Driving Ms. Elaine

I watched as car after car slipped through the half moon driveway of my apartment building. I was on the lookout for a silver Passat station wagon that was being driven by a young woman assigned to pick me up for a holiday event.

The driver and the other women in the car were unknown to me, but we had a mutual friend, and it was this kind soul who had given the female crew my name, address, and instructions.

When the Passat arrived, I spun through the lobby's revolving door, and as I landed on the other side, realized I had also been transformed. I had now become a version of The Elderly Aunt Who Needs A Ride.

"Hi, thanks so much for picking me up," I said to the driver.

"My pleasure," she said.

As we rode, I was desperate to erase the unpleasant label I had given myself. I wouldn't sit dumbly as if I were being chauffeured, but instead be friendly and inquisitive. "So, what do you do?" I posed to the car's occupants, and listened as each drew a picture of their lives.

But as they responded, I couldn't focus because a figure from my past came knocking on the door of my brain.

"I'm disappointed in you, Princess. I never thought you'd give up driving; never thought I've find you in the back seat." It was my father, Irv, who taught me how to drive when I was a teen. Dad died in 1958, and although many decades have passed since then, he has visited me often to praise or needle.

It was tricky trying to take in the women's responses with my dad nagging in the background, but I was eager to defend myself. "I didn't give up driving," I said to him, "I just no longer own a car. It was too expensive, and..."

"Do you remember my Buick?" Dad interrupted. "I think we had to use three pillows to get you up over the steering wheel."

In my imagination, I saw him take a drag of his Camel cigarette. I was about to reach over to the window to let the smoke out, but stopped when I realized I'd be accommodating an illusion.

"Of course I remember your car," I said, certain to reply silently so that the other riders wouldn't think I was indeed a doddering old aunt. "And you know what I remember most about the drives," I said, "your arms."

"You mean because they were so powerful from the swimming I did at the Y?" Dad said. I could see him preening, growing taller than his 5'4" stature and even slimmer than his Santa-like shape.

"No, Dad," I said, "I remember your arms because your left was tanned from the tip of your fingers to your elbow, while the upper part was chalky white. You always had that arm out the window so you could flick ashes."

"Not when I was teaching you," Dad said, reminding me of his crucial tutoring role.

"No, when you were teaching me, you were using the overflowing ashtray and pounding an imaginary brake at each light."

Dad laughed. I saw his brown eyes brighten, the thin mustache that almost looked penciled in, and a smile that revealed teeth I saw nightly floating in a drinking glass. The image of him was so vivid I could almost smell the cigarette's smoke.

Our real life driver had reached our destination and was about to park. "Let's watch, Dad," I said, "let's see if she can do this in one shot."

The driver positioned her Passat alongside of the car in front of the empty space. Dad and I stared, but he couldn't resist coaching: "As you back up, turn the steering wheel to the right. Fix your eyes on the right headlight of the car parked behind. Aim for your target, and then reverse the direction of the steering wheel."

This time, it was my turn to laugh. "That's the way you taught me to how to parallel park. You know I passed it on to your granddaughters and then to your great grandson."

"We're here," the women chorused. As the three of them exited the car and were walking to the restaurant's entrance, I lagged behind. "Time to go, Dad," I said. "But, you can see one major advantage of giving up driving: I don't have to concentrate on the road, so I can let my mind wander."

"You mean we can continue on the ride home?" Dad said.

"Count on it."