A few days after our oldest son, George, turned 16 last week, he defeated the fires of Mordor known as the Washington state driving test and became the newest driver in our house. While I wouldn’t necessarily want to be in the vicinity while he’s backing a car around a corner, I’d say, all in all, George is a pretty solid driver.
And now he’s joined his older sister in the ranks of those who are called upon to pick up a sibling from volleyball practice or grab something for me from the grocery store or drive themselves to their own dang orthodontist appointment.
It’s a feeling I can’t quite explain knowing I now have two humans who can help me in my duties as head schlepper. It’s elation. It’s freedom. It’s dread as I realize my two teenagers will now be sharing a car. Oh, the horror. I had the opportunity to share a car with my older brother, Jonathan, for one year in college. It was a cherry red Volkswagen Golf, compact and peppy.
It’s difficult to imagine how such a cheery little car could cause such angst between an otherwise friendly brother and sister, but if it were possible for two siblings to get a divorce, sharing that car most certainly would have been the grounds for ours.
Jonathan felt a certain ownership of the car. He was older and most definitely the better driver between the two of us. He was the one responsible for its routine maintenance. And, in the off chance that he hadn’t left it somewhere illegal and gotten it towed, the car was usually parked in front of his apartment.
I was just an interloper who kicked in money for gas and insurance, not a real 50-50 partner – at least in his mind. I begged, whined, threatened to tell mom – all the classic little sister moves – if he didn’t let me use the car more, but it was always a fight, always a struggle.
And then came “The Night.” I had somehow managed to beg the car off him one spring evening because our cousin Anne was in town to check out the university that Jonathan and I were attending.
My roommate Tracy joined us as I drove Ann around campus to show her the sights, look for cute boys, maybe grab some ice cream – you know, a real good time by conservative girl standards.
We were driving down a hill, and it had started raining – and it’s possible that I wasn’t paying the most attention in the world – when I noticed too late a car in my lane stopped at a red light. I slammed on the brakes, but the rain had made the roads slick, and I collided into the back of the other car, resulting in a glorious fender-bender. Thankfully, no one was hurt. But I was shaken.
As I talked to the very kind, patient and visibly annoyed driver of the other car, I started to cry. Anne began recalculating her college plans, and Tracy went off in search of the one person in town who would come to my rescue no matter what: my big brother, Jonathan.
We didn’t have cellphones back then, so it was miraculous that she rather quickly tracked him down as he was studying in the law library a few blocks away. Within 20 minutes, he was at my side. He gave me a hug, double- and triple-checked we were all OK and helped me figure out what to do with the banged-up car – which, remember, was his car, too. And it was now kaput.
There was no “What in the world were you thinking?” or “You royally screwed up; this is going to be such a pain to fix.” He was just there to help, and I gratefully melted into his support.
Once the car got fixed, we still had an argument every now and then, but my indignation at not being given fair use of the car was tempered by the memory of Jonathan coming to my rescue when it really mattered. In family relationships and in life, it’s times like that where the rubber really meets the road.
Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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