In May of 1963, I took the test to get my drivers’ license. I missed one question on the written test, the one about hand signals. Who needs ‘em anyway? Every car has turn signals, right? Back at the barracks for the state police when I finished the driving part of the test, the trooper who tested me said, “Your father will be a lot happier, if you don’t drive with the emergency brake on the next time.” He passed me anyway.
Not long after I had earned my driver’s license, Mom and Dad went somewhere for the afternoon and evening with friends, leaving me to take care of my siblings, 12-year-old Kay and 8-year-old Mark. I’d done it a million times, so why should this time be any different? Because now I could drive, that’s why! Unfortunately, when they left, Mom fired off one last round, “You can go to the Kreem King, but no driving. Leave that car in the garage!”
They hadn’t been gone very long, before the three of us decided it was time to go to the Kreem King (a local ice cream, fast-food place, like the early Dairy Queens, but with really good food), and for some reason we decided it was too hot to walk. I really think all of this was Kay’s idea. She was always so quiet as a kid, but she had wicked ideas!
We owned a pukey green Rambler station wagon, and the car keys were on top of the refrigerator in one of those wooden nut bowls that had the nutcracker and picks standing up in the center. Our parents were trusting, so it was nothing to get the car keys, pile into the car, and drive the 4.5 short blocks to the Kreem King up on the highway. We had our treats, or maybe we even had Kingburgers and their great shakes for dinner, and then we drove home. Nothing to it—until we came to the garage.
I was pulling into the garage, and I knew I wasn’t in the right place. I backed up a little, turned the wheels, pulled forward, and somehow the right side of the car got hung up on the garage door track. Panic-stricken, I turned off the car, and we all got out—on the left-hand side—to assess the situation.
Standing in the driveway and looking at the rear of the car, it looked like the car was hanging on the garage door jamb. How in the heck did the car get in that position? It was really amazing. If I pulled forward, I was going to scrape the door handle off, and if I backed up, I’d probably take off the side mirror. Any move was going to scrape paint off. This was bad. There was absolutely no damage to the car or the garage at this point, but if I moved the car in any direction, body work on the car and possibly carpentry on the garage was going to be needed.
We lived in what we thought was the greatest location in Wellsburg, West Virginia. Our house was smack in the middle of a three-block area along the river that had been willed to the city by a wealthy family for use as a recreation area. The street in front of our house had never been paved. We had baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, basketball court, and a wonderful playground literally in our front yard with no traffic to contend with. And we had the river, where we were never allowed to go, just beyond the playing fields. The area was always crawling with kids.
The only solution was to pick up the car and set it down a few inches to the left. That seemed easy. All we needed were some kids to help pick up the car and move it. Kay and I went down to the ball fields, while little Mark sat on the back steps nearly in tears. Sure enough a pick-up game with plenty of manpower was in progress. We explained our situation, and a bunch of guys came up to the house, looked over the predicament, gave one another a nod, picked up the car on the count of three, took one collective step left, and set the car back down. Mission accomplished. The garage door track didn’t have a dent. The car didn’t have a scratch!
I expressed my eternal gratitude to the guys who went back to their ball game. I finished pulling the car into the garage. Kay, Mark, and I pledged eternal silence on the whole episode, and the car keys went back into the nut bowl on top of the fridge.
If we had lived anywhere else in town (except perhaps by the other three playgrounds, which were all popular places in that simpler time), I doubt that we would have had such a ready collection of willing accomplices to so effectively remedy that sure-to-elicit-punishment situation. Isn’t that what they always say, “Location, location, location?”