As mother’s day approaches I think now about my own mother on the other side of the continent and about the journey her life has been. Born in the mid 1930s and raised in poverty, she was dumped into an orphanage by her father after her mother’s sudden death from breast cancer in the late ’40s. It has never been discussed in detail, but I know that she and her younger sister were rescued by their older sister, my aunt Evelyn, herself just a recently married teenager, and raised as one of her own. At barely 18 years of age, my mother married my father, had the first of her five children and worked hard to build a home for herself and her family. The amazing part of this is that she was able to do it all without ever driving.
Being a mom has never been, and probably never will be, easy. Modern moms work hard to ensure that their kids use every moment of their free time in the most productive ways possible. Gone are the days when a child came home from school, jumped on their bike and headed to the park or a neighbor’s house to play. To be a child today is to be constantly running from one activity, lesson or play date to the next and modern moms spend a lot of time behind the wheel. It’s hard to imagine that my mother raised five complete, productive people eight miles outside of town without ever loading us into the car and taking us anywhere. I wonder if it could be done today.
The routine around the Kreutzer house in the early ’70s was simple. On weekdays, Dad got up before dawn and worked all day long. With a lot of mouths to feed, if he had the opportunity to work overtime he took it and he was generally gone from sunup to past sundown. We kids got up just as he was leaving, ate our breakfasts and were at the school bus stop early because if you missed the bus there was no one to drive you. For us there were no afterschool activities, no sports and, of course, no play dates you couldn’t get to under your own pedal power. On the weekends, if dad wasn’t working, the younger kids would load into our station wagon and go to the supermarket while the older kids stayed home. On Sundays we would all go to church. In the summers we stayed out in the hills, rode our bicycles as far as they would carry us, fought endless mock wars with the neighbor kids and swam in the lakes. If we were injured during any of the aforementioned activities, we either suffered until dad came home or, if the situation was deemed serious enough, called a neighbor to take us to the hospital.
It seems odd today, but the reason for our plight was not because we couldn’t afford another car. Truth be told, the reason is that it was because my mom simply didn’t want to drive. She had, she told me, tried to learn once back-in-the-day but the pressure was just too great and she had suffered a panic attack at the wheel. The terror she felt left such a strong impression that she had decided it was better to leave the responsibility of driving to others. The family soldiered on and, as we kids matured and eventually got our own licenses and cars, the situation improved. As she moved towards the golden years of her life, it seemed that my mother’s status as a non driver would be forever secured. And so it was until my father passed away.
Tough times call for tough measures and it is amazing how my mother and all of our neighbors rallied in the face of adversity. With an empty nest at home my mother found herself stuck at the old homestead far outside town. At first the neighbor ladies were quite generous with their time and included my mom in all sorts of senior activities but one morning she was a few minutes late to the end of the driveway and they left without her. That day my mother swore she would never be dependent upon anyone ever again.
That evening after I came home from work, I rolled my father’s perfectly preserved Cutlass out of the garage and we headed to the local school parking lot to practice the basics of driving. The next day, another neighbor who was a driving instructor at a local high school came to our house with a driver’s guide and began working with her as well. Between the two of us, we covered all the basics and two weeks later my mother, then in her fifties, passed her road test and got her first driver’s license. To this day, almost 20 years later, she remains a licensed driver.
Think for a second about the kind of guts that takes. As car enthusiasts we are immersed in the culture of cars. Those of us who truly love cars have, for the most part, been enamored with them from the time we were little kids and we jumped at the chance to get behind the wheel. We admire the beauty of their lines, thrill at the power and enjoy the actual act of driving. It’s hard for us to imagine how anyone would choose to forgo what is to us, one of life’s great pleasures.
No matter who you are, however, cars are really all about freedom and if you really want to be free you can’t live your life in fear. I’m proud that I had a small part in sharing that freedom with my mother and prouder still that she had the courage to face her fears. But given where she comes from, I guess I should have expected it. Happy Mothers’ Day to all of you and yours.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.