April 13, 2019

Chapter 13 - My Mother's Maiden Voyage

My Mother's Maiden Voyage


Driving comes naturally to us Cannatas. All of my siblings are excellent drivers. Well Ok... my brother Dave has caused a few coronaries for a passenger or two, but they all lived to tell the story so we chaulk that up to a prolonged learning experience. The rest of us are natural born road warriors.

My father had a big hand in that. Most all of us attended a certified Driving School as part of our formal drivers' education training. In addition, we had the advanced expert instruction and inspiration provided by my father. We wouldn't be masters of the road without the added value of his superior ability and experience to draw on. He embraced the task of instructing us in the "Wisdom and Ways of Life in the Great American Tarmac Jungle". He was unshakable in his dedication.

My father would take us out on slow Sunday mornings or early summer evenings. He never appeared to get anxious or angry at any mistakes we made. Nothing scared him as far as I could tell. We would cruise around wherever we pleased which made driving with my father a lot of fun. Unlike the driving instructors, who generally gave you specific directions when it came to what streets we could drive on, my father let us decide where we wanted to go. For a guy who generally scared the hell out of me on most days, my father was a different guy when we were in the car. He was almost pleasant, which was scary in its own way.

If he thought we needed to practice maneuvers that were too risky to be done in traffic, he would have us go to a big empty parking lot like the local supermarket or one of the area shopping malls. There we would practice parking or backing up. Maybe some quick starts and stops just to get to know how it feels. He once took me to a big parking lot while it was snowing like crazy. He told me to get a feel for the conditions and just had me play in the snow with the car. The logic was that he would rather I learn how to control a car in a skid that was safe from real harm. "Try not to hit the light poles and you're covered" he would laugh.

I always thought my Dad did a good job teaching his kids to drive. None of my siblings has ever been seriously injured in an accident. Most of the accidents that we've been involved in was someone else's fault ... I Swear! All my brothers drove taxi at one time or another. I did for 14 years. I also drove a van transporting elderly citizens to and from medical appointments for 11 years. Did a lot of deliveries by truck and car and drove limousines part time. My father taught us all to the best of his ability

My mother was the lone exception. She learned to drive for herself.

After her first lesson with my father she wanted no more of his professional instruction, thank you very much! She didn't want my father anywhere near the car while she was behind the wheel. When she did have her license she never drove him around. He always did the driving. She drove OK as far as I was concerned. She let me drive a lot when I had my permit which was what cool mothers do. Just keep Dad away and she was fine in a car. Around Dad she got all stressed, for some unknown reason, or just maybe it was my father. He made her nervous when he was in the car with her. On the first day my father started teaching my mother to drive, she returned the favor.

My mother was the only person who ever scared the bejeebers out of my dad while he was teaching her to drive. My mother didn't want my fathers help but that meant nothing to him. Teaching a Cannata the rules of the road was his mission as a father and husband. Cannata might not have been her maiden name, but, by virtue of marriage, my mother was a now an official and legal Cannata. That meant in no uncertain terms that she was eligible.

So, once upon a time, on a day just right for a driving lesson, my father took my mother out for a Sunday trial run as he had done with most of his kids. As usual the family wagon had a number of the Cannata kids packed in the back. We were going along for the ride as we usually did. In a scenario that would horrify most parents today, this being the 1960's, there wasn't a seat-belt even available, let alone fastened in the family station wagon. I was in the second seat with some of the kids. The rest of the kid cargo was in the back seat. There were a few Cannata kids and a friend or two. My mother was at the wheel with nervous hands. My Dad had a cigarette lit and was ready to hit the course.

The first few minutes were spent trying not to laugh or tease my mother ... too much. As it turned out, my mother did better than we honestly expected. No longer in subtle fear for our lives and with nothing to distract us, we all started mixing it up and making a general racket in the back. My father seemed to relax as well and we headed out to the parkways. He gave my mother a couple of directions to the lot that he liked to use on Sundays.

I remember watching from the second seat between my parents as my father leaned over and gave my mother hints and tips. With all the noise we were making it was hard to hear clearly what they were saying to each other. At one point my father pointed straight ahead and said something to my mother. I couldn't hear exactly what he said but, based on her reaction, my mother sure did.

My mother immediately twisted the wheel sharply to the right, veering toward the curb as she slammed on the brakes with all she had. Suddenly, Cannata kids, their friends and every thing else that wasn't bolted down were everywhere. We were flung around the car in a flurry of banging heads, flying adolescents and other airborne objects. Amid a cacophony of cries, whoops and hollers, the family wagon came to a screeching, skidding, tire burning halt. Cars behind us slammed their brakes in response and had to veer around us just missing a few rear end collisions.

Instinctively my parents took immediate control and assessed damage. With no serious injuries their attention returned to the matter of the unexpected and entirely uncomfortable stop. The human debris had settled and everybody was OK for the experience. My dad was rubbing his head where he whacked it on the windshield and his face had a look of dumbstruck confusion.

"Are you god damn crazy, woman?" He yelled as loud and as angrily as I had ever heard him before. "What the hell did you do that for?!"

My mother was crying almost as soon as the car had stopped sliding into the curb. She wasn't hurt. That might have been because, unlike the rest of us, she knew the stop was coming. She didn't mean to scare the crap out of everyone. She was only following orders.

"What are you talking about? You told me to do it!" she wailed looking every bit as confused as my father.

"I told you to do that? Why the hell would I tell you to do something as stupid as that?" He shouted!

"You did tell me to do that." She persisted. And then the explanation came. "You told me to pull over and STOP SHORT!"

The look on my dads face is still hard to describe. Mouthing silent curses and twisted in bewilderment and incredulity. A look that said, "This is too stupid to be my fault ain't it? Is this for real?"

Talking like he was addressing the Supreme Being of Stupid, his teeth clenched, my father pointed up the road to the supermarket entrance and said to my befuddled mother, "I told you to pull over into STOP and SHOP!"

That pretty much ended my mothers' first lesson. Actually, that was to be the only lesson my father ever gave my mother. Even though he only took her driving once, he often declared it was easier raising 14 kids than it was to teach my mother how to drive. My father would embellish later versions of the "Stop and Shop Short Stop", describing what he had learned in a sagacious moment of hindsight.

"The incident," he explained, "demonstrated the importance of clear communication when giving directions to a driver." Then, with a scowl on his face he would add, "Not to mention how important it is for the idiot driver to keep their ears open and pay attention."

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