Two stories popped into my head—different cars, different drivers, but both needing to be remembered.
It seems our driveway was not such a safe place to drive or park cars . . .
Growing up in Northbrook, transportation for my mom consisted of 2 choices: feet or bicycle. She did not learn to drive as a teenager. Even when Mom was working in The Loop (Chicago downtown) after high school, she walked to the train station and commuted in on the train.
In 1947 (she was 25 by then) my parents rented the house on South Adams, in Hinsdale, relocating to my Dad’s rug cleaning business (At Work), but Mom still hadn’t learned to drive. Milk, maybe eggs, and butter, were delivered as needed, and she’d walk the 1 mile to the Jewel store once or twice a week, at nap time. Mrs. Soubry (the upstairs neighbor—not positive of the spelling) would bring a book downstairs and keep an eye on my older siblings while they napped. Mom would walk home with the meat (and anything else needing refrigeration), leaving the rest in a cart at the front of the store with her name on it. Dad would swing by on the way home for lunch or from his last job, and pick up the non-perishables.
It wasn’t until they bought the house on York Road, in 1952, that Mom learned to drive. It was only 3/10 mile further from the store, but it was uphill both ways, she had more kids, and she no longer had an upstairs neighbor to stay with the kids so she could shop. In addition, she now had children going to school 1.3 (instead of .4) miles away from home. Even though my sister rode the bus, we all know there are times when you need to pick up kids from school, so it was finally time for Mom to get a license.
After her driver’s ed class ($10 for three 1 hour lessons) from a high school PE teacher, and obtaining her license at age 30, she was good to go. She had a fairly decent driving record, as far as I know, though apparently there was one incident, early on in her career. As my Aunt Mary related it:
Ardyth, do you remember the most original event of your entire career as a wife and mother? How you managed this, to this very day, no one can or will state. Bob and Hank came home from work that day and to their extreme astonishment they noticed – and did they EVER notice – that the little 1950 Crosely car you drove was perched on the very top of a pile of gravel by the garage! It was like a picture from Robert Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not.” You will always be fondly remembered for this accomplishment!!Mary Paulson Haws, Green Valley, Arizona to Ardyth & Bob Haws, typed letter, fall 1994, memories for 50th wedding anniversary book, Bauman Correspondence Files; privately held by Christine Haws Bauman, Greenwood, Indiana.
The Crosley car was way before my time, and I have no photos. Apparently¹ it was an early compact car produced in Cincinnati. Fortunately, it was also fairly lightweight, because my dad and his brother needed to lift it off the rock pile! Dad didn’t take time to photograph it, before moving the car. Thank goodness Aunt Mary provided us with a visual (even though not eye-witness) image of the event!
My aunt’s description needs a slight correction. It was actually a pile of flagstone (not gravel) that Mom landed on. It was waiting for my dad to build the flower bed on the east side of the garage, and make a stable edge to the driveway extension. I’m not sure which rock type would be harder to scale, or retrieve the car from, safely.
How did Mom manage that feat? Most likely she had intended to shift to reverse, but landed in drive by mistake. It’s an easy mistake, especially for a new driver. When the car didn’t start backing up, she probably gunned it, hurling the car up the rocks.
The other story involves my middle brother, Warren. In the fall of 1966, our dad purchased a new 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 sedan. The 1960 Ford Country Sedan station wagon (yes, it sounds like an oxymoron, but that’s the actual model!) was getting older, he had more drivers, but also children soon to be leaving the nest. A second car, seating fewer people, would come in handy.
The Galaxie was custom-ordered, paid for with cash. Because he needed it to eventually pull the trailer (partly visible along the right edge of the photo), Dad had the towing package added on, with heavier shock absorbers, a more powerful transmission, maybe a “better” radiator/cooling system to handle the stress of towing. It was still “wet behind the hubcaps” when it was involved in an accident with Warren. Or so I thought.
I was only 8 ½ at the time and didn’t pay much attention. I was reminded of the incident when I was taking driver’s ed as a sophomore. The story I heard was that Warren had “backed the new car into the house.” Now, the house was pretty large (a 2-story Queen Anne), so it seemed a little unlikely. It required either tremendous skill or horrible luck. It also surprised me that one of us kids was driving a brand new car! I didn’t question the story, though, and made sure I did not follow in his footsteps (wheel tracks?).
I of course called Warren to confirm facts. The story, with more details “from the horse’s mouth,” was different and even more interesting than the version I’d heard as a student driver, with some distinct differences:
- He did have an accident in the driveway—but he was driving the station wagon, not the new sedan!
- Both cars were insured, but our dad didn’t want to raise the rates by running the accident through the insurance policy
- He didn’t hit the house, he hit a vehicle parked on the driveway next to the house.
- He was in a hurry to pick up his date (“It’s always a girl’s fault!”) and didn’t notice the other car was in the driveway.
- He didn’t use his rear view mirror (obviously!) or check behind him.
Some parts of his story matched what I heard, but others were out in left field. As I tried to digest the new information, my brother asked if I wanted to hear the rest of the story. What? There’s more?? Bring it on!
Since this accident was all “in the family,” Dad had my brother pay for the repairs. That was reasonable. Dad also wanted everything repaired a quickly as possible. Apparently the insurance agents would cruise through town, checking out cars in driveways to see if they had unreported damage!
The ripple effect was that Warren didn’t have money to rent a tux for an upcoming Senior Girls’ formal dance—a turnabout dance. He was almost the only guy there not wearing a tux, but he had a black suit, so he wasn’t too out of place. Getting to the dance had its own back story, though.
He ended up with two (yes, 2!) dates to the dance. Sort of. One girl (Sue Dahlman) simply assumed they were going, but hadn’t bothered to ask. A classmate from grade school, Carolyn Bayer, actually asked him. Since he thought he was dateless, he told her, “yes.”
The two girls were in line together to buy tickets, Sue in front. When Sue was asked who her date was, Carolyn was shocked to hear her reply with—her own date’s name! Oops. They must have had quite a conversation . . .
Ever the gentleman, Warren went to the dance with the one who asked him. He never dated the other girl again.
Warren and I had a good laugh over the phone as he filled in the back story to and consequences of the accident. I’m sure he wasn’t laughing while trying to scrape together enough to pay our parents back! Fortunately, time has a way changing our perspective, allowing us to see the humor in what wasn’t funny at the time. And my own son’s (we’ll protect the guilty!) “2-dates for Prom” experience doesn’t shock me nearly as much, now. It must be a genetic thing . . .
The timeline bothered me, however. Warren graduated in June, 1966, but new cars typically are released in late summer, the year before the model year. The 1967 Galaxie 500 wouldn’t have come out until after he graduated. Even after 50+ years, he recalled vivid details about the dance—the names of both girls, that 4-5 couples went as a group and had dinner at the home of one of the girls (a bonus, since he had no money to take her out!), not being able to afford the tux.
But he didn’t remember it being the ’67, and thought it must have been another car. Except I don’t remember us having a 2nd passenger vehicle until the ’67. I did the only thing I could do—research! On Classmates.com I found his yearbooks, locating both girls in senior year, but only one in the junior year photos. That narrowed it to senior year, but still left the issue of what car did he hit? The ’65-’66 dance was too early to be impacted by an accident.
It was time for some phone calls. At 97, Mom’s recollections can be hit or miss, but she LOVED that car, so I hoped for the best. Unfortunately, she didn’t really have a memory of that accident, or the circumstances around it. No help there.
Next call was to my brother Bill (lounging on the car in the photo). His memory was clearer than mine, since he was closer to driving age at the time. He remembered being the ’67, and that our dad was REALLY mad—unusual for him. Bill was also told the car moved backwards 20 feet, fortunately, not into the street. That may have been exaggerated a bit to drive home the point. Warren said he wasn’t going very fast; that it was only a fender bender. Fender benders don’t move parked cars that far!
Perhaps the biggest thing I learned is that it’s important to check out the story, if I can, even if I’m sure of it, myself. If that turns up conflicting information, okay. I can deal with that. I can’t clarify or resolve (or at least acknowledge) information I don’t know about, though.
So where does that leave the story? Unresolved. Cars were hit. Bumpers were repaired. Younger children’s driving habits were influenced. It’s still a good story (better than I started out with!), even if the timeline can’t be fully resolved. I’ve got my own variation of Rashomon² going on.
¹”Crosley”, En.Wikipedia.Org, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crosley.
²An event where the story told by different eyewitnesses is considerably different. Click the link for a more in-depth explanation.