Desert Jewel

Do you remember learning to drive? I do. I remember sitting in my father’s lap and holding the wheel while we were on many of our very many family motor trips taken all over Southern California. We started doing these trips almost as soon as we moved to Los Angeles in 1945. I was six when we got there. We drove in my father’s new green Plymouth Coupe, behind which, believe it or not, he pulled a small house trailer. I remember a little about that journey, including one of my most important memories: that of the red rocks in the southwest, coated with snow. I can even to this day see the contrasts between the white snow, the green pines and those very red, red rocks. This doesn’t speak much to my learning to drive, but does speak to the love my folks had for motoring, and it was on those motor trips that I learned to drive. In my day, you got a learner’s permit at 15-and-a-half and a license at age sixteen, if you could pass the two tests; the first a written one on the laws, followed by a driving test that was rumored to be a beast. I had no trouble with those, not after my real learning test, which came the summer I got the permit. I had long before graduated from Dad’s lap to the driver’s seat (with him next to me of course), but only under circumstances where he thought it was safe–like the open road on highway 395 in the Owens Valley to or from our many camping and fishing trips to the eastern slopes of the Sierras. In the summer of 1955, I was actually driving that now-old green Plymouth–which had been given to my mother–all over L.A. (mostly at night without her knowledge, or so I thought). However, Dad bought a brand new Nash Ambassador four-door sedan, with an automatic transmission. It was painted in two-tone, champagne gold and yellow. It was a beauty with a lot of chrome, a real jewel and I loved it and took over washing it on Saturdays. I didn’t get to drive it though: What, my brand new car? You kidding? Well, when push came to shove, I did get to, and it was my initiation into the driver’s world, I can tell you. We planned a not unusual motor trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for our summer vacation. We had been there several years before and had loved it and had a good time fishing, exploring, hiking and horseback riding, (which happened only at the behest of my sister as I was not big on horses; I liked cars), and we decided to go back. Again there were good times, but only for my sister and I, as both mom and dad became ill. Mom, I think, was starting a very difficult menopause, and dad fell and seemed to have hurt something inside. In any case we had to go home and get there fast (as it turned out Dad was going to need emergency surgery) and it was up to me to get us there. I welcomed the opportunity. I not only got to drive the brand new jewel of a car, I was the only one who could drive, and we were not going to stop. For me it was both glorious and exhausting. I couldn’t say now how long it took, but something like seventeen hours straight comes to mind. Both of my parents were down, actually down, the seats in the Nash reclined to make a bed–the front seats separately, and by the time night fell, I was the only one sitting up. I think my dad had drunk himself into a stupor to deal with the pain, and my mother the same to deal with him. It was up to me. I was scared, and proud, and hyper-vigilant. I also garnered another of the memories which has stayed with me for now five decades–the lights of Las Vegas, Nevada, from perhaps a hundred miles away. Remember, this was before the desert was built up and light polluted, and Vegas itself was not much more than the “strip” and the downtown casinos and their famous lights. I first saw a mysterious glowing in the distance that slowly grew larger as I approached from the north. Over time I was fascinated by the mystery, watching an incredible expanding, sparkling, multicolored jewel. The mystery was resolved of course when we got into town and I saw the source of that jewel: the casinos! I will never forget this sight , nor will I forget that drive, and my pride in being my family’s hero.



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5 Responses to Desert Jewel

  1. smyrnami says:

    Wow, what a great story! I learned to drive when I was 10, an old Ford truck. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thank s for the encouragement. I didn’t get to drive Dad’s truck until I was 18 and working summers for him. RRN

  3. Hana says:

    Oh my gosh, you put a lot of great stuff in this. I loved your descriptions of the places, colors, lights, really good. I also liked how you wove the story about your folks and the reason you drove that far and that long. I really enjoyed this!

  4. Laura says:

    A wonderful story. As a reader I was reminded of my own learning experiences, and that helped to really pull me in. I am very interested in reading more stories that you have written. Nice job!

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