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The driver’s license is a rite of passage

Do you remember the excitement of getting your driver’s license? Oh, the freedom. The big deal of it all! And the games that had to be played with the keeper of the keys: “I’ll drop off the dry cleaning and pick up milk if I can go to Julie’s house for just a little while. Please?” And the jokes about the new driver in town: “Watch out world, here she comes.”

Yes, I remember, especially now that my granddaughter has turned 16 and is in driving school. What I really can’t imagine is that the driving students are taking the course on line. I think the Zoom class is all about studying the rules of the road while the parents are the oh-so-lucky mentors of behind-the-wheel instruction.

I rode with my children when they first got their license and I can tell you that it turned my hair white. I am a firm believer that it’s not whether they will have a fender bender, but when. And yes, they both did – although my younger NASCAR driver totaled his dad’s Cougar.

My driver’s education class was terrific, leading me to pent-up eagerness. I couldn’t complete the course and the minimum hours behind the wheel until six months after my birthday.

Eager? I was over-the-top eager. C’mon, c’mon. Two weeks, 10 days, three days and TODAY! It was truly the most important happening as I climbed the precipice to adulthood. For weeks, my daydream was being at the wheel of my mother’s car, flying down the highway on a sunny afternoon, big smile, big sunglasses, with my hair whipping in the wind of the convertible.

Yup, my Mom’s car … well, it was very special. The first car she ever bought new was the envy of every teenage boy in town – and maybe some of the old dudes too.

Her heart’s desire was a fire-engine red convertible. It was Ford’s 50th anniversary edition sporting a fancy commemorative gold horn in the center of the steering wheel.

The interior was black leather; the trunk sported a Continental Kit, (a snazzy vertical black wheel above the bumper), and chrome wire wheels in a lattice design on the white walls. It was gorgeous and my red-headed mother drove it as if she were the captain of the Queen Mary.

She got lots of stares and wolf whistles, especially when the top was down. In response, she would step on the floor button of her Bermuda bell.

Ding-dong, ding-dong. “I hear your envy” was the message it conveyed. I never knew whether to laugh, be proud, or slide down in the seat with embarrassment.

So imagine the following scene: I ran into the restaurant where Mom worked, waving my new driver’s license, thrilled and proud. “That’s great, Honey,” she said. “I have an errand for you, your first trip alone.” She reached in her pocket and handed me her car keys, pressed them into my hand and said, “Go to Jordan’s and pick up the blanket I ordered.”

“Jordan’s? You mean Jordan Marsh — in Boston? Mom, I couldn’t …”

“Yes, you can. That license says you can drive anywhere, anytime, and now is when I need you to go to Boston for me.”

I was panicky. Downtown Boston? 18 miles? I’d be driving Route 138, to the infamous Route 128, to the new Southeast Expressway. Gulp. Local traffic and 4-lane highway traffic? And coming home in rush hour? As we say today, OMG, but I don’t remember much more than that.

Getting into Boston wasn’t as traumatic as I expected, but halfway there I realized I was going to have to park and get somewhere near the store. More angst. I was afraid to do something stupid, but completely terrified that I would harm that car. How would I survive that catastrophe? I was pretty sure I wouldn’t.

I somehow managed the city traffic, maneuvered the metered parallel parking, fetched my parcel, and found the entrance back onto the Southeast Expressway.

I escaped the alarming bumper to bumper speed into the far right lane, only to learn that Massachusetts drivers consider the breakdown lane to my right as the second passing lane. When I arrived home, I shook.

But, I was more confident ­ the gift Mom gave me to celebrate that big day.

My mother kept her license until the very end. She renewed it at age 98 lying in the Hospice House because, “Hey, ya never know when you’ll need a quick trip.”

I’m sure my granddaughter will live up to her heritage — the fourth generation of confident, Massachusetts women drivers. Watch out, world.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren with her husband, Richard, and Finian, their bi-polar Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com

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