Dream Quest One First Writing Prize Winner
Glendale, California, USA
Back in the Days
There are so many details about that day that I just don’t remember, why was I
all dressed up? Why did I get to go with my father and neither my older or younger sister went with us? Where did we go on
that day? I was four years old. I was all dressed up in a fancy dress, but I didn’t have a hat, gloves, or purse —
so it definitely wasn’t Easter. That was the only time of the year when I would have all of those accessories.
It was back
in the days when there were no seat belt laws. And cars had those bench front seats. You could easily seat three across. I
don’t remember what make the car was. (Might have been Mercury, because I remember that my parents had Mercury at one
time when I was a child.) Just that it had the long front seat and when I sat on the passenger’s side, I was too short
to see out the side window. I was sort of looking upwards all the time so I saw the tops of buildings, trees, and the sky.
I don’t even think cars had seat belts back then. And there certainly were no such things as car seats.
was a pale pink and white, with lace and ruffles on it. I loved fancy dresses, even though I was a tomboy. My favorite thing
to do was to climb trees. I would climb so high. When I think of it today, I’m so happy that I never fell, as there
was a good chance I would have broken my neck. That was also back in the days when parents were a lot less neurotic about
their kids. They let them play outside unsupervised, actually run all over the neighborhood unsupervised -- all day long.
If I was
with my dad, it had to have been a Saturday or Sunday as he worked all week. But, this was definitely a Saturday as it was
back in the days when most all the businesses in town were closed on Sundays. I think it was a law. They used to call them
Blue Laws. I don’t know if anyplace has those anymore, but it was so that no one worked on Sundays as a religious observance.
There was only one place in town that was open on Sundays. It was a family-run grocery store, and that was just in case someone
had an emergency. The only emergency I could ever think of was if you needed band-aids or medicine. You better not be buying
milk. I remember how the parents had to prepare for Sundays each week, as nothing would be open, not
a gas station. And they did not want to be seen at that grocery store as that meant they had not prepared properly and people
would hear about it.
But, back to the fancy dress... Though I
was a tomboy, I loved to wear fancy dresses, just not all the time. But when Sunday came around, or any special occasion to
dress up, I loved it. (I even loved to get my hair set in rollers or pin curls.) Every year at Easter we would get a complete,
brand new Easter outfit. With new shoes, often white patent leather, gloves, hats, and purses
-- the whole deal. I never see people wearing gloves anymore. They were
uncomfortable. You would get weird sensations in your hands, but you always felt so elegant when you wore them, even at four.
It was definitely
a Saturday as one of the stops we made was the five-and-dime. But I’m getting ahead of myself. For some reason, and
I don’t know why, my dad took me out that day. It was very unusual for it to be just my dad and me because when my dad
had the kids, at the very least he got me and my older sister. When I say, “had the kids” that doesn’t mean
my parents were separated or divorced, it just means when my dad was watching the kids. So he took me with him that day to
run errands. And for some reason I was dressed up. My parents were young. They had three kids before either of them turned
25. That’s what people did back then. And it was definitely before the birth control pill. We probably wouldn’t
be here if that had been around.
I can’t remember where we went. There were definitely a few errands but I don’t remember
where. My dad would pick me up when we got out of the car and carry me around. I loved being up high, different view of the
world. And my dad was always a nice guy. He was handsome and smelled good, and he had that spiky hair, a crew cut, which I
loved to pat my palm on, to feel the spikes. I was probably too busy messing around with his crew cut to pay attention. But
then, after he had run his errands, he took me to the five-and-dime. I definitely remember that.
Wow! The counters were high with
heavily varnished dark wooden molding around them that created the partitions for all the different “things.”
There were sections and sections of little things, I can’t even remember what they were, that went on and on, so much
to choose from. Cheap little toys, tiny tubes of lipstick, little coin purses, and the ball on a string that you would try
to flip up and catch in the cup. Jacks. (I played a lot of Jacks in my day.) Little hair accessories, pretty hand fans that
opened and closed like accordions, small dark blue
bottles of perfume with French names, super
balls that bounced so high. I never got tired of those. They always impressed me. And the place had a smell to it too. They
were always popping popcorn but it wasn’t just a popcorn smell, they had other foods in there and the smell was always
a mixture of all of them combined. Nowadays I think of it as “five and dime” smell.
My dad said I could pick out something,
one thing, anything I wanted. It took a very long time to look over everything and weigh the value of that purchase. Not only
did I have to pick something I wanted and would be happy with for days to come, I also had to pick something that my older
sister wouldn’t ridicule me for. She was like that. Whenever I got something, she would find something wrong with it.
I knew she would find something wrong with whatever I got, but I also knew if I chose the right thing it would just be because
she was jealous.
My dad was very patient. He had to hold me up so that I could see everything, pick each thing up and inspect
it. He didn’t complain once. Sometimes I think that was just before I had to go into the hospital to get my tonsils
out and my dad was worried about that. It was a serious operation then. I don’t know if it still is. But he was so patient
that day. And for someone who worked all week and had three small kids, I knew that was a very special day.
I finally chose
the paddle with the rubber ball attached by an elastic string. I knew I would get many good hours of fun out of that. It had
been between that and a very fancy, red satin, Chinese coin purse. I knew my older sister would be jealous of that beautiful
coin purse, but the fun factor of the paddle and ball outweighed my older sister.
It was such a great day, and I felt so special.
My dad knew that I was thrilled to have gotten a toy when no one else did. After I got tired of it, I would let my sisters
play with it too. That was important because they had toys that I wanted to play with. Adults think that kids are in a little
cloud of children’s daydreams but kids are very aware of the world around them. They are much smarter and more aware
than you think.
We left the store and got into the car. My dad slid me in through the passenger side window. It was down,
as back in those days, you could leave your car windows rolled down and your car doors unlocked and no one would bother your
car. I even remember my parents leaving the car keys in the ignition. That was until one day when my older sister and I tried
to drive one of the cars around the driveway -- but that’s a story for another time. My dad slid me in through the passenger
I was standing up on the car seat. He got into the driver’s seat and started the engine. He looked over at me with a
big smile on his face and said, “Do you want to drive the car?” (I never put these two thoughts together before,
until I wrote this down just now, but I guess my dad may have been somewhat responsible for my sister and me trying to drive
the car that time.)
YES I wanted to drive the car! That was probably the most exciting thing to happen in my entire life up to
that moment. I climbed onto his lap and he showed me where to put my hands on the steering wheel, two o-clock and ten o-clock,
and he began to back the car out of the parking space. He was very careful to just barely touch the steering wheel on the
bottom part so that I didn’t see him doing that. When I did catch sight of his hands on the wheel I would accuse him
of really driving the car. He would say he was just resting his hands there just in case I needed any help. I insisted that
I would not need any help steering. I got the hang of it right away. Of course it was a huge steering wheel and I probably
couldn’t have turned it myself. (That may have even been before the days of power steering.) But I thought I was turning
I never thought about the foot pedals. When I sat on his lap my shoes probably reached just past his knees. And of course,
this was back in the days when a parent could let their child sit on their lap when they drove the car. We drove all the way
home. It was thrilling -- the wind blowing in the windows because we were going so fast, at times. And I was responsible for
keeping the car on the road. It was a big responsibility and I could feel that. He explained to me not to try to keep the
steering wheel exactly still, but that it had to have a little give and adjustment to compensate for the bumps and curves
in the road.
We had this long driveway that went from the street, around the back of the house, and back out to the street
on the other side. We lived on a hill and as you drove around the back of the house where the garage was, you had to go down
hill to get to it. (That hill was what gave my older sister and me a problem that other time.) As we approached the house
my dad said that I would need to scoot over into my own seat. Probably so that my mother wouldn’t see that he let me
drive the car. She tended to scream when he did things like that. She was a screamer. I begged him to let me drive the car
into the driveway. (I wanted my older sister to see me SO BAD!) He said no. I begged more, not telling him why, just a four
year old begging. And that was enough.
He let me stay on his lap and steer the car into the driveway right up alongside
the kitchen window and he stopped the car just past there, at the backdoor. My older sister was sitting at the kitchen table
and her eyes nearly bugged out of her head. But she didn’t run outside to see. But, I knew she had seen me. I thanked
my dad for taking me out that day, for taking me to the five-and-dime and for letting me drive the car. I hopped out of the
driver’s side with my new toy and ran into the house through the backdoor, right into the kitchen.
My older sister sat at the table
eating a piece of toast with red jelly on it. She tried to pretend that she had not seen me but I knew that she had. I had
looked right into her eyes with an ear-to-ear grin on my face, even though I was steering the car. That’s the other
thing dad told me, you have to keep your eyes on the road.
“Dad let me drive the car today,” I said.
“You can’t drive that car. You can’t even reach the pedals,”
was her response.
I steered the whole way home from downtown,” I replied. “You never got to drive the car, did you?”
“I don’t want to drive the car.
That’s dangerous. MOM!”
then we were of f. My older sister yelled for my mom. She told my mom I drove the car. My mom asked my dad, in a loud voice,
if that was true. He said something quietly to her, off to the side where my sister and I could not hear him. But then my
mom yelled and yelled for a long time. I don’t even remember what she was saying when she yelled -- the words. All I
remember was how great it felt to drive the car. And especially when my older sister had never driven a car.
I sat at the kitchen table and watched my older sister eat her piece
of toast with red jelly on it. She thought because mom was yelling that I had gotten mine, but I had the biggest smile on
my face I’ve probably ever had. My mother’s yelling didn’t bother me at all and my sister could tell. I
just grinned in her face as she ate her toast and waited for her to finish so I could show her my new toy. I didn’t
want her to get jelly on