Posted in Boo, Family, Relationships

Boo’s 20/20

Boo’s 20/20 by: Nancy Malcolm

“Your driving scares me!”  I said.  “Did you see that car?”  And I threw my arm across his chest in a move I used when the kids were little.

“My eyes are perfect,”  Boo declared.  “It’s you I worry about.”

“Maybe you need your eyes checked.  When was the last time you had an eye exam?”

“5th grade, by the school nurse.  I aced it!”  Holding one hand over his left eye. 

“I’m sure your school nurse was a lovely person and took her job seriously, but you have not had your eyes checked since elementary school?”

“I don’t need to.  I can see perfectly.”

Needless to say, I did not trust Boo’s last eye ‘exam’ as the current state of his eyesight.  As with most of Boo’s health care, I felt the need to lecture (that’s a harsh word) on the value of healthy eyes as we age.  You know, cataracts, glaucoma, and basic vision.  An eye exam can also warn of diabetes, high cholesterol, or other problems.

“Don’t worry about me, my eyes are x-ray vision!” he said. “Like Superman.”

“Well, if you don’t believe me, ask your doctor at next week’s annual exam.  See what he says.”  I was feeling smug that his doctor would agree with me and send him right away for an eye exam but sometimes I don’t trust Boo to ask his doctor the right questions.

When it came time for Boo to go, I handed him a slip of paper with three concerns to ask his doctor, just to ease my mind.

Do I need a flu shot and a pneumonia shot?

Check the mole behind ear that looks funny

Eye exam

According to Boo, his doctor, too, was a little surprised he had never had a real eye exam.

“So what did the doctor say?”  I asked.

“He asked me if I was having any problems.” 

 “What did you say?” I prodded.

“I said no. Then he asked me if  anything was blurry far away or close up?”

“And?”

“I said no.  Then he asked me why I wanted my eyes checked, and I said my wife thinks I need to.

“What did he say then?”  I asked.

“Oh.  Ok.”

The next week, Boo got his eyes examined, dilated and checked by a trained ophthalmologist, not a school nurse, and he came out with flying colors.

“You seem disappointed that I am truly perfect in every way.”

Maybe I was, just a little.  With Boo, I do worry about his health.  I’m glad to know he is now up to date on his flu shot, eye exam, colonoscopy and dental cleanings.  I’m still working on his nutrition, though.  His stash of candy and treats rival the grocery store check-out line, and his addiction to licorice is worthy of a 12-step program.

But, one thing at a time.  I’m proud of him for all he’s done and for now I will stay quiet and stop being Nurse Nancy.  

First the eyes….next the Twizzlers.

Posted in Pets, Photography

How To Love A Cat

How To Love A Cat by Nancy Malcolm

            We filled out mountains of paperwork, completed a background check, paid our fee, did a home-visit to the foster parent and solemnly swore to care for her until the end of time.  We knew we would be a good match, but did they?

            Emmy Lynn came to us through an adoption agency.  She had been born during Hurricane Harvey and transplanted to Austin shortly thereafter.  We have always been partial to little black cats, so after our Blackie left this earth, we waited one year to make sure we were ready.

RIP Blackie Marie

            “She’s shy,” the foster parent kept saying, but she also had two other cats and a loud, hyperactive Lab living there, too.  We persevered and finally got to hold her for a minute or so before saying yes, we wanted to adopt.  A week later, we were bringing her home, where she promptly hid inside our leather couch for two days.

            “She’s shy,” we mused.

            She finally crept out from the couch and began purring, rubbing our legs, eating, and pooping.  Then, over night she began racing around the house, demanding snacks and kicking her litter out of the box. 

            “Remember, she’s just a kitten,” Boo smiled.  “She needs our love and support.”

            “I don’t get a minute to myself,” I countered.  “She follows me around the house, wanting me to carry her everywhere and is only happy if I sit still and pet her.”

            “So?”

            “I’m busy,” I retorted. (Busy being retired) “She’s like a toddler.”

            In the morning during my sittin ugly time, she would sit on my lap while I did my prayers and daily reader.  If I dared to get up for more coffee, she would chew on my Bible and try to bite me when I took it away.  Get thee behind me, Satan!

            She would race from room to room, jump on counters, and at Christmas she jumped up into the tree trying to bite the lights.  At one point, I called the adoption agency behavior hotline.  I was anonymous, but I felt ashamed as I kept asking, “Is this normal?  I don’t know what to do. I got a water bottle to spritz her when she acts up….”

“Oh No,” she interrupted. “Absolutely no spray bottles!!!”

The hotline worker kept repeating that she is a kitten and simply doing what kittens do.  “The only acceptable discipline for her is ‘time-out’, she said.

            “How do I do that?”

            “You go in another room for a few minutes and she will eventually understand that Mommy will not accept her behavior.”

            “Thank you,” I said without meaning it, and I promptly went to my room and shut the door.

            The next day, I went to the swanky pet store in our neighborhood and asked for help in keeping this little kitty happy and entertained.  Money was no object as I purchased several ‘never fails’ and ‘guaranteed’ toys and gadgets.   I vowed to stay calm and renew my patience with this adorable, bad to the bone kitty, and s l o w l y she adjusted to life and we have adjusted to her.

            Emmy has charmed the grandkids and trained them to her liking.  She will play fetch with her soft felt balls, even bringing them back, and dropping it at my feet.  She sleeps with her tongue out and still is the happiest in my arms or on my lap.  She sits in the ivy in the front yard and waits for mothers pushing strollers so she can greet the children, and she climbs up between the comforter and sheets on the guest bed to nap when no one is home.  If we go out of town, she is always forgiving and charms her sitters with good behavior.

She is delightful, funny, loving and loyal.  She’s our little black kitty and this we know to be true…In a perfect world every cat would have a home and every home would have a cat.

Posted in Mothers, Piano

My Mother’s Piano

My mother~ Margaret Armenta Claughton

The story of my piano is bittersweet but beautiful, and begins with my mother.  As long as I can remember, we have had my mother’s piano.  You could say it was part of her dowry when she married my dad, and it is one of the few things I have that was hers.

The piano was a beautiful shiny black, but somewhere in the ‘60’s, my dad repainted it in that ever popular antique avocado green.  Why, we will never know, but it became that  ‘green beast’ color until today.  My brother and his wife housed it lovingly for years, until sometime later I pleaded with them to let me have it, which they did. Although my father always referred to it as ‘your mother’s piano,’ it has been mine ever since.

If this piano could talk, we would all be entertained for years.  The music bench is filled with music from my mother’s era, and the lesson books from my sixth grade.  “Songs of Alpha Chi Omega”, when my mother was at O.U.,  “Tip Top Tunes for Young Pianists,” and “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” are all mixed in with my lesson books to travel through time in music.

There is a corner chunk of wood missing off the bench from an ‘unchaperoned’ high school party by my youngest daughter. 

 There is a long, deep scratch on the top from a hectic move during my divorce’ years.

 Our grandkids have banged on it pretending to play their favorite songs. 

And there are strange loud moaning and groaning sounds nightly that used to scare my husband.  He thinks the piano is haunted by spirits, but I think the piano has been sad about its green color.  

Almost everyday for the last twenty years, I have passed by the piano and wished it was back to the original color.  I never thought it would be possible, but somewhere along the line my thoughts changed to, “I’m going to paint the piano.”

I would say it to myself and to anyone who would listen, but I either got a surprised look or half-sincere encouragement with a side of ‘naysayer.’  I had no one who was interested in my endeavor.  No one believed in me, except my old, true-blue friend….Pinterest.  Even the paint guys at Home Depot gave me a ‘look’ when I asked about the best type of paint to use.

I began with the bench as I dipped my brush and kept moving.  Almost immediately I knew I had made the right decision.  There was no turning back, and I wondered why I had waited so long.  Fear was the main reason, I think.  Fear of messing it up.  Fear it might look worse, if that was possible.  But, there is something about being sixty-seven years old and knowing that time is fleeting.  Perfection is not necessary, but happiness is.  Restoring my piano to a gorgeous black color makes me very happy.

My mother’s birthday is today, September 28.  I wanted to do this for her as well as myself.  This weekend has been about change and restoration; patience and perseverance. I feel fearless and creative and I know she would approve of that.

Love you, Mom.

Posted in Boo, Relationships

Zoom Zoom

Last week Boo had to attend substitute training in preparation for the start of school.  This man worked thirty years in the classroom and as an administrator guiding thousands of high school kids toward graduation.  Now, he substitutes as an elementary P.E. teacher (when he feels like it) doing hula hoop games and Kidz Bop dance-a-thons.

This year, being what it is, his training was on Zoom.  Boo has never been on Zoom and didn’t really know where it was.  This is a true story.  Most of us recognize the little blue square with a camera symbol, but Boo was a novice.

“I need your help,” he said.  “Where do I go for my Zoom meeting?”

“What do you mean?  Like the computer room???”

“I mean, where is it?”

We sat side by side and I showed him the icon, talked about the meeting number and passcode etc.  I agreed to be with him and help him “get on” his meeting.

Their first instructions said to turn off the camera and mic.

“But, I put on a nice shirt and everything,”  he said.  “How will they know I’m here?”

“It might be too distracting to have such a handsome guy on camera.” I smiled.

However, two folks did not follow directions and their faces were beside the presenter.  I became terribly engrossed watching them get up for water and coffee, primp in the camera and one even picked his nose.

Meanwhile, Boo, sitting straight in his chair said, “Can they see me?”

“No, I turned off your camera.”

“But, those guys are on…”

“They shouldn’t be.”

“I wish I was.”

“Maybe another day,”  I said.

The professional development progressed, but Boo was losing attention, staring out the window and checking his fingernails.  

Suddenly, we heard, “Type your response in the chat box, now.”  Wide eyed, he let out a few choice words and said, “Where is this chat room?”

“Ah, it’s a box, and you click on the word chat then type in your response.

By the time he completed his answer, the speaker was on a new topic…”You will be receiving a virtual backpack with information pertinent to your daily check in at school. Download now.”

I leaned over and downloaded the folders.

“What did you just do?”

“I got your backpack.”

His eyebrows shot up.

“It’s a virtual backpack, Boo.  I downloaded the information for you.”

“But, where is it?”

“It’s in our download file.”

“With the backpack?  Remember last year we got a coffee mug and the year before a grocery bag with AISD on it?  I’m excited about a backpack.”

“Honey, you really won’t get an actual backpack.  It’s virtual.”

“Oh.”

One and a half hours later, an accidental disconnect, much cussing and a virtual break-out session, it was over.

“Maybe, I should work at Home Depot,” he said.

“Don’t be discouraged, Boo.  This was just your first Zoom.  It will get better.  I think you did a great job!”

He sighed and with his sad looking baby blues, he looked at me to ask, “I wonder what color backpack I’ll get?”

Oh, Boo.

Posted in Boo, Nature, Photography

Squirrels Are Nuts

“Those Bastards!” I heard Boo hollar from the family room window.

“Those dang squirrels have eaten every bite of the bird seed and are now taunting the Bluejays.”

We stood side by side, noses pressed against the window watching as the squirrely creatures took over the backyard.

“It’s like a gang has taken over ‘the yard’ at Alcatraz.  Instead of the Bloods and Crips, it’s the Flying Nuts and the Angry Birds,” I said.

A few years ago our daughter and son-in-law gave us the Yankee Flipper bird feeder, which was our eighth bird feeder in five years.  It was pricey, sturdy and guaranteed to keep squirrels away from the bird food.  “Guaranteed!”  

The Yankee Flipper is designed to spin and flip anything heavier than a bird.  I hate to admit it, but we had a blast watching as it spun, and then gently tossed the squirrels into the grass.  No squirrels were harmed in the process, but it provided hours of entertainment as we watched our pesky guests become dazed and confused.

Squirrels are a member of the rodent family.  They include tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, flying squirrels and prairie dogs. (I always thought a tree squirrel and a ground squirrel were the same thing.)  There are red squirrels and black squirrels and our usually brown ones.  Who knew there could be so many different species?

What is a squirrel’s purpose in life?  I used to think they were so cute, but now they dig up my plants and eat my bird seed.  Remember Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies?  She was always cooking up a mess of stewed squirrel or roast possum.  Sounds like the Keto diet gone amuck.  And talk about attitude…squirrels taunt birds and upset the cat with high pitched chirping, squeeks, scraping and barks.  They act entitled and indignant all at the same time.

Just for fun I read about having a squirrel for a spirit animal.  Who would openly admit this, I wondered?  To have a squirrel on your totem pole means you are very resourceful and that you prepare for the present and future.  And if you dream about squirrels it means you need to lighten your load of clutter and unnecessary items, and that you need more fun in your life.  I tell you this because I know there are still squirrel lovers out there, although the number may be dwindling.

Lest I digress, the Yankee Flipper motor had to be charged occasionally to keep the twirl and flip going.  But, as the years have gone by it has lost its ability to juice up.

Our birds love the large feeder but the problem is the squirrels think it is for them, too.  I personally have watched as a squirrel hangs between the feeder and the tree, perpendicular to the ground, swinging to and fro until he can make the leap.  Sometimes they jump from the tree onto the top of the feeder and shimmy down to the food.  I must admit, they are agile little daredevils.  When we open the backdoor, they freeze to see who it is.  If it’s me, they hang loose and gingerly take their time climbing back up the tree.  If it’s Boo, they disappear in a matter of seconds and perch high enough to chatter and backtalk until he goes back in.

“I won’t go down without a fight”  Boo saluted.  “They have met their match.  Remember when we went to Yosemite, and they taught us to clap our hands loud and yell ‘Hey bear’ if we came across a grizzly?”

“Yes, Babe, but….”  As I turned to look his way, I saw him in his Ranger hat and filling up a water gun, but it was too late.  He was heading out into the back yard.

I give up’, I whispered to myself and moved closer to watch what would happen next.  Squirrels are nuts, and Boo… is Boo.

All photographs are my own…..obviously

Posted in Relationships

Daddy Was A Saver

My daddy, J.C.Claughton, passed away eleven years ago today.

My Daddy was a “saver”.  A procurer of particulars…a frugal forager.  It was probably because he was a product of the Depression, but for whatever reason, if you needed ‘it’, he had it, at least one and an alternate.

When Daddy passed away we found boxes full of souvenirs, balls of twine, ink pens, jars of nails and business cards.  We found his report cards, measuring tapes, hundreds of bank statements and thousands of photographs labeled neatly into chronological albums.  There were boxes, bags and myriad other containers full of his mementos.   

My brother and I waded through his things sometimes laughing …sometimes crying.  Towards the end of our sorting, we bantered across to each other, “You take it!”  “No, YOU take it!”  Still, we filled large, black Hefty bags with things to give away or dispose of.  His obsessive ‘saving’ wore us out.  Sometimes, as we discarded, I whispered a prayer, “I’m sorry Daddy, we just have to let this go,” hoping he understood.

Last year I was going through a box of Daddy’s things that I had ‘saved’ from ten years ago.  When I brought it home, I thought I would go through it right away.  But, ten years had passed and I had just found the strength to open the box.

Inside were our report cards, Baptism announcements, college essays, school pictures and more.  I found an old, faded manila envelope, sealed with a piece of tape and enclosed were letters and cards my brother and I had sent Daddy through the years; Father’s Day cards, poems, and notes we had written him.  Behind those cards were letters tied with a string….our letters to Santa Claus.

I unfolded one pristine piece of notebook paper and I was transported, as I read my brother’s childish handwriting. 

Dear Santa,  I hope that I have been good enough to deserve these things I want.  I would like a bulldog tank, an electric football game and a boy scout nap sack.  My sister would like a jewelry box, a ballarena doll, a girl cowboy suit and play doe, please.   From:  Jimmy and Nancy.  December 16, 1958

This letter was written one month before our mother passed away. Not all of our letters to Santa were saved, just this one and the ones the year after she died. My Dad wasn’t always good at professing his love.  He wasn’t the sentimental, mushy type.  But, after he was gone, I saw his tender side amongst the 14 retractable measuring tapes and boxes of Navy war memorabilia.  The cards and notes his children had sent and letters to Santa obviously touched his heart, although we never knew it.  His heart was inside this box that took me ten years to open. And, suddenly, all of this stuff he had ‘saved’, became a piece of him…a bridge to the other side, where he was standing, arms open wide, saying, “See?  I have always loved you.”  And finally my heart whispered back, “I know, Daddy.  I love you, too.”

Posted in Friendship, Relationships

Skinny Jeans

 

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Boo had skated around the fact that he was eating exactly what he wanted in spite of the doctor’s warning.  “Your blood sugar is getting higher.  You need to change your eating habits and get more exercise, and it would help if you lost a few pounds.”  Still, he had his stash of candy and cookies semi-hidden on the third shelf of the pantry behind the flour, brown sugar, and the grandkids’ Capri Sun.  I use the term ‘hidden’ loosely.

It took one more threat from the doctor for the message to click.  “If you don’t change your ways, I’ll be putting you on insulin shots.  Here’s the name of a dietitian to help get you started.”  I heard all of this second hand, mind you, and it took him a few hours to disclose what was actually said because he had stopped off at Starbucks for a Caramel Macchiato and pound cake, just a little reward for after the doctor.

Boo reluctantly relayed the information, grudgingly called the dietitian, and went about his way saying, “I’m going to eat whatever I want until I see this nutrition person.”

“I’m going with you to the dietitian,” I said.

“You just want to make sure I tell the truth,” he countered.

“That’s right, “ I said.  “I don’t trust you.”

boo

One week later, we saw the dietitian who was a beautiful, thirty-something, tall, slender nurse.  She was sweet on the outside, but it didn’t take her long to see through his antics.  Yes, I helped him answer her questions honestly.  Yes, I ratted him out on a few things, but I saw him really listening as she explained carbohydrates, sugars, and proteins.  Almost overnight Boo began watching his carbs, forgoing desserts, using sugar-free creamer, and walking 10,000 steps.  It was a miracle.  As the pounds dropped off, he started to envision himself quite the stud.  “I think I’m almost ready for skinny jeans, what do you think?” 

 “Maybe just five more pounds?” I offered.

We went from grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with a generous handful of chips at lunch, to baked fish and Charro beans.  We had berries for dessert instead of double stuffed oreo cookies and ice cream.  We even bought Fitbits.  In fact, Boo became a zealot, watching every bite he put in his mouth.

 When we walked together, I would come home angry.  I envisioned us walking hand in hand down the road of love and health; sharing goals and encouraging each other on our fitness journey.  His focus was to walk briskly and clock his miles, no time for idle chit chat, let alone hand-holding.  So, we opted to walk separately, allowing him to go faster and me to stay sweeter. 

 Six months later he was down thirty pounds and looking svelte.  I, on the other hand, was down three pounds and sneaking potato chips.   How is it that men can just put their minds to it and make this losing weight look so easy?  I think women just have slower metabolisms and don’t forget the whole hormone thing, we’re challenged at every turn.

This year at Christmas, Boo finally got his wish of skinny jeans!  As he pulled the jeans gleefully from the wrapping paper, he grinned like a little kid and stood up to hold the jeans next to his legs.  Even though he needed a little help to pull them on, once he zipped up they fit like a glove. (literally)  Truthfully, I never thought of Boo as skinny jeans material, but I wanted him to live the dream, and he is.

“Enjoy your new-found hotness!” I teased.

“Oh, I will,”  he smiled, as he turned around and checked out his rear end view.  “GQ has nothing on me!”

Posted in Relationships

See Me

DSC_0063 (1)

 

His eyes locked in on mine and the whole depth of his life was etched on his skin, the skin someone had once loved.  Maybe he was still loved, but I saw the story in his eyes and it stopped me.  It stopped my breath and I looked away.

He didn’t say anything, but he asked with his eyes.  Without thinking, my daughter and I opened the door and hurried in with the other assortment of customers; hurrying into the dollar store for super bargains and cheap deals.

It wasn’t until we were all the way in that I noticed the door was shut and he was still outside, but I kept moving, diverting my eyes. 

My daughter was the first to act, walking purposefully back toward the door.  She didn’t say a word to me, but as she opened the door she said, “Hello friend, may I help you?”

He quickly looked down and then glanced back up as he said, “Yes, thank you.  I need to do some shopping.”

His wheelchair was a later model, worn and frayed at the top of the backrest, and basic black, totally utilitarian.  I could tell he had been a tall man, because his one long leg remained, half filling the space of the chair, while his hands gripped the armrest.  

The chair was his home, with a cushion to sit on, and a cloth pouch tied onto the back of the seat holding a grocery bag, bandana and well used water bottle.  The chair was moved solely by the strength of his arms, which would turn and push the large, dirty, frayed wheels.  But, his face…his face frightened me because it was so rough, yet so incredibly tender and open.

There was a beautiful, kind quality to his face that reached out as if to whisper, 

“I’m still me.  I’m still in here, in this tired, worn shell. Can you see me? The real me?”

Shame crept into my body, as I hurried over to hold the door. My daughter gripped the handles behind the backrest and with a strong push, helped him over the threshold and got the bag from the back of his chair.

“There you go,”  she said.  “Anything else I can do for you?”

“No, thank you.  I didn’t think I would make it in,” he said, looking down.

And he shyly wheeled himself forward, down a crowded aisle with greedy shoppers.

She took no credit for this action, as I told her how proud I was and what a kind thing she did.  It is a part of who she is to help the unfortunate or downtrodden.  It was a quiet lesson to me to keep my eyes open, my heart soft and my hands ready to help.

Shame, whether his or mine, does not teach us anything except to abandon ourselves.  Perhaps he had old shame lurking nearby, I really don’t know.  But, I know my shame at not following a faint nudge to help a fellow human, lingers still.

I learned a lesson that day that came from my daughter who was not afraid to open a door; not afraid to extend her hand.  A lesson I hope I will always remember.

Posted in Photography

The Hummingbird

DSC_0430

 

In grief as in life, we often say, see or do things that make us feel better or more connected to our loved ones.

“Oh, there’s Dad again,”  someone may say while looking out the kitchen window at a cardinal sitting on a fence post.  While another might notice yellow butterflies on their morning walks, declaring, “I know that’s Mom.  She loved the color yellow.”

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It’s not so much that I believe my loved ones are reincarnated into insects or birds, but it does feel like a gentle embrace from the other side, meant to comfort and bring peace.

My friend, Mary, passed away last year, rather suddenly.  She always loved dragonflies and was drawn to their vivid colors and flighty paths.  She had dragonfly notepads, nightgowns, and tote bags.  She adored all things ‘dragonfly.’

Mary 5

Try as I might, I am not convinced that every dragonfly I photograph is Mary.  “Hold still, little beauty,”  I whisper to them.  “Let me take your picture.”  I know Mary would have loved my photos and might even have asked for a framed one for her walls.  While I do not feel that these dragonflies are Mary, I do believe that it is her spirit that beckons me to seek the beauty in nature, urging me to take time to enjoy God’s creations.

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We recently put up a new hummingbird feeder in our backyard.  I made the nectar and as we hung it I fully expected hummingbirds by dusk.  Two weeks later my little friend arrived.  Flighty, thirsty, and perfect, although not flashy in color like the butterfly or dragonfly.  Every day she drinks the nectar and then flits to an adjacent branch to hang out for a bit, then over to a flowering plant, then back to the feeder.  Then, without warning, she flies away until another time.DSC_0436

Hummingbirds are the smallest birds, yet they can travel up to 49 mph.  Their heartbeats nearly 1200 beats per minute and they get their name because of the humming sound of their beating wings.

I feel like a hummingbird sometimes.  My attention goes from details to musings.  I flit from rigid routines to spontaneous creations, photography, or writing.  My concentration varies.  My observations bounce.  When I’m dead and gone, will my daughters see a hummingbird and say, “ Oh, there goes Mom.  She never could sit still.”?

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There are six large blue jays that visit our bird feeder every day.  Occasionally they are raucous and loud, trying to dominate the backyard.  I’d swear one of them is my Dad, just trying to get in the last word.  Trying to control, even from beyond!

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It behooves me to wonder who would want to be remembered as a squirrel or pesky fly, but every family has one of each.  Maybe our loved ones visit as birds or maybe a Higher Power nudges us to notice the beauty in nature, helping us to slow down and feel a connection.  Whatever is true and whatever is your truth, enjoy the noticings and remember your loved ones from beyond.  And if you receive a hummingbird feeder from me for Christmas, keep it.  Someday, I may come for a visit.

 

Posted in Driving

Caution: Student Driver

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When I turned fifteen, I could hardly wait to take Driver’s Education so I could get my permit.   I remember that it was during summer school and we had classroom instruction with two weeks behind-the-wheel driving time.  I had already been sneaking my family car when my parents were out, so I was eager to be a legit driver.

Impala
A Fine Ride

My instructor was an old baseball coach who also taught high school algebra.  He called us all by our last names and was pretty easy going except that we were scared to death of his gruff exterior.  He barked information and orders in a drill sergeant, commanding way.

There were four of us assigned to his car for our two-week behind-the-wheel session.  I didn’t know the other kids, but there were three girls and one guy.  The first day he asked, “Who thinks they know how to drive?”  I was the only one to raise my hand.

“Claughton,” (my maiden name) “take us for a ride!”  And he lit up a cigar butt that had been in his shirt pocket.  Since I had been stealing, I mean “borrowing” my dad’s car since 9th grade, I felt comfortable behind the wheel.

I drove us the whole two hours that first day, while he grunted directions of where to turn and kept a steady stream of descriptive terms about the other drivers on the road.   The other three kids sat straight as arrows, lined up in the backseat, waiting for their turns.

The next day, Coach chose another one of the girls, but she broke down in tears saying she was too scared to drive.  “Nonsense,”  he said.  “Smith, get up here and let’s see what you can do.  There’s no crying in baseball or driving.”

She cried so hard he finally had her pull over and started yelling, “Smith, you’re out!  Jefferson, you’re up.”  But, Jefferson was constantly taking his eyes off the road to look at Coach while he was talking.

“For God’s sake, Jefferson!  Do you have eyes in the back of your head?  Keep your eyes on the (bleepin’) road before you kill us.”  

And just when Coach was really revving up, he had to slam the dual-control brake on the passenger side, just to keep us from sliding into another car.  Did we even have seat belts back then?

“Jefferson, you’re out!  Claughton, take us home, and be careful, for God’s sake.”

The next day, Coach told the last girl, “It’s your lucky day, Krowowski.  You can’t be any worse than Jefferson.  Get up here.”

Krowowski was a meek, quiet girl who I personally thought was stoned the whole time, but, she didn’t cry, so we were all hopeful that things would lookup.  Krowowski took the wheel and we pulled out of the parking lot with a jolt and a lurch, as she turned too quick and ran us up on the sidewalk.  

In the backseat, I was in the middle.  On my left, Smith began to whimper and cry and Jefferson was already distracted with biting his fingernails.

I think Coach lost it completely because I heard some pretty graphic cuss words as we leaped off the curb into traffic.

“For God’s sake, stop the (blankity-blank, bleepin’) car!”

And she did….right in a turn lane of cars.

“Not here…..there!” and he pointed to the parking lot, so she jumped us back over the curb from whence we came.  And Coach slammed his brake so hard we all flew forward.

It was obvious we were finished for the day when he told us to get out of the car.  We had to wait outside until our parents came to get us.

The next morning Krowowski did not come back, Smith brought rosary beads and Jefferson looked stoned.   For the next six days, Coach only let me drive.  I can’t say Coach imparted tons of useful driving instructions but I sure clocked a lot of driving time.   I drove us to Palo Duro Canyon,  we made stops at A&W Root Beer,  we drove through a cemetery, grocery store parking lot and got on the interstate every chance we could.  We ran his personal errands to the bank and Skaggs Drug Store.  Once, he got us all hotdogs at Der Weinerschnitzel. (four for a dollar.)   Coach puffed his cigar butts and sometimes slumped in the front seat barking, “Wake me up in 15 minutes.”

Right or wrong, I will never forget Driver’s Education and the summer I “learned” to drive.  It’s been over fifty years since I got my driver’s license and I still think of Coach. In fact, I still think of my Drivers Ed. group and wonder if they “passed” the class even though they rarely drove. It amazes me that no one complained or had their parents call.  

 Kids today who are learning to drive online are really missing out on an unbelievable experience.   I’m quite sure Coach would have something to say about it.  “For God’s sake, be careful out there!”