Learning to Drive

June 1956 – I would soon be 16 and I intended to be able to drive legally as soon as my birthday arrived. Daddy was a cab driver and knew the importance of driving well; because he wanted me to be a good driver he allowed me to practice using the clutch and shifting gears in front of the house .

2006 County Assessor Photograph of our house

2006 County Assessor Photograph of our house - 320 SW 23

We had a light blue 1953 Plymouth at the time – standard shift, which was the case with the majority of vehicles. Daddy explained that a smooth transition between releasing the clutch, pressing on the gas pedal and moving the gear shift was an important aspect of effective driving. He sat in the passenger seat and watched me and made gentle and effective corrections to my technique, even when my lack of skill caused grinding noises to the gear shift.

No pictures of my '53 Plymouth, but here's an Internet image that's similar.

No pictures of my '53 Plymouth, but here's an Internet image that's similar.

All well and good, but the average 15-year-old itching to drive needs more time in the driver’s seat than most parents are likely willing or able to offer. At that time, schools didn’t offer driver’s ed and, to my knowledge, there were no driving schools, so young people generally taught themselves to drive. Fortunately, through Civil Air Patrol, I had several male acquaintances who were old enough to drive and more than willing to prove their skill at driving to any available pre-driving girl.

Johnnie Cole was the CAP member who provided most of my driving education, although Wayne also gave me some instruction. Driving instruction at that time generally took place on country roads. Johnnie would drive me out to the country and let me get in the driver’s seat and practice my driving. He was, by the way, one of the good-looking male members of our group and all of the girls would have been thrilled to be the recipient of time spent with him – I was no exception. He was generous with his time and a good teacher.

It never crossed my mind to not be a driver and it also never entered my mind that I would not be a competent driver. I learned to drive easily and took every opportunity to practice.

Civil Air Patrol offered a summer encampment every year and that summer of 1956 I wanted so much to go but my parents said they couldn’t afford to send me. I was very social and longed to be with the group wherever they might be, so I was really hurt to not be able to make the trip. As the rest of the group planned the trip and talked with one another about their plans, I felt totally excluded. I don’t know what happened, but a few days before the trip Daddy told me he would get the money for me to go – in today’s world (2009) the sponsors of such a trip would not likely permit someone to participate at the last minute , but I was allowed to go.

The trip that year was to Amarillo Air Force Base. We flew a C-130 (known as a Flying Boxcar) out of Tinker Field – that was an experience all its own. The C-130 is a cargo plane and wasn’t equipped with seats like airlines; it had seating that was akin to long cots that were attached to the sides of the plane. Comfort was not in the design of those planes.

We spent the week living in barracks, eating in mess halls, taking classes in Morse code and parachute folding and getting a tour of the radar tower – during the day time. At night we had parties and dances, went to the PX and officer’s club and generally had a fabulous time.

Amarillo CAP Encampment 1956 - Gary Hartsill getting] a dressdown & the guys enjoying it! [Wayne is grinning in the foreground

You may be thinking, ‘What’s the point of this discussion when I was talking about learning to drive?’ My birthday is June 22 and the encampment included that day – it was a Sunday so I couldn’t have taken my driver’s test anyway. We flew home on Sunday afternoon. No matter how much fun I’d had, I had not forgotten that all important event of getting my driver’s license.

Monday, June 23, 1956, I went to the driver’s licensing facility and took both the written test and the driver’s test. I have no recollection of how I got there; probably Daddy took me. The only areas of concern I had were having to stop on a hill and start from that same hill, plus parallel parking. The driver’s test route included some areas with stop lights and hills, and though I was a little nervous I managed to execute the skill at satisfactory levels. I passed with flying colors and not long after I got my license, Daddy bought a large Hudson for him to drive and he gave me the ’53 Plymouth, which I drove until I got married. I have been joyfully driving ever since the day after I turned 16.

Black and White Thinking

I read a Point (liberal) and Counterpoint (conservative) opinion page in the Oklahoma Gazette on pro-choice versus pro-life. The liberal viewpoint was written by a philosophy professor whose main point was that it’s a “black and white” issue with no gray areas – all women deserve the right to make their own decision about their own body and health care must provide that for all. The counterpoint was written by an attorney.

As a woman who was raised during the time when a woman who chose to get an abortion likely had to choose either a back alley abortion or some person with a clothes hanger, I believe women who KNOWINGLY choose to have an abortion should be able to have it done by a physician under optimal conditions and it should be available to more than just moneyed women.

However, I also believe that referring to this huge issue as a “black and white” issue without areas of gray is to be oblivious to all the consequences of that choice.

At the very least, I would suggest that a baby [know that no woman who’s sharing the first ultrasound photo or video of her as yet unborn baby walks up to a friend and says, ‘look at my fetus’ – to that mother, it’s a baby] should also have some rights as to the decisions regarding its own body – when a woman claims the right to control the health issues of her own body, there still needs to be someone standing up for that baby’s rights to choose the health issues of its own body.

When I went to the doctor in 1976 feeling extreme discomfort every day in my stomach, I was fearful of cancer or any number of unknown and possibly tragic possibilities. When I arrived they sent me to the restroom with a cup to provide a urine specimen and then out to sit in the waiting room until I was called for my appointment. It wasn’t long before the doctor’s assistant called me back for my appointment, or so I thought. We walked into her office instead of an examination room and she said, “Congratulations, Mrs. Brown. You’re pregnant. Do you wish to carry the baby to full term?”

I could not have been more surprised by any of her words. It had been 15 years since I’d been pregnant and we had hoped for many years to have more children but my husband had an almost 0 sperm count, which the doctors said was deteriorating, so pregnancy was not even on my radar screen when I viewed the possibilities of my stomach distress. But to go from ‘congratulations’ to ‘do you wish to have the baby’ was a giant leap I would never have expected.

Because those words came from my respected physician’s staff, I assumed there must be a problem with the pregnancy. I actually weighed those words and worried about my decision to continue with the pregnancy throughout the remainder of the term. My son, David, is a wonderful young man, a blessing and delight to my heart and his son, Aaron, is equally wonderful. I am so grateful that my value system allowed me to choose to walk through the pregnancy instead of around it.

I wonder how many wonderful children have been robbed of life because of the fear of a mother that she would not be able to meet the present and future obligations of a pregnancy. How many brilliant minds, fabulous musicians and artists, gifted orators or even how many grandchildren have been lost because of our fears and our insistence on instant gratification. Statisticians are saying MILLIONS of babies have been aborted since Roe vs. Wade.

Another area that is not black and white to me is that some of these women make the choice to abort without adequate preparation and counseling and spend much of the remainder of their lives in emotional agony over their choice. I believe that if a woman has looked at EVERY option as calmly as possible and with personal intelligence plus supportive and encouraging professionals to guide her in her decision and still opts to have an abortion, the medical community should offer her a proper medical environment in which to do so. We should definitely be out of dark alleys with women risking death, dismemberment or the inability to conceive or have a pregnancy at another time in order to avoid the consequences of a current pregnancy. But, in my opinion, a world in which killing babies becomes a method of birth control should be unacceptable to everyone; one of the old sayings I grew up with was, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – probably never more true than in the case of pregnancy.

Living in the Bible belt is also not an area of black and white to me where too many religious groups have stopped adequate sex education in schools so that our young people are inadequately prepared to meet the sexual encounters they experience. Our rate of teen pregnancy in Oklahoma is one of the highest in the nation. In fact, unwanted pregnancies in divorced women are equally high – presumably because it would be unseemly to be prepared ahead of time for such an encounter, so women are willing to risk pregnancy rather than to seem immoral by planning ahead. Living in a time where a substantial number of teenagers are sexually active before high school is over is not a time to put our heads in the sand and hide information from them that could protect them from not only unwanted pregnancies but sexually transmitted diseases as well.

And speaking of hiding information, we have people in this city who try to inhibit our libraries from providing information on sex education. They want any books with any reference to sex in them to be placed on shelves that are too high for short bodies or behind the check-out desks so they can’t be seen by our youth. They also want the libraries to allow parents the right to see any books their children may have checked out – in case some of them decide to fend for themselves. They have written editorials and scheduled interviews with reporters to express their views that the library carries pornographic materials available to children. When I saw a newspaper article that listed some of the books they were claiming were explicit in their sexual depictions, I wanted to see for myself if my library system was guilty as charged. When I didn’t find the materials I was looking for, I asked one of the librarians about the materials; I was told they were unavailable because the people who were fighting the library had actually removed some of them from the library. I did manage to find and check out a couple of the books and reviewed them myself; I found them to be clear, unbiased, sane, educational accounts of sexuality. I handed them to my son, who was about 16 or 17 at the time, and one of his friends to get their opinion. I explained the news reports of pornographic materials in the library and waited for their response. It was quite funny and revealing. They each quickly and, obviously hopefully, flipped through the pages and then handed the books back to me with the comment, “where are the pictures.” These were, in fact, textbooks.

Whatever else the prolife/prochoice situation is, it isn’t black and white and we need to be willing as a democratic nation to address all of the ramifications of this complex issue in order to come to a rational public policy to deal with the physical, emotional, spiritual, familial and financial consequences of unplanned pregnancies.

Brief Musing & Comment on 2008 Election Post

I get an email every weekday from A.Word.A.Day – I love words and have enjoyed this particular effort. The words each week are based around a theme and the theme for this week of the inauguration of a new President is words used by Barak Obama in his books and speeches. As a preface to the weeks’ words, the website’s author, Anu Garg, wrote this:

Obama is to be commended for his accomplishments. We’ve come a long way in this country. But we still have far to go before we can call ourselves truly unbiased. Real progress will be when any capable person can have a fair chance at winning the highest office, even someone who happens to be, say, a black gay vegan atheist woman.

Anything is possible… but don’t hold your breath.

I watched some inauguration programming on Sunday afternoon and there was a lot coming from black history, again supporting how far they’ve come and what Obama stands for in their minds, hearts and hopes. But Anu Garg reiterates what I was commenting on in my “Reflections on the 2008 Election.”

In the Moment

The police tell us, to avoid the risk of becoming a crime victim, we need to be aware of where we are – know where you’re going, keep your purse and packages held securely, have a mental plan in place of where to go for protection. In books from business, to the personal, to the sacred with such titles as “The Power of Full Engagement,” “Be Here Now,” and “The Sacrament of the Present Moment,” we are encouraged to live moment by moment in full awareness.

How many of you have experienced driving someplace and all of a sudden it dawns on you, you can’t remember the specifics of the driving process. Your mind was somewhere else the majority of the drive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to say, “Thank you, God, that I’ve arrived at my destination safely because I certainly wasn’t paying enough attention to have gotten me here on my own.” This is so universal, I assume a 100% response to some similar experience.

Because I apparently live way too much of my life on autopilot, I’ve thought about people who perhaps live more in the present moment than I do and I have extrapolated some keys for living a more aware life. My example is primarily my daughter in a recent shared experience. I wanted to make a trip to the Joplin area for research on a novel I’m writing based on genealogical truth. I wanted pictures in my head to help me visualize the place. I asked Kay if she would like to go with me and she agreed. You need to know, it she hadn’t gone, I would have just hopped in the car the next morning with camera and paper and been back that night. Kay made me make a plan for how to best utilize the time so we spent four fully planned days and reaped benefits I would never have expected. Addresses and property owned from probate files from courthouse records, newspaper articles on the wedding of my grandfather and grandmother as well as a picture of life in the community in 1900 from the genealogical society, and four pages from the library archives of front page news of my great grandfather’s death, services and business community reaction. The information we got allowed us to take pictures of actual home sites and business in multiple cities, as well as photos from visits to their grave sites. We saw countryside and beautiful scenery to incorporate in my novel, but the result was purposeful rather than random, due almost exclusively to my daughter’s ability to live life with awareness.

My great-grandfather's store and home lot next door.

My great-grandfather's store and home lot next door.

Here are my conclusions from the experience:

First, as Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind.” Kay knew what information she had as well as some of the holes she would like to fill in and she had a working knowledge of possible places to go to get answers.

Make a plan – both broad based and specific. My plan was only broad based, but Kay’s included the specific and it was the specific that netted the best results. Keep the whole picture in your mind – if not, you may miss pieces that would fit that you weren’t looking for in the moment.

Stay open to the spontaneous and serendipitous. All of the newspaper articles were serendipitous. Reading the article my grandmother wrote to put in the newspaper about her leaving Missouri to come to Oklahoma to get married was totally unexpected and a great pleasure. It was the taking the time to read newspaper archives that netted that great benefit.

My grandmother's 1902 marriage announcement.

My grandmother's 1902 marriage announcement.

Keep all your senses open – God gave them so use them. Remember there’s more than just the surface to the senses – explore the possible meanings to the sensory input – ask the 5 journalist questions – who, what, when, where and how and allow your mind free reign to explore the answers.

Bring all your education, experience, and skill to the moment – all can be useful. Kay is a librarian and she utilized all those in the service of this trip. She’s also a manager and she used her ability to delegate, plan and implement the details as well as to integrate the information we got into the whole of her research. In addition, she’s also a daughter, wife and mother and she brought all of those experiences and responsibilities with her to maximize the experience in terms of the research as well as relationship building.

Enjoy the moment – if life is just a task to be gotten out of the way, what’s the point?

New Year’s Resolve

In common usage today, the word resolution has more to do with compromise than with the backbone and spine required to make permanent change in our daily lives. We use it to say something like, “We’ve come to a resolution of our differences,” meaning we’ve each given away something of ourselves in order to agree.

Resolve is not a word most of us use often, probably because we have become accustomed to choosing words that allow us an out. To avoid stepping on others’ opinions, we’ve been told to use phrases like “I feel ,” because people can’t disagree with what we’re feeling, though they could disagree with our opinions. That is probably effective when what is meant is something like “I feel hurt when you…” What has happened in our language is that the phrase “I feel” is often not  connected to an emotion but has become more frequently connected to a thought or a belief in order to hopefully stop people from disagreeing with us over those thoughts and beliefs. You can know you have moved away from the true language of feeling when you have to say “I feel that…;” that phrase with the added word ‘that’ will always lead not to a feeling/emotion but to a thought or belief.

That language has so permeated our speech patterns that no one seems willing any longer to take responsibility for his or her thoughts by stating, “I think,” “I believe, or “I know.” I believe it is that unwillingness to take responsibility for our actions, thoughts and beliefs that causes us to make resolutions (hear and feel ‘compromises’) rather than actually resolving (hear choices, backbone and will) to take the necessary steps to accomplish change.

Because of the difference in those words, I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I know those will be forgotten and set aside within a few days of the new year. If something is truly important enough to make me deeply desire change, I must resolve to implement the changes that will be necessary.

This morning I was reading yesterday’s “My Utmost for His Highest” and the opening scripture and Chambers’ comments read like a New Year’s resolve: “My eager desire and hope being that I may never feel ashamed, but that now as ever I may do honour to Christ in my own person by fearless courage.” Philippians 1:20 (MOFFATT)

Chambers quotes Paul, “My determination is to be my utmost for His Highest” [emphasis mine]. He goes on to say, “To get there is a question of will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, an absolute and irrevocable surrender on that point.”

If I am going to “be my utmost for His Highest,” I need to be aiming with resolve and determination toward all those ideals most of us merely apply the label “New Year’s Resolutions” to. I know resolutions will not be implemented and will be lost to my mind after a few days not to be recalled until I reflect on how I did in 2009. But my daily resolve and determination can guide me to “be my utmost for His Highest.”