I found myself thinking the other day about a time when I was about 15. I guess this memory came back as a result of thinking about driving well.
In those days in Idaho kids learned to drive farm vehicles when they were very young and were allowed to get a driver’s license at 14, as I remember – no drivers training. My parents owned a 1941 Hudson – a big black car. I had permission to use the car and go with my friends to a movie in Preston, 15 miles away – my first time to be trusted with the family car on my own with my friends. I was pretty excited and thoughtlessly invited a car-full of friends; Ed from Clifton, LaVel from Dayton (I had told my parents I was taking them), but then I invited Alvin from Weston, and Harry from way up Weston Canyon about 30 miles from our house, and not on the way to Preston. I didn’t tell my parents I had added Alvin and Harry. I was afraid now to tell them how far I’d need to drive.
So, I picked up the friends and we went to a movie and then to a hamburger joint for a hamburger and a shake. All as planned – correct and proper.
I’m not sure what time we left Preston, but I remember very clearly, and still painfully, that it was nearly 2:30 am when I finally finished delivering everyone to their homes and arrived home myself. I knew I was in trouble when I saw that the light in my parent’s upstairs bedroom was on. My bedroom was across the hall from theirs.
I entered the back door of the house without a sound, and climbed the stairs (avoiding every stair that squeaked for I knew them all). The stairs went halfway up in one direction and then turned and went the opposite direction to the top where there was a landing and the entrances to the two bedrooms.
You know of the story of the man who fell off the roof of a high building. As he passed the second floor window he said, "Well, so far so good".
I had now reached the halfway point on the stairs but hadn’t turned the corner. I hadn’t made a sound. The back door had closed silently enough and I had taken my shoes off so I could cross the linoleum kitchen floor quietly. I had successfully negotiated the stairs – not a squeak. (In retrospect, I’m sure my Mother had to have been impressed at how very well I had done.) I reached the halfway point, as I said, took a deep breath, and prepared to turn and work my way up the second flight of stairs, saying to myself, “Well, so far so good”.
I turned and saw my Mother ….
It occurs to me that I should tell you a bit about my Mother. She was truly a wonderful person: kind, understanding, and loving. She was very kind to the farm animals and would never swat a fly if she could find a way to shoo it out of the house. She had babied me shamefully all of my life so far. She would always prepare a special dish of potato salad for me because I didn’t like onions, bake pumpkin pie often because it was my favorite, scold me carefully for running up the stairs because it might not be good for my heart, and protect me from anything that might not be good for her little boy. But, on the other hand, at this moment, there on the landing, halfway up the stairs, I remembered the time, out in the cow corral when I was 6 years old or so, my Mother with a long, green willow in her right hand, holding my left hand in her left hand, and tanning my behind as I ran around her at top speed – and my heart went to my throat and sweat broke out on my brow once again.
Well, I turned and there she was, standing at the top of the stairs with her hands on her hips…
I saw no mercy. I’m sure that 10 minutes earlier she and dad had both been deeply worried that I might have had a serious accident (things you imagine are always serious when you don’t know where or how your child is, especially at two in the morning). I suspect they had been worried that I might be laying somewhere in a wreck, hurt or worse. But not now. Not as I stood there on the stairs, not bleeding, not hurt, not showing any concern for anyone but myself, and looking up at her. All those tender and worried feelings had suddenly turned to anger. How could I have done this to them? How could I possibly be so insensitive? Why would I treat them this way? And worse, what might I have been up to until this time of the morning. What kind of sins was this kid up to, after all?
So…she stood there her hands on her hips, and said…
I wish I could tell you the tone in her voice. Ominous? I thought so. Menacing? It was to me.
She said, “Where do you think you’ve been until this hour of the morning?
Well now, my Mother is a very intellegent woman, but you have to admit, looking back, that she was probably not performing at her peak. That was not the best question in town. I’ve asked myself, “Had I been thinking clearly, which I wasn’t, how should I have answered that without being a smart-aleck and making things worse?” I have found no answer. Maybe you can help me. Maybe you’ll face that question or a similar one sometime before you grow up.
You may be wondering what I said. Well, you know me. I would surely have answered with a high degree of intellegence for a boy my age. Something she could quote to her friends for years to come. I said - - - “I dun no”.
Now there was the long term and very telling mistake. There was the mistake I have had to live with. But for me the dye was cast. “Did you go to a movie?” “Yes”. “Did you have a hamburger?” “Yes”. “Where’d you go then?” “I dun no”. Why’d it take so long to get home?” “I dun no”. “Did you get in trouble?” “No”. “Is the car ok?” “Yes”. And now more ominous and menacing than before, “Then where have you been?”
Now this is my great opportunity. All I have to do now is simply tell the truth. “I invited Alvin Maughan and Harry Lemmon and it took a long time to take them home.” She’d have said, “Well, I wish you had told us what you were going to do”. I’d have said, “I’m sorry”. She would have hugged me and we’d have gone to bed.
So, what did I say? I stuck by my guns. I couldn't bend. I'd never break. I said, “I dun no”.
Well, she turned and went to bed, and I went to bed. There were no hugs. No green willow sticks. I lay there a long time before I went to sleep. At first I blamed everything on her. I hadn’t done anything wrong. Then sometime that night I came to realize how very foolish and childish I had been – that I had lied – that I should have told my parents before I went what I was going to do, where I was going to go. They would have probably not let me drive so far, but that would have protected me in many ways, and I’d have been home on time and had fond memories. And most importantly, I would have earned my parents respect. I didn’t ask for the car again for a long time.
I learned a very important lesson that night. I haven't always had the courage to live it, but it was a great lesson. I've had similar lessons that have reinforced what I learned that night. I think I have come to know how very important it is. I learned that night, very early in the morning, how to just face the music and be honest – tell the truth.