Iâ€™ve been told I drive like a man.Â I take this neither as a compliment nor as an insult, even though those who have told me thisâ€”all menâ€”probably mean it as the former.Â Instead, I take it as the logical outgrowth of my driving foundations.Â Men taught me how to drive, so I drive like a man.
On a recent Sunday, one of my teenage cousins was learning how to parallel park.Â As my cousinâ€™s father set up trash cans to simulate parallel parking, I asked my grandmother who taught her how to drive.
â€œEd did,â€ she said, referring to my late grandfather and her late husband.
This threw me for two reasons.Â One, because they had been married 52 years when he died in 1999, which meant that my grandmother was about 23 when they got married.Â They had known each other before they got married, but him teaching her to drive before then seemed even more unlikely than him teaching her how to drive at all.Â Two, she doesnâ€™t drive like Ed, never did, and has never enjoyed car rides with people who doâ€”self included.
She nodded at my puzzled look and explained, â€œI was 32 when I got my license.â€
When my maternal grandmother was a young girl, seeing women behind the wheel of a car was so rare that when she and her siblings saw a car pass by their house on KY HWY 22 and a woman was driving, they would excitedly report to their mom, â€œMom, mom!Â A woman was driving that car!â€
My first instinct was to consider the anomaly of a woman behind the wheel as oppressive.Â We now consider driving a given rite of passage to teenagers, and we encourage them to work not just to give them something to do and to help build their work ethic, but also so that they can save money for a car.Â But after a few seconds, I thought about how few cars people saw on the road in the 1920s and 1930s in general and how odd it would be for women to drive if they werenâ€™t working outside of the home or if suburban sprawl and big box stores didnâ€™t exist.
My grandmother walked, caught the bus, or rode with her husband or her father until she learned to drive.Â Her two sisters learned to drive as adults, also.
I was bewildered for a third reason.Â My grandmother retired from JCPS as a school bus driver.Â She had won awards for driving safety, and I think I had always assumed her first vehicle was a big yellow school bus.
She began driving school buses at age 48.Â She hadnâ€™t considered it until one passed by with a woman driving it.Â She then thought, â€œNow thatâ€™s something Iâ€™d like to do,â€ so she put in an application, test drove a bus at the fairgrounds, and went on to pass the school boardâ€™s driving test.
Her first bus was manual transmission with no power steering, and it would be two years before she really felt comfortable driving one.Â Once she was sure of herself, however, â€œIâ€™d go wherever they told me to go,â€ she said, including on trips to Northern Indiana to retrieve new buses and drive them back to the compound in Louisville.
Cool, I thought as she finished her story.Â There are many jobs we donâ€™t look upon with much reverence, but knowing that my grandmother went from being surprised that a woman was driving a car to being inspired by a woman to drivea bus–to control an unwieldy vehicle and gain the trust of hundreds of parents–is inspiring to me.Â It reminds me that women didn’t always have the givens that I have, that there is always a ground-breaker, and that there’s always the chance that someone will be inspired by me doing my every day job.
Yeah.Â Pretty cool.