Yesterday I was sitting in the parking lot at college, working on an assignment for Sociology, waiting for my next class to start. Behind me, way off in a far corner, someone was learning how to drive. The instructor, whoever he was, had placed orange cones on the asphalt, and the student was rehearsing his parallel parking. I didn’t pay enough attention to see if he had the hang of it or not.
Pap’s the one who taught me to drive. He had his green Jeep Cherokee then, and we’d go for drives almost every day after school. We drove around Clear Spring, over the mountain, around Indian Springs, through Hagerstown, wherever we felt like going. When we drove, we talked. Rarely about anything of consequence. We talked about the news, politics, shared jokes. I remember once when we passed a “Hidden Entrance” sign and I wondered aloud, “Why would you want to hide your entrance? Do you enjoy car accidents?” Pap told me about teaching my father to drive, and how Dad wrecked every vehicle of Pap’s he ever drove. Years later, sitting on the porch with Dad during carnival week, I heard those stories from the other side.
Pap taught me to parallel park in the middle school parking lot. He set up orange cones along the curb in front of the school and stood outside while I practiced, backing over those cones or running into the curb over and over again until I got it right.
I failed the driving test inside of a minute the first time I took it. I rolled through the first stop sign. Everyone does it. Pap did it, and so when I did it he never corrected me. I slowed down, checked to make sure no one was coming from the other direction, and rolled on through, and that was good enough for him. My Dad was there watching, with Pap, and Dave Knable, a nice guy I don’t know too well who works with Dad. The sidewalk I took to get to them after the test seemed to be a mile long. “I failed,” I said with a hapless smile. Dad blamed Pap for letting me get away with a rolling stop, but it wasn’t a big deal. I took the test again the next week and passed. I came to a complete stop, and I nailed the parallel parking. Afterwards, Pap took me to Windy Hill for breakfast. He told me that when he was a young man, he was in a serious car accident, and had to have his face surgically reconstructed. I never knew that about him. After he told me that story, the waitress stopped by our table and refilled his coffee. Pap stared approvingly at her ass as she walked away, then looked down at his cup, shook his head and said, “I’m disappointed in those tits, though.” He took a sip and put the cup down. “I like big tits.”
He’s been dead two and a half years. Stories are what I have now. The night he died, Dad and I sat at the kitchen table and traded Pap stories for hours. We talked, and it seemed like at any moment he would walk through the kitchen door, pull out a chair and sit down with us.