Conversations about Driving

This may be useful for the nephews coming into the age where they will be driving.

When we were teenagers we were tasked with making sure the car batteries would not go flat while my mother and father were overseas. It was the time of American cars, when my mother had a Valiant and my father a Chrysler. They were square cars with very little design. They had bench seats front and back, with the Chrysler being about one person wider than the Valiant. The Chrysler had a 5.0 litre V8 motor.

Our job description was to start the cars and pull them onto the driveway, leave them running a whole and then park them back in the garage. The driveway was short and straight from the garage to the road. There were no fences or gates in those days. The temptation was too great. After the first few days we would reverse the rear wheels onto the driveway. The surge of speed as the car leapt down slope thrilled us, and we would quickly change gear and drive back onto the safe haven of the driveway. The cars were automatic, with the gear lever on the steering wheel column.

My parents left us in South Africa in winter, so as dusk came and people had settled at home we would get braver and reverse across the road to the neighbour’s driveway. Look left, and then right, then left again, and shoot back into our driveway.

So our bravery and driving skills progressed. We would drive down the road, enter a driveway, and rush home.  Eventually we were driving the cars all the way round the block and suburb. It was a neat suburb of square blocks, and if you drove counter clockwise the stops streets and corners were easy to negotiate. In those day it was a quiet suburb. No one rushed about after work. At 9 p.m., not that we would be driving at that hour, there was a siren. It was curfew for the blacks; they were not allowed to be walking around after that hour. Imagine, as a child I had no idea why they were not allowed on the street but could easily stay in the domestic quarters attached to our houses and clean up after dinner.

The cars were both big boats on tar. They had poor brakes, floating suspensions that allowed the car to rock and thin tyres, occasionally whitewalled to add some class.  When we were desperate to get out, usually on a Saturday, Cousin George would come and drive us to the garage to fill up, usually the week before my father returned. I am sure he would keep an eye on the mileage and joke with us.

There are a few people who saw the cars driving with a small head pushed above the dashboard by a cushion. I am sure my father knew, as well. After all, he had scratched his father’s car in the driveway as a teenager up at Union Cafe.

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