Each time our family finds ourselves in a new location, we take notice of the driving habits of the residents of our new city or town. In Singapore, the kiasu syndrome was laughable, driving in India was a little nuts (I didn’t personally drive in Delhi) and Northern Virginia – well, everyone has somewhere to go and fast!
Here in Columbus, I am finding that folks stay at stop signs longer, and wave their free hand to indicate a willingness to let someone else go first. I am noticing that my natural tendency to drive just over the speed limit (with a bit of aggressiveness) is starting to dwindle and I’m more relaxed when I drive.
(Interstate driving in Ohio however, is a different situation. Watch your six, keep both hands on the wheel and mind your blind spot are all important things to remember!)
Each and every time I get behind the wheel of my vehicle, which currently happens to be a bright red Jeep, I think of my grandfather. We called him grandpa (Gpa) and he was, and still is, everything to me.
From an early age, I remember him allowing us to sit on his lap and get behind the wheel of his car. We would be in a big, open (and empty) parking lot early in the morning. He would show us where to put our hands on the steering wheel. He would explain what each pedal did, and how much pressure to put on the gas pedal in order to slowly ease forward (we were young enough that we couldn’t reach the pedals, so he would do that work, but he wanted us to learn).
He would always ask “are you focusing?” and we would excitedly nod our head up and down, repeatedly with a wild smile on our faces. Let’s go, I would always think to myself, I can do this! Let’s go!
Inevitably, he would slow us down and repeat earlier instructions: make sure your hands are in the right place, and your stocking cap is out of your eyes, and you’re sitting straight.
Ok, ok, Gpa. Can we go?
He would withhold forward motion, by not depressing that gas pedal, and would teach us how to use the rearview mirror. Check it regularly and make it a habit to know what’s going on behind you, at the same time you’re staying eyes forward. Use your side view mirrors for what they were intended, to check on the situation alongside you and … keep those hands in the right place.
Ok, ok, Gpa. I got it. Time to go!
Now listen, he would say. This is important. Do you see how the seatbelt works? We would then get a short tutorial on how seatbelts function against the force of an anticipated impact. Let’s also talk about the dashboard. Do you see this button? It lets you reset the trip odometer. When you fill up your gas tank, it’s good to know how your vehicle is using the fuel you’re putting in it. While filling up, he would pull out his small notepad where he kept track of each and every trip to the gas station. Mileage noted, number of gallons noted. Then, quick calculations would be made to discover his current miles per gallon numbers. Each and every trip.
Ok, ok, Gpa. I wish we could just GO.
Then, quite suddenly, we would start to inch forward. Oh, the excitement surging. Go, go, go! Turn the wheel too fast, then self-correct in the opposite direction, but with too much force. His hands would envelop mine and stop the chaos. Naomi, he would say with a bit of sternness in his voice: keep your hands in the right place and slow down.
Ok, ok, Gpa. I’m listening. Now, can we go?
Dodge Park was my favorite place to practice driving. When Gpa took us driving, there was never anyone else around. It was just time for us. Time for us to be together, to have someone paying attention to JUST us. I don’t remember the frequency of how often we went individually vs. with all of us siblings together, but it never mattered with Gpa. His patience and willingness to always teach made us feel like we were the only thing on his agenda for the day.
After we mastered slow turns on the steering wheel, and how to shift from park to drive and into reverse, we graduated to learning about the other people on the road and heading in the same direction as us. Always remember that you are in charge of 3,000 lbs of metal. That’s a big deal, he would say. If you can’t make sure to focus, slow down and always keep your hands in the right place, you shouldn’t be driving.
When you take that 3,000 lbs onto the road, other people are making the same decision. They might not be focusing, or willing to slow down, or keeping their hands in the right place. Always be aware of what the other vehicles are doing, and if you pay close enough attention, he would drill into us, you can predict what those drivers plan to do.
Soon after our lesson, he would scootch us onto our side of the seat, refasten the seatbelt and we’d head back to Gma and Gpa’s house. While we drove, he would continue teaching by nodding his chin towards the road and say things like, “See that car? He’s probably going to turn left soon” or explain why it is important to always use your blinkers.
He’s been gone for over ten years and I still think about him every day. He was an amazing pillar of strength and a role model for what the life of a balanced man, father and husband looks like. He was a brilliant mind who turned every experience into a teaching lesson, and every moment spent with us into a forever lasting memory. He wasn’t perfect, but he was as close as anyone I’ve ever known (well, besides Gma, whose response to the quip “It’s not easy to be perfect” has always been “YES it is!”).
My oldest had a wonderful relationship with Gpa and was given some really great years with Gpa as his number one fan and his sidekick. Spending time with Gpa was always the highlight of Terran’s week, and I am so grateful for that. While Gpa’s literal heart failed his body before any of us were ready, the big-ness of the life he lived and the massive “heart” he instilled in all of us lives on. Even though the youngest of his great grand-children didn’t have the opportunity to sit in his lap, and learn from his wisdom directly from his mouth, the beauty of living a life worth remembering is that we have the opportunity every day to teach our children (and remind myself) of the lessons from Gpa.
Gpa, wishing you didn’t go.
Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.
Look behind you, but only briefly. Keep your main focus on your life ahead.
Keep your hands in the right place. Mind your own business. Do what you know you need to do, on repeat.
Know how everything works and why. Always be learning. Share your knowledge with those you love.
Be aware of your blind spots. Know what foods, triggers, sleep patterns, personality types will trip you up, and keep your eyes open for those moments so you can more easily proactively react.
Reset your trip. Find something that refuels you. Enjoy your life.
Keep track of what you’re grateful for and write it down, keep a log.
You’re in charge of this big, heavy, beautiful life. When you take it out for a spin, treat it with respect.
Originally published at naomihattaway.com