By Robin Lentz Worgan
The date was November, 1956. The place was West Walnut Lane in Germantown.
My mother, Bonnie, had just received her license soon after her 16th birthday. She waved it in the air alongside her ebony long hair and screeched with excitement. "Finally I am done with a driver," she told her friends on the phone. She called one after the other, twisting the black phone cord around her thin elbow as she spoke. Since her mom didn't drive at the time, her father had hired a man named John Blair to drive Bonnie to and from school each day.
My mother thought having a license meant graduating to freedom from Blair. Unfortunately, after dinner that evening, she leaned over the banister in their Victorian home and heard her father say, "John, go everywhere with Bonnie. I don't want her driving alone."
It was not very much fun picking up her friends and whispering gossip with a chaperone riding shotgun. This scenario grew old fast. One night, while sleeping over at her friend Barbara's house, they sneaked out to the garage in their silky pajamas, lifted off a large, dusty gray cloth, and discovered a 1952 silver Chevy.
Joyrides minus John Blair began. And the freedom and independence of driving a car started to seep into my mother's veins. For a few weeks they rode around the neighborhood and past the Germantown Farmer's Market, where they would stop to get ice cream. This continued until one autumn day before Thanksgiving, when John Blair turned to my mom, who thought her secret was secure, and said, "Bonnie, there is no license plate on that car - you will get in trouble. You need to stop."
That was the end of that. Eventually my mother was allowed to drive the car without Blair, and has loved driving ever since.
Two generations later, my 16-year-old son Martin desperately wanted his license, but he refused to study for the permit test. He bugged us for several months to take him saying, "I think I can just guess the answers."
Finally, he stopped asking, so we figured his itch to drive had ceased. In the months that followed, though, I sometimes found the driver's seat pushed back very far when I slid into our car. I assumed my husband had done this. Though, at the same time, when I turned the key, rap music would blare from our static-filled speakers.
I thought nothing of all this until one night when my husband and I went to a cocktail party. We were enjoying our crab cakes and conversation when we both received texts from our son to call him. This was unusual since we always had to contact him first. My husband called him back, and in moments we were leaving our half-sipped martinis and driving home.
We found him in his room with the door closed, his head under the covers. He had taken our Suburban out for a ride.
"I went to see a girl and just get a Gatorade at the gas station," he mumbled through the sheets. Pulling out of the gas station, he had hit a large cinder block and dented the back bumper all the way across. Fortunately he was fine, but this joyride, which we soon learned was not his first, would be his last for a while.
After that, I became his John Blair, and whenever we passed my grandparents' home in Germantown, I would retell him my mom's joyride story.
Martin decided to wait until he turned 18 to get his license, and with our family history, I think that was probably a good idea.