One day not long after their return from Florida, Kelly was sitting in his office, loosely holding a letter in one hand. The letter had to be answered to confirm the schedule for his next lecture tour. Kelly liked his agent for many reasons, but one of the most important was that the man liked to have everything in writing, and was not prone to doing business on the phone. Kelly liked having his file-cabinet full of correspondence to refer to when his memory failed him.
There was nothing wrong with the proposed schedule, but it made Kelly think about something he hadn’t thought about, when his mother proposed moving to Florida. Louise had often driven out from town to pick up Genevieve and Alexis to go shopping, social events, and appointments. Now that his mother lived so far away, he was surprised at how often his wife interrupted his work, pressing him into being her driver. He thought about what she was going to do when he was on the road again. What if Alexis needed to go to the doctor in the middle of the night? He toyed briefly with the idea of buying another car and letting Bennie use it to drive Genevieve, but that reminded him too much of his uncle’s pretensions. One thing was for sure; Genevieve must learn to drive. She couldn’t just depend on their kind neighbors to drive her around.
“Kelly, are you busy?” asked Genevieve, as she came into his office followed close behind by Alexis who was dressed up for going into town. The child was smiling up at her father in anticipation.
“Well, I do have quite a lot of mail to take care of today. Why do you ask?” asked Kelly, knowing what the answer would be by the look on his wife’s face, even without seeing the purse on her arm.
“Mae was going to drive us into town today, but she just called. Woody got sick with the flu last night and she doesn’t want to pass it on to us,” said Genevieve, looking down and smiling fondly at Alexis, to avoid her husband’s eyes. “I wouldn’t ask you to drive us, but Alexis has so been looking forward to going to Massey’s Drug store. They are introducing a new flavor of ice cream that is said to be exceptional.”
“Well, you know, I think I could do with some ice cream too,” said Kelly, feeling that the ice cream outing might be the perfect time to talk to his wife about learning to drive.
When they returned from town, Alexis who having secured her ice cream no longer felt obligated to look like a girl. She dashed up to her room to get out of the dress and resume her cowgirl clothes, before heading out to tell the barn cats all about the new ice cream.
“I am sure you are right dear, but can I really learn, at my age?” asked Genevieve.
“My mother was far older than you when she learned to drive, and she was a new widow,” said Kelly, proud of the memory. “She was fearless.”
“Are you sure that she wasn’t just suicidal?” asked Genevieve, only half joking.
“Well, honey are you ready?” asked Kelly his nervous wife, as he walked into the kitchen where she was having a cup of coffee, on the morning of the day, which they set for the first driving lesson.
“No, I can’t say that I am, but if we don’t start, I will never learn to drive,” said Genevieve, tentatively, looking somewhat askance at her husband.
“Once you learn to drive, you are going to forget that you ever didn’t know how,” said Kelly, going to the cabinets over the sink to find a coffee cup.
“You just say that because you don’t remember when you learned to drive, you were so young. I am 39-years-old,” said Genevieve, looking deep into her coffee as if expecting to find some sort of answer there.
“Mrs. Archie, you don’t have to worry about your age. I didn’t learn to drive until last year,” said Eileen, as she came into the kitchen, carrying the basket of sheets she just took from the clothesline in the back yard, where the weak winter sun was helped by the cold dry air to get them mostly dry.
“Eileen, I didn’t know you knew how to drive!” exclaimed Kelly, as he watched Eileen take the sheets to the large custom-built ironing board that old Mrs. Post used to press the last of the dampness out of them before folding them for storage.
“That is just because you only see me ride my bike over. If you went to church with me and your misses, you would know that it’s me that drives, not the mister,” she said, as she set the baskets of bed sheets down, plugged in the new steam iron, and started to arrange a sheet on the board. She kept her lips in a tight line not remarking on Mr. Archie’s rarely going to his own church, even though his uncle was the pastor.
Kelly watched Eileen at her labors for a moment, amazed at her efficiency at maneuvering the large piece of cloth without becoming entangled in it, before turning back to Genevieve and saying, “You have nothing to worry about. I found just the perfect place to start your lessons.”
“Where is that?” asked Genevieve, watching as Kelly found a coffee cup, took it over to the stove, and poured a cup of coffee from the percolator. She nervously laced her fingers together, and flexed her palms away from her chest to crack the knuckles, before saying, “I hope it is well away from the roads.”
“Yes, it is! I am going to have you very comfortable with starting, stopping, steering, and backing up well before I let you out on the roads,” said Kelly, reassuringly.
“So … where?” she asked again, wondering if the angle of Eileen’s back indicated that the solid farm woman was silently laughing at her employer.
“The fairgrounds; I got the key to the gate from Sheriff Tagart. Hoss said if he needed the key back before they have to mow for the next county fair, he would let me know, but until then it is ours to use,” said Kelly, reaching over to pat his wife on the hand, as he sat down with his cup of steaming coffee.
“Mommy! Daddy! I want to go!” yelled Alexis, when her parents tried to leave the house without her.
“Honey, not this time,” said Kelly as he dropped down on one knee, and looked Alexis straight in the face letting her know that it was a serious subject and that no argument was to be allowed. “I am going to teach your mother to drive, so that the two of you will be able to go into town as often as you would like when I am not here to drive you. In the days to come there are going to be a lot of times that your mommy and I leave without you. You must be a big girl and respect our private time.”
Alexis stared at her father then pointed up to the stairway that led to her parents’ bedroom. Genevieve flushed realizing what Alexis equated private time with. Kelly not seeing his wife’s discomfort informed Alexis, “Our private time isn’t just up there little one. Now be a big girl and behave for Eileen while we are gone. You will love it when your mother knows how to drive.”
“Alexis come watch me make cookies,” Eileen called out, establishing the pattern of expecting cookies every time her parents went off by themselves.
“This seems so strange, with you sitting over there and me being behind the wheel,” remarked Genevieve, as she sat behind the wheel of a vehicle for the first time.
“Okay, the first thing we are going to do is just start the truck. Just turn the key away from you and when you hear the starter turn over, pat the gas a little,” said Kelly.
“Which petal is the gas?” she asked, knowing, which one was which, but wanting to delay the process for a moment more.
“The longer one on the right, and the wide horizontal one on the left is the brake,” he said reassuringly, not realizing that she was stalling.
Genevieve, saw her husband start a car often enough that she expertly coaxed the old truck into a healthy rumble. Kelly smiled at her and said, “Okay now turn off the key,” she turned the key off and the trucked dieseled a little before becoming silent. “That is good. The next thing we are going to do is start up again. Once you have it started, you are going to step on the break and shift it into drive. You are going to keep the brake depressed and shift back and forth between drive, park and reverse. Once you are comfortable with that we will proceed.”
Kelly watched as his wife built up her feeling of controlling the machine. After a few shifts, Genevieve looked at Kelly and said, “I think I have that down.”
“Okay, now you are in drive. See just behind the wheel, the little line is right in front of the letter “D”. When I tell you to, I want you to take your foot off the break, and let the truck roll forward, and then put on the brake. I don’t want you to step on the gas yet. I am going to have you do that several times before I have you put it in park again.”
Kelly and Genevieve spent the rest of the afternoon, slowly driving and stopping the truck all over the fairground. Anyone watching from a distance might have wondered what was going on as the old truck started and stopped, sometimes smoothly and sometimes with jerks. Around and around the fairgrounds it went, going faster and faster.
The next day, while Eileen entertained Alexis with pecan cookies, Kelly and Genevieve returned to the fairgrounds, and went through the routine of stopping and starting over and over going faster and faster than the day before. He taught her how to pump her breaks and make sharp turns. He taught her how to drive in reverse, using the mirrors and looking over her shoulder.
At the end of that day’s lesson, the stress that had been on Genevieve’s face was gone and she was smiling with pride. “Well, you’ve done enough for today. You are doing very well, my dear,” he said hugging his wife before they exchanged places for the drive home.
Back home that night Genevieve sat carefully cutting up small bites of food before putting them on Alexis plate, so the little girl could chase the bits around with her fork before finally skewering a piece and scooping it into her mouth. Genevieve watched the procedure noting that Alexis seemed to take pride in not picking her food up with her hands any more.
“Kelly, do you think Alexis is too young to learn to use a knife?” asked Genevieve, watching her daughter eat.
“No, I don’t think so. I would start with a blunted knife and soft foods that could really be cut with the edge of a fork. We will get her one of those little toddler’s knives next time we are in town,” answered Kelly thoughtfully.
“More Please!” demanded Alexis, as she finished the food her mother had given her.
“There you go baby-doll,” said Genevieve, putting some more food on Alexis’ plate, and then turned to her husband asking, “Kelly, do you think I am ready to drive on the roads yet?”
“No, not yet, but you have graduated from the fairgrounds. I will take the key back to Hoss tomorrow,” he said, thinking to himself that he was going to make sure Alexis learned to drive before she was 18, earlier if she showed an interest.
“What is next, if not roads?” asked Genevieve, sitting back to enjoy her own meal, seeing Alexis was slowing down, and beginning to play with her food, which would keep the child occupied for a while.
“Next is an empty paved parking lot. It is supposed to rain tomorrow. I checked with my uncle and the church lot is going to be unused. I want to teach you about driving on wet pavement and to parallel park, and then you will be ready to drive on the roads,” he said.
“Honey, this is so much fun. I can’t imagine why I have never tried it before,” said Genevieve, happily.
“Because you have always lived in cities, where there was no need too know,” he said, filled with contentment as he watched Genevieve help Alexis rinse off her dinner plate before letting the child run off to play.
Over the next two weeks, Kelly and Genevieve explored the county, starting with roads that no one even knew why they were ever built, nor why the state kept them up, and progressing to ever busier roads, until she was driving through town and out on the interstate. At night Genevieve went over the driver’s manual learning the rules, getting ready to take the written test. At breakfast each day, she gave Kelly the manual, so he could quiz her.
“Mommy read to me,” demanded Alexis as Genevieve sat pouring over the driver’s manual sitting in the rocker that had been moved up to the private studio.
Genevieve looked at her little girl who was hanging on the arm of the rocker, swinging back and forth, arresting its motion and thought, ”Well why not?”
Alexis sat on the floor at her mother’s feet as Genevieve began to read. Genevieve was surprised that Alexis continued to sit quietly and listen to what was to her a very boring manual that she wouldn’t be reading at all, if it were not for her looming driver’s test.
“Well, what is going on here?” asked Kelly, when he found his girls by wandering around the house for a while. He hadn’t expected that his wife would be in the studio, as she wasn’t working on anything at the time.
“Mommy’s reading to me, all about driving,” said Alexis, seriously.
“Well, what a good idea. By the time you are big enough to drive, you will know it all,” said Kelly winking at his wife. “Now I want you both to come out and go for a ride with me. I have the horses ready and it is too nice a day to be penned up inside.”
Later that week Kelly directed Genevieve to drive into town and watched as she skillfully parked in one of the downtown parking spaces.
“Okay, so why did you want me to park?” she asked, glancing at her watch and noticing it was nowhere near lunchtime. “We have hardly driven at all today.”
“You are going to go in that building over there; Walk on in and tell the lady at the desk you are here to get your driver’s license,” he said.
“Oh, Kelly!” she gasped; her eyes round with the excitement, which over the weeks had replaced her fears.
“You are not going to get any more ready than you are now, so git,” he said, sitting back in his seat shifting to get comfortable making it very apparent that he was not going with her.
Kelly watched as his wife made her way across the street, with her long blonde ponytail swinging with the rhythm of her steps, matching the sway of her shapely hips. He was glad that he hadn’t given her any idea that they would be in town that day. He liked her wearing her hair like that, and was glad that she thought they were spending the day alone together. If she’d known that he was taking her for her test, she would have put her hair up and dressed as if for church. She bounded up the stairs and through the double glass doors, looking like a teenager in her jeans and boots.
Kelly got out of the truck and went to sit down on a bench just on the other side of the sidewalk. He didn’t have too long of a wait, since he called the DMV before leaving the farm and the lady at the desk was waiting for Genevieve. Of course the whole town knew about her learning to drive. The lady who ran the DMV and gave the driving tests, told Kelly that she was tickled to be giving Louise Archie’s daughter-in-law her driving test.
Kelly watched as his wife and the woman from the DMV crossed the street to where he was sitting. Though Genevieve was probably only ten years younger than the other woman, Kelly thought they looked like mother and daughter walking together. Not that Genevieve’s late mother ever seemed old enough to be her mother. It made Kelly sad that the bohemian woman who so influenced his wife was gone. She would have loved knowing that the more timid of her twins was finally learning to drive.
Kelly was brought back to the present when the two women approached his bench and Genevieve said, “Well, I passed the written test okay. We are going to have to take the truck, Kelly.”
“I know dear. I will be here when you get back,” he said, patting the wooden slats of the bench.
And he was. Sitting looking very relaxed, Kelly was doing a very good job of concealing from the world how nervous he was. Not only was the driver’s test an evaluation of his wife’s ability to drive, but also it was the first time anyone would be evaluating his teaching ability since he left his professorship. His heart filled with pride as his wife, once so scared of even being a passenger in a car, expertly maneuvered into a parallel spot at the curb.
Genevieve and the tester got out of the truck. As she gave Genevieve the test results, the woman said, “Now Mrs. Archie, don’t let your driver’s license expire again like that.”
Genevieve stood holding the paper and looking after the tester as she crossed the road back to the DMV. Turning to her husband, Genevieve said, “Kelly, she didn’t realize this was my first license. I guess that explains why she didn’t look up from the clipboard as I drove.”
“My goodness, she must be the only person in town that hasn’t heard that you were learning to drive for the first time. She was so nice on the phone this morning when I made the appointment, I thought she knew, but don’t worry dear. If she looked up she would have thought it was definitely not your first license. You did an outstanding job,” said Kelly, and putting his arm around his wife, asking, “Want to drive home?”
Over dinner Genevieve informed Alexis proudly, “Alexis, I passed my driver’s test today, so Daddy and I won’t be going out for lessons anymore.”
“No more cookies?” asked Alexis, eyeing her mother with disappointment.
“Well, it is true we won’t have cookies as often, but we will be able to go get ice cream more often,” said Genevieve brightly.
“I like ice cream. Woody’s mom keeps ice cream at their house. Why don’t we have ice cream in our ice box?” asked Alexis using the term that Mae used for her freezer.
“Well, dear, Woody’s home is Woody’s home, and your home is your home. Both are nice places but both are different,” interjected Kelly, trying to make Alexis understand that just because other people do things didn’t mean that you must follow their example. “You get enough ice cream without our stockpiling it.”
“Don’t worry Alexis, now that I can drive we can get ice cream whenever we like,” said Genevieve, seeing her daughter was placated she turned to her husband and in a voice filled with emotion said, “Kelly thank you so much for teaching me to drive. I didn’t realize how free it was going to make me feel. I mean; like I told Alexis, right now if I wanted, I could jump into the truck and go to the store, without bothering you.”
“No worries my dear, it is good practice for the day when I have to teach Alexis to drive,” he said looking at his little girl eating her dinner, only thinking of the promised ice cream, oblivious of the future rushing toward her.
“Oh, Kelly, let’s not rush things,” she laughed. “Let’s get her a pony first!”
“A Pony?” asked Alexis, suddenly interested in her parents’ conversation again.
“Yes, ba… sweetie, it is high time you have your own pony!” said Kelly, happy that it was Genevieve who broached the subject, which he had been considering ever since seeing how much Alexis had loved the pony rides at the county fair. Genevieve looked at her smiling husband and her smiling daughter and knew that the barn was going to have a new resident regardless of her opinion.