Sometimes I forget how much things have changed during my lifetime. Wednesday, while I was visiting my granddaughter and her family in Richmond, we passed a small two-seater sports car. I’ve wanted one for most of my life. It just wasn’t practical when my own children were growing up and I couldn’t really afford one later. I voiced our standing joke, “He stole my car.” My daughter and granddaughter said I have too many great grandchildren to buy one now. As we discussed it, I realized my longing has been compromised.
My thirty year love affair with convertibles has been contaminated by maturity. The only way I would own one now would be if it had a roll bar. I’m not sure when the possibility of a rollover began to outweigh the wind in my hair. It must have been a gradual thing because I don’t even remember when it started. Perhaps its a side effect of too many movie crashes or maybe it is part of my recently acquired inability to feel secure in a moving vehicle without a seat belt. Now, I find myself reaching for one when I sit down in a theater.
I know where that one comes from. In 1996, I was driving to work one rainy morning. As I approached the section of road where the parkway becomes a surface street the car hydroplaned. Luckily there was still a concrete divider between the lanes, at that point, that kept me from sliding into oncoming traffic. However, that same barrier created a feeling of panic when the left front wheel began to climb it. I was desperately trying to steer the car back toward the edge of the road so, as soon as the wheel gained traction on the vertical surface, it turned and sent me back across two lanes to jump the guardrail and wind up on the grassy bank beside the highway. The vehicle landed right side up, but for an eternal moment, I had thought it was going to roll. It was months before I could drive or even ride in the left lane without flinching.
My life didn’t flash before me. I didn’t think of things I should have done or told my family. My only thought was, “Thank God, I fastened my seat belt today.” Because, up until that time, I seldom did. When I was growing up and learning to drive, seat-belts only came on airplanes. Up until that day, I’d always found them restrictive and was leery of being able to escape one in case of an accident.
In those “good old days” kids rode wherever their parents would allow, including the open beds of pick up trucks. Infants were usually held by an adult to “keep them safe” unless they were asleep in a “car bed” that attached with hooks to the back of the front seat. It was normal for the youngest children to be allowed to ride up front so the driver could keep a better eye on them. When we traveled from California to Kentucky in 1967 with three small children, two dogs, and a cat we folded the back seat of the station wagon down, covered the whole area from the tailgate to the back of the front seat with mats and turned everyone except the cat loose to play while we drove.
Car-seats were designed to raise small children high enough to see out the windows, not to protect them from injury. In point of fact, one similar to the picture above almost allowed my middle daughter to climb out an open window when she was only about 10 months old. She got up onto her knees and leaned across to hang her head out like a puppy. I grabbed her dress and held onto her with one hand while steering the car to the edge of the road with the other.
As my grandchildren grew up, seat belts became mandatory for children, then protective car-seats. Child safety locks became standard and electronic window controls made it impossible for little ones to roll down windows on their own. My great grandchildren will never be allowed to ride loose in a car. Their mothers and fathers, who fought against wearing seat belts as children, nor I, who didn’t wear one until their grandparents were grown, won’t allow it. They will be, at least, twelve before they can even ride in the front seat. It seems as though the safer we are, the more paranoid we become. I’m not really complaining though. If even one child is saved, then everything is worth it.