We each had a horse growing up but it was not a pet, it was transportation. With five kids and a full time business, my folks were not about to transport each of us around. If we wanted to go somewhere, we hopped on our horse and disappeared. Cars in those days were approached the same way. They were something to hop on, but not necessarily in.
I used to wait for my uncle as he turned the corner on his way home from work. He never slowed as I raced his car, leaping at top speed on the running board. We visited and smiled through the open window traveling the last mile together, while I sucked in dust and the smell of tobacco from his cherry wood pipe. On warm summer evenings, we took my parent’s car down country roads with my brothers, sisters and friends lounging across the hood and trunk, hands behind our heads like a pillow, starring into open sky and tree branches. A license didn’t matter, we were in the middle of nowhere. Most of us learned to drive sitting on pillows so we could see over the steering wheel.
When my cousin Rip came home from the Navy, he built himself a car out of old parts. It was his Merry Oldsmobile, held together with bailing wire. It had no roof and no floor at all, so passengers had to hold their feet up when he drove. I used to love watching the road ribbon by underneath us.
Then in boarding school there was the unforgettable Monsieur Le Gurre, our French Instructor straight from Paris. When his Citroen finally arrived in the rolling hills of Vermont, he took our entire class outside to admire it. “Come, come, I will show you,” he said in barely understandable English. “I will drive you all!” Twenty students piled on the hood, the roof and what little trunk there was. The rest stood on the bumper, overflowed the backseat, the front and hung from the windows. It was a sight one does not quickly forget. Unfortunately, the headmaster was watching and quickly dismissed Monsieur Le Gurre from future duties, but not before a spin around town.
As a young mother, I thought nothing of putting my kids in the boot of the car, their feet dangling over the bumper, tree branches propped inside to hold the trunk open. They sat together on a blanket and had a good old time watching the woods go by. I’m sure they sucked down plenty of exhaust, but didn’t seem the worse for it. I remember one couple waving scolding fingers as they passed, but I paid them no mind. What better time could a kid have?
Now, when we near the road to my house and my granddaughter wants to stand on the passenger seat, her upper body shooting up through the sunroof, hair flying in the wind and arms outstretched, I say, go for it! A big smile spreads across her face, and I know in that moment that she feels alive and engaged with life, not strapped in and confined.
Watching her embrace the wind reminds me of a couple I counseled a few years ago, who denied their parents access to their children because the parents took them around the block without seatbelts on. “They were irresponsible and can’t be trusted with our children.” I sigh, knowing that their parents, like myself are products of another era.