headed straight to Westheimer to cruise through the night with a wave of hundreds of other kids. Together we formed a slow-crawling traffic jam for five miles east and west, music blaring from T-tops and rolled-down windows. Each car filled with hormonal teenagers looking for something, someone, fun. That Cadillac had an excellent stereo system (meaning LOUD), and I was at the early stages of what can easily be called my music addiction. I had the tapes, The Cars, The Police, Queen, Grace Jones, Styxx and AC/DC, and we rolled through that Summer night completely confident in our music, our youth and our looks. Flirting out the windows, taking and giving phone numbers, screaming our highschool spirit, and grabbing each other when certain boys we considered foxes drove past. I had my driver's license and I had the Cadillac. We were free.

Though not so free that I didn't oblige the nagging feeling to keep my eye on the time, trying to figure the time the movie let out and what it would take me to drive the girls home, and still get home on time. At five minutes past my curfew I reluctantly turned the car away from the Westheimer excitement and headed toward my first drop-off. And then my second.

The girls home safely, I headed to my own home using the most direct street, which was Memorial Drive. If you're not from Houston, you should know that Memorial is a snake of a street, winding this way for a quarter mile, then winding that. The street is two-lane and without curbs. One more bend between me and home, I was fidgeting with the stereo to put it back on Dad's easy listening station, and I had turned the volume low. So on that last curve when I went off road slightly, I heard the tires hit the gravel. And I heard the hub cap pop off the back wheel. Crap. Turning into the first drive I could, I quickly put the car in park and shut it off. And at that point I became a ditch walker, which is nothing I was either skilled at or pleased with. With lighter in hand, I began the search for Dad's Cadillac hub cap.

That damn ditch was muddy and the lighter didn't illuminate much. I walked up one side and down the other, cursing my luck and looking at my watch, just knowing Mom and Dad were awake and had called the police, and no doubt planning ways to ground me forever. If I hadn't slipped in the grass and landed on my butt with my feet in the water and my hand behind me desperately trying to stop the fall, I might not have ever found that hub cap. But I did. Rejoice!

But my God the darn thing WOULD NOT GO ON. I hit it and kicked it, threw it on the ground in frustration, and picked it up and tried again. Finally, I popped it in place, or at least in place enough to make it home. And I drove home with the relief knowing that while I might be grounded for being late, I was returning with the car in tact, and therefore released from certain doom and cruel no-more-driving-at-all punishment.

Dad was in the kitchen when I got home, an hour late. His eyes told me that he knew I never made it to the movie just as surely as he knew I didn't walk on the moon that night. But his eyes showed no anger.

You're home late, Cat.

Yes sir. The movie let out late. (It was all I could think of, okay?)

Did you enjoy the movie?

Yes sir. (Uncomfortable pause) Um, I'm going to bed now. See you in the morning.



I wasn't at all sure what that easy exchange was about but I happily walked down the hall, not believing my luck at not only finding the hubcap, but not getting in trouble for being late.

In the morning, me sound asleep, Dad came into my room and flicked the light on. His baritone voice gently saying, Alison, wake up. Scrambling for the covers, and wondering what was going on, I tried to focus on him standing there at the foot of my bed.

Blinking my eyes to the light, I could see that he had a serious face but he was struggling not to smile.

Nice try Cat, but that's a Chevy hub cap.

[Everything in the world tells me that the story should stop there. It's a great ending, afterall. But I have to push forward just a bit and say that this memory is classic to me because it shines a light on me and my Dad. It slays me to use the word was when referring to him, but I have to get used to it. Dad was amused by things like this. He knew I didn't go to the movies because I came home with dirty hands and muddy jeans. (Something I didn't bother assessing at the time.) He had taken one look at me and after I went off to bed he checked the car, amused if not a bit confused by what he saw. Still, he always appreciated effort, any effort, even if so misplaced as trying to force a Chevrolet hub cap onto a Cadillac wheel. This memory, this is one of my favorites, one of my heartfelt memories that, even now, makes me smile. I amused him; he forgave me. He was quite a man that way, quite a Dad that way.]


tinyhands said...

That's hilarious. The best thing I've read in weeks. Thanks.

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