My First Car

August 27, 2009

At the age of seventeen, I was a passenger in a car involved in an auto accident. Never will I forget the feeling of panic as I helplessly watched in horror at a car rocketing towards us. Frozen in the moment, there was nothing I could do but anticipate the impact. We crashed with a vengeance. My taunt body thrown into the windshield was flung back, resting on the seat like a rag doll. Suffering many injuries I was hospitalized for several weeks.
From that moment on when I was a passenger in anyone’s car, I was rigid with fear. Even when driving with those I trusted most. Always one to face my fears I gave the situation thought and arrived at the conclusion I would only feel safe if I myself were in control of the car.
Informing my mother of my intention to purchase a car and learn the art of driving was indeed a difficult moment under the circumstances. In shock and fear for my safety she telephoned my oldest brother asking his help in discouraging me from this dangerous venture.
True to his nature, he reacted immediately. The following day he called.
“I’ve found just the right car for you.”
“What’s it like? How old is it?”
“It’s ten year old, in great shape. A British make stick shift with manual breaks and steering.”
“It’s ten year old?”
“It’s perfect for you to learn on. You’ve got to see it.”
“I don’t want an old beat up car…”
“You have to see it. I’m coming down now to pick you up.”
“What colour is it?””
“It’s in perfect shape.”
“What colour is it?”
“It’s got a great body. The paint’s in great shape…”
“What colour is it?
“A great shade of green.”
“Green! I don’t like green.”
“Just do me a favour and look at it”
“Well…o k.”
I don’t know why I even questioned his judgement. When I saw this little gem I fell in love. It resembled a coup, with tan leather interior and a perfect mint-green body. Without hesitation I bought it. Now I had to learn how to drive. My brother, a tank driver in Europe during the Second World War, offered to teach me.
It was Saturday in mid February. My newly purchased car sat in front of the house. It’s reflection bright on the patches of ice glistening in the weak sunlight. The Harbour below made a nice backdrop. It’s slate coloured blue hues mixed with those of the November sky heightening the green hues of my new car. I climbed in behind the steering wheel, my brother next to me in the passenger side. He instructed me as we drove through city streets.
The home I shared with my parents was situated at the top of a very steep hill in the north end of Halifax. To access this hill one had to negotiate a hairpin turn. However the house could be reached from the plateau above it. To-day, my first day driving my new car, we approached the house from the top of the hill. The descent was easily negotiated. My first lesson went well, I thought.
After Mass the following day we braved the elements again and went out for my second lesson. All went well until our return trip. This time, my brother braver than I, directed me along a path that led us to the base of the hill. I slowed my pace as I thought of the tight 80 degree left hand turn. My brother felt my hesitation and instructed me.
“Give it more gas.”
“But,” I said nervously, “I won’t get around the turn”
“If you don’t, you won’t make it up the hill.”
“He’s right” I thought pressing gingerly on the gas pedal.
“Give it more gas” my brother continued to instruct.
My foot heavy on the pedal I approached the turn in the road. Inhaling a large lung full of air, I gripped tightly to the wheel. Holding my breath I navigated the difficult turn. Exhaling, I relaxed as the little car sped up the steep hill finding a patch of black ice.
The car seemed to have a will of its own. It glided from one side of the street across to the other side and back again. I gripped the wheel with white knuckles and pressed down hard on the gas pedal. “Oh God! Oh God!” I cried.
My brother, relaxed in the passenger seat, his arm draped casually over the back of the seat, laughed. I could hardly believe it. He was laughing!
The tires found a bare patch of pavement. The car righted itself and sprinted up the steep hill. I parked the car in front of the house and climbed out. My brother congratulated me.” That was great” he said. “Thanks” was the best reply I could muster.
The next time I stepped into my little car I felt different. This was only a machine. I was definitely in control. This car would do only what I wanted it to do. I could stop when I wanted. I could go when I wanted. It was indeed mind over matter. I had a new confidence. A confidence that grew out of faith my brother had in me. He trusted my ability to handle a difficult situation. He trusted me with his life. I had not failed him.
Several weeks later, unaware he was following me, I darted in and out of a maze of small streets cutting across town making several short stops. I arrived home to find my sister-in-law lost for words. “How did you manage to get in and out of all those small streets so fast?” she asked. “Your brother tried to follow but couldn’t keep up with you.”
Always proud of my accomplishments Ambrose took special pride in my ability to drive. Often he would ask me to drive him along with a neighbour on an errand. I did not miss the fact that he would choose the steepest hill or the most difficult rout to take. There was always the side glance, the raised eyebrow, and the little smile at his friend when I had to down shift four times while going up the steep hills of Halifax. And then there was always the acknowledgement of a job well done.
Ambrose was an excellent, fast, hard driver who taught me to drive as he did. I am and will be forever grateful to him.


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