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Monthly Memoirs Sunday, 01/01/2023

Ode to the Eldorado

December 2023 Monthly Memoir

My father’s Cadillac Eldorado was a ship- shaped winged vehicle he drove with pride.
When my young daughter and I summered by the shore, he gifted it to us to allay his and my mother’s fears,
knowing we were in a ‘tank’ that would keep us alive. 

One late afternoon, tired from the beach sun, I pulled into our small garage, scraping the sides of this grandiose gas guzzler.
When dad heard, he hollered: “what were you thinking?” “It’s just a car,” my mother softened his rant. “No harm done.”
All those months I drove the car, hardly able to reach the pedals, the mahogany stirring wheel slippery in my small hands.
A handsome black monstrosity, the bane of our existence, my rite of passage from mother to bad girl. The Cadillac Eldorado,
a magnificent naughty beast of burden, the envy of our summer rental on Sea View Lane in Maine. 
Judith Marks-White

Steering my grandson in the right direction

 Looking back on milestone moments an old tape resurfaces.  Long past adolescence now, my twenty-seven-year-old grandson Andrew stirs up a host of bittersweet memories, each one vivid and visceral.  And so, my mind wanders back to those days when he was safely sequestered in childhood.  Then, in a flash, everything changed. Let the story begin as we travel back in time.

 Andrew has turned sixteen, and he has just received his driver’s permit. This means another teenager will soon be gracing our roads. While this is considered worthy of recognition, the rest of us – the adults in his life – approach this milestone with trepidation, and the realization that life is passing by much too quickly.

His sister, Caroline (then 15), thinks it’s all so “cool.” She has become Andrew’s staunch ally, anticipating the day when she, too, can get behind the wheel of a car and drive us to distraction.

 Andrew is a great kid. Caroline, equally so, but “greatness” aside, driving a car is an act that evokes such anxiety that drivers’ permits should include therapy sessions for parents and grandparents to get them through the ordeal.

Andrew waves his permit at me as a reminder of this potentially death-defying feat. Despite the fact that he hasn’t cleaned his room since the Clinton administration, he’s appropriately proud, and congratulations are in order. And so, I pass along kudos with as much enthusiasm as I can muster up. He has, after all, passed the test with plastic proof of his accomplishment.

 But I am frightened, not only because he will soon be on the road with maniacal drivers and substance abusers, but because the world these kids are facing is even more dangerous and challenging than what they will encounter in the driver’s seat. And we who have little control over their safety or their destiny, suddenly feel overly protective.

If it were up to me, I would shield my grandchildren from the pervasive destruction in a world run amok. I would step in and remove them from irrational predators, insane terrorists, and unexpected bomb explosions intent on killing off not only innocent victims, but our spirits, as well. I would whisk my kids off to places that guarantee their safekeeping. But I can’t. At best, I can only offer my own experiences as blueprints to those of a different generation vastly removed from mine.

In spite of us, our children grow up, and for better and for worse, we can only hope that somewhere along the way, a nugget of our excessive ranting will have steered them in the right direction.

My hope was that by the time Andrew has his license, and is officially deemed worthy of operating a vehicle, the rules will sink in, that he will pause at stop signs, and approach yellow lights, not as an invitation to race ahead, but to linger for a moment, heeding my cliché warning: “better safe than sorry.”

I am counting on the fact that his newly-acquired status will teach him responsibility and patience – that he won’t be in such a hurry to race through life when he doesn’t yet understand the importance of slowing down. I want to tell him that these are the years to savor – to rein himself in rather than propel himself forward at breakneck speed. That maneuvering a steering wheel warrants more insurance than what air bags can provide. He will be road-tested beyond his wildest imagination.

When my own shaky sanity is being challenged by the image of my grandson in a car, it is then I need to get a grip on reality, imagining him making wise decisions as he navigates along bumpy roads, seat belt attached, his vision clear, hands steady, and instincts well-intact.

For now, however, the heady excitement of owning a driver’s permit is all that matters. He’s a typically normal and engaging adolescent - if sometimes cocky –who now has the goods to prove his worth. For a while, he needs to luxuriate in his newly acquired sense of achievement.  He has made the grade as a full-fledged member of the Big Boys club. And I, a minor player in this scenario, have become the target of his amusement, as he pushes his permit in my face, assuring me he’s got it all under control.

“Look,” Andrew taunts me, whipping out the plastic card with his photo, more to provoke than to show off. “Need a ride?”
“Not quite yet,” I tell him, “but I am looking forward to having you drive me around town soon.”
“In style,” he tells me. “I’ll be your personal chauffeur.”
Dare I mention that thought is driving me just a little bit crazy?
"No worries, " he tells me, offering up the trendy comment of the day.
"OK," I say, as I silently sit back, trying to sound supportive.

Back when I was a teenager growing up in Passaic, my parents worried plenty, but the world was less out of control than it is now. Getting behind the wheel of my dad’s car was about as exciting as my life could get.  Before I was allowed to venture forth, I was lectured daily about the responsibilities attached to that privilege and I honored it with the respect it deserved.  But teenagers break rules, and I had my share of bumps and dents along the way.

It was during that time of my life that my dad, Benjamin Katz, was indulging his fancies in his way as I was indulging mine. Once a man whose preferences were Buicks and Oldsmobiles, he suddenly morphed into what could only be described as his bon vivant phase.  This translated by way of his purchase of a Cadillac Eldorado, a car so antithetical to the dad I knew, and which I dubbed “The Monster,” with its fancy wings and jet-black exterior.  A car so grossly humongous in size that it hardly fit inside our garage.

It was also the car in which I was taught how to drive. Off dad and I went to Passaic Park, a few blocks from our house, where I, propped up on pillows so I could see the road, sat behind the gigantic faux marble mahogany steering wheel while dad barked out a medley of orders:
 “Turn left.” “Turn right.” “Stop at the yellow light”, “slow down at the stop sign,” and his favorite, “what are you trying to do…kill us?”

But after a few months, where we both survived, I was ready to take my driving test, proving I could even parallel park and maneuver a few miles of highway driving, while the neighbors looked on, fearing for their lives when I hit the road with arrogant self-assurance and moxie.

But even more than learning to navigate an auto, was in that Cadillac, dad - my mentor and instructor - and I  shared pivotal father/daughter moments en route to successfully passing my driver’s test, and to my mother’s chagrin, being issued a license. 

Passaic had survived another restless teenager’s rite of passage.
Similarly, and fast forwarding, Andrew at 27 has learned a thing or two, and he has evolved into an excellent driver, as has his sister Caroline, now 26. 

“Remember when you took the car for your first spins?” I remind them, “when you thought you were the coolest kids in town?”
Andrew tosses me a look.
“I never thought you’d survive my adolescence, grandma,” he says.
Caroline chimes in. “Face it, grandma,” she says, “you were a nervous wreck.”

“But I made it,” I say proudly, thinking back to when I drove my parents crazy.  Now all I need to do before I leave this world is making sure my grandchildren glide gently through their adulthoods, safely, productively and happily intact.  

 As for me, I’m still trying to get a grip.
My daughter Lizzie and grandchildren
daughter Lizzie and my grandchildren Andrew and Caroline in their pre-driving days.
Grandma Judith and grandson Andrew
1960 Cadillac Eldorado
Mr Cool Andrew