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?

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Comment by Etta Worthington on January 25, 2013 at 10:59pm

Thanks, Kathy, for your comments. I tend to think some secrets are important for the individual. But some secrets are dangerous and destructive.  I don't think mine were.

Comment by Kathy Purc on January 25, 2013 at 3:30pm

I too grew up in NYS, sat on my father's lap and steered our car. I remember the same kind of knob. I don't think it was  specifically for arthritis ridden hands, but common to most cars then as a tool to help turn the wheel before power steering.  I don't think there is a one size fits all answer to your question about secrets and children.  It depends on the child and the nature of the secret.  Some secrets follow us into adulthood demanding to be examined and won't leave us alone until we do. Writers have an easier time of this than non-writers, I think.


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