Easy Driver 1938
by  Carl Baumann,  BHS '43

My mother, being a full-time Mom, knew me better than my father did.  She would be the first to notice my budding pubescent interests, not only in full-size girls, but also, even moreso, in full-size cars... I'd built and ran them in model form, but now I yearned for the real thing... I particularly lusted after the family car, the workings of which I'd become intimately familiar with through months of attentive observation of my father and mother behind the wheel.

I was twelve at the time, and tall for my age.  They would say that sixteen was the sweetest of years, but I was an early bloomer and twelve was plenty sweet for me:  After several false starts I'd finally completed building my first flying model airplane, and it actually flew... And I'd had my first hand-holding date with a girl... But most exhilarating of all was this:  After many and varied forms of begging, my Mom finally succumed to my umpteenth request:  "Let me back the car out of the garage for you, O.K?" 

"Well, I suppose it would be all right, but just to the sidewalk, mind you, and not into the street!.. And  need I say don't tell your father I let you do this?"  She needn't.

Our house was on a deep but narrow lot, and the separate garage was out back near the rear property line. Automobiles were not as "up front" in the culture of the 1930's as they are today.  The driveway was about 100 feet long, sloping down to the rear, and configured with a challenging S-turn to zig past the back of the house and zag into the garage behind it.  It required some skill to emerge backwards from the garage and into the first turn of the "S" without hitting the garage doorframe, a skill I did not yet possess... So on my first time behind the wheel of the family sedan, a nearly new 1937 Nash-LaFayette, I of course hit the garage doorframe, with the right front fender.  I'd driven all of  20 feet, backwards, and already had my first accident!.. It was more of a scrape than a dent, luckily, and I spent the rest of the morning feverishly "buffing it out"... The afternoon was spent polishing the rest of the car to disguise the newfound brilliance of the right front fender which my father would be sure to notice.

Surprised and impressed with the fine polishing job I'd done on his car, unasked, my father doubled my allowance that week, from the usual quarter to fifty cents.  Don't laugh -- In 1938 fifty cents would buy you two movies, two cokes, two candy bars, and you'd have 10 cents left over... Soon I'd be off on my first date with a full-sized girl, but first things first.  My prime priority for that summer of 1938 would be learning to drive the family car, if only in the driveway.

Back and forth I drove on my 100 feet of freedom, up and downhill, clutching, shifting gears, steering  (the S-turn) and braking, sometimes just in time... It was glorious at first, but eventually the thrill wore off and the  wider world of "the street" became evermore tempting... I resisted mightily though, being a youth of trustworthy character, and with a kid sister Phyllis who would surely rat on me... Further adventures in driving would have to wait, down the road in time.

About that first hand-holding in the dark of the theatre date:  I think we saw the "Wizard of Oz," first time around, but don't remember for sure.  I do remember the girl though -- Annabelle Miller.  She was a class-mate and a tap-dancer.  I'd seen her dance in a school musical and was fascinated by her shapely legs in rhythmic motion, but didn't really understand why.  That part of me hadn't quite bloomed yet... These were the days well before TV, and all the movies were G-whiz rated.  Learning ops were limited, and 12 year old boys learned most of what they knew about girls from other 12 year old boys, and that wasn't much... But perhaps that was a blessing in disguise... 

Twenty some years later I'd see my soon-to-be wife Nancy dancing much the same way in a production of "The Bells are Ringing," but then I understood my fascination -- Yes indeedy.

Anyway, I spent the last dime of that nefariously earned fifty cents on the aforementioned model airplane kit, and it kept me happily engaged for a week in construction.  When completed it actually flew, and thus was born yet another pre-teen-age fascination which would soon evolve into a desire for the real full-size thing...  Flying, driving and girling -- who could ask for anything more!.. It was all so intriguing, and still is!

Carl Baumann,  BHS-'43 / 1996

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