Growing up in New York State, the first time you could legally slide into the driver’s side of a car and take off down the road was at age 16. But something my parents never found out was that I was driving a car when I was four years old! Well, perhaps driving isn’t totally accurate. But it sure felt like driving to me.
The lady across the street from where my parents had moved when I was a baby became intrigued at what was in that baby carriage. And, my mother, with two older children to look after as well as all the behind-the-scenes details of running a church, was quite happy to let the neighbor lady have a look in the carriage.
And that was the start of my relationship with Aunt Nellie.
I don’t really know how old she way but in memory she seemed ancient to me. A tall slender woman, with hands crippled into claws by arthritis, she may have been no more than 60, but she seemed far older.
I spent a lot of time at Aunt Nellie’s house. It was much more fun than mine. For one, there weren’t two other children vying for attention. No, at Aunt Nellie’s house I was the center of attention.
She and her husband Claude had no children, and she clearly loved children. And there I was. Ready to be doted on.
There was a large dollhouse at Aunt Nellie’s—just for me to play with. And other toys.
And she let me help her in the kitchen, which I believe my mother had no patience for. I remember standing on a kitchen chair that had been pulled up to the kitchen counter and stirring a large bowl of powdered milk that had just been mixed with water. It was an important job, it seemed.
And I went places with Aunt Nellie. The trips were just errands she was running. A few miles down the road to a grocery store.
I loved these trips with Aunt Nellie because she would invite me on to her lap and let me steer.
The steering wheel had a wooden knob affixed to it. I imagine it was there because her arthritis made it painful and difficult to steer the car. So, I helped her.
I don’t think my parents ever saw this. To be clear, this was no highway. Only an infrequently traveled country road. And I was driving. Or actually steering. At age four.
Another thing I never told my parents. I went with Uncle Claude, Nellie’s husband, to the quarry. He worked for the county and was responsible for maintaining the roads. When at the quarry
, I’d watch him set dynamite and then trigger it. I imagine this wasn’t just for fun. Possibly gravel came from this venture that would be used on the roads.
I always had to stay in the cab of the truck when he was igniting the dynamite. It was pretty exciting to watch, even though it was loud.
These were secrets I kept from my parents. I don’t think I was told not to tell. I just didn’t mention things.
Many years later, with a daughter of my own age four, I wondered what my parents’ response could have been to my driving. Or being near dynamite.
These secrets seem pretty tame compared ones that some people bear from their childhood. And I wonder. Are secrets good for children to have? In ways, I think they are necessary in order to form a separate identity. What do you think?