For most of the “little” years, my girls and I spent summers on the swim meet circuit, chugging up and down Vancouver Island and on the Lower Mainland in our bright orange ’78 Volkswagen.
Since Dad worked weekends, it fell to me to load up the VW and navigate our way through cities and towns and back roads, take shortcuts and not-so-short-cuts, dodge traffic jams, find campsites and swimming pools. I became capable. But it all fell apart the day we left our home on Salt Spring Island to cover a protest at the legislature for the local newspaper. Usually, our travels included just us females. But this time Dad joined us, apparently throwing a wrench into my capability.
The day started with a lift in his eyebrows as I hopped into the driver’s seat. He mumbled something about my driving making him sick, but I waved him off, breezily indicating that of course I’d drive. Things were going well, despite being one of the last cars to disembark from the ferry. We were zooming down the highway, the girls and I chattering away, when, to my right, Dad grunted and tried to interrupt.
“Photo radar,” he snapped when he could get a word in. Naturally, he assumed I was speeding.
“No problem,” I said, shrugging nonchalantly. But I sneaked a look at the speedometer and wondered how I could deter him from collecting the mail for the next six weeks.
“Now that is a real car,” I announced a few minutes later as we arrived at a red light next to a Porsche. “But,” I said, thinking out loud, “I bet I can beat him up the hill.”
I balanced my feet on the clutch and gas, looking between the Porsche and the light. Then – blast off. I whizzed through the gear changes as the Porsche meandered behind us. Then the driver realized what I was doing, gave a little grin and lurched forward, disappearing into the horizon. The backseat cheering stopped.
“Does she do this all the time?” Dad complained.
Our first stop was a mall (Dad had purchases to make). As we got out of the car, I reached for my purse … which wasn’t there. Okay, so I left it on the ferry.
“No problem,” I said, countering his withering look with an expression that said: “This sort of thing happens all the time and I’m perfectly capable of handling it.”
I picked up his cell phone (the days before we each had a phone) and after some difficulty, I managed to connect with a person at B.C. Ferries, discovering, yes, my purse had been found. (I told you so.)
Shopping for “him” now on hold for lack of credit card, we loaded back into the car. I threw the cell phone onto the dash, rolled down all the windows and roared off toward the legislature. Then came a sharp, right-hand turn onto Blanshard just as the light changed and a city-block-full of cars came at us. Horrified, I watched the cell phone slide across the dash and fly into the path of oncoming steel and rubber. Dad leapt like Superman from the car and managed to guide traffic around the phone, until the very last truck rolled by and crushed it like a bug into the asphalt.
“It’s not mom’s fault!” chimed my cheering section from the back seat.
“It was that damn truck,” I agreed meekly.
The rest of the trip occurred without too much incident, although I mistakenly thought I’d locked the keys in the car. (I didn’t mention this to anyone; at that point I would have broken a window and feigned a robbery to get at those keys.) The next weekend, the girls and I were back in the van, puttering off to a swim meet, with – I swear – my capability fully restored.
Susan Lundy is a Saltspring Island-based writer and editor.