The Octogenarian: Gramma was a double-clutcher
When I was young, driving was important. In my family, it was variable. For instance, when my daddy’s family left the farm in eastern Virginia in 1918 and took a boat north to Baltimore, my paternal granddaddy drove a horse and wagon.
He became a “Junk Man,” and had a storefront to resell things that people threw away. In doing this, he became an expert on the Spanish American War, and I wound up with some of his key collectibles of that era.
My maternal grandfather never learned to drive. But his wife, my gramma, drove a four-door, stick-shift Chevy, and she could really wheel that old car.
Most of you readers never knew the days when there were three pedals on the floor and a long stick to your right that you had to maneuver with coordination to get automobile movement.
Well my gramma was a great Double Clutcher and could really maneuver in and around traffic. Only trouble was, in operating the clutch and accelerator, she would have to expose her stocking and high shoe-clad ankles to my brother or me sitting in the front seat next to her, and that was embarrassing to her.
Despite her skills, my mom never learned to drive. So, we rode the trolley cars with her to go anywhere. She always sat in the long seat that ran vertical to the trolley with my brother and me in the first seat facing front, next to her.
On the same trolley in the back of the car was where colored people had to sit.
Now, before you get upset with me, remember that in the 1930s, there were no “Black” or “African-American People” yet. If you were a person of color, you were either colored, negro, the N Word or some other derogatory name.
Believe it or not, there was a warm side to the scourge of the Jim Crow laws. My brother and I sometimes traveled with Mr. Eddie, who worked for my grandfather. As Mr. Eddie was a person of color, we rode in the back of the No. 5 trolley when going home and there were all of these women — black women — who were maids going to work in Pimlico and Upper Park Heights. I was rocked to sleep on many a cold evening riding that trolley, cuddled to the warm breast of a loving black woman I did not know.
I learned to drive, mostly from my dad who can, and did, drive anything. As a boy, I remember the thrill of climbing into the cab of one of my dad’s boss’ big trucks, loaded with sides of beef as he took them from one location to another and the ease with which he handled that huge vehicle.
Talk about learning to double clutch. Those trucks were my driving school.
The first time I found myself behind the wheel of a World War II tractor, pulling a 15-foot Air Force radar trailer in the service, I thought of dad and went wheeling off. Yeah, I stripped a few gears, but I never had any real difficulty.
Today, I am 84 years old and, although I am still a licensed driver, I am chauffeured everywhere I want to go by my wife or son. No, I don’t drive, but the only way you can get my license is to pry it from my poor dead hand. It is too important to much of my life. Do I miss the driving? Enough that I have become a horrific back-seat driver.
Will I change? Probably not. I could probably still double-clutch as well as my gramma ever did through any driving situation if needed. Could you?
Besides, driving today’s vehicles would be a cinch if everyone would put away their cell phones and try a touch of courtesy.
Opinion columnist Ken Levin is a political science senior and may be reached at [email protected]