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August 24, 1913

Behind the Wheel

What a wonderful time we had today! With such a warm and beautiful day, I suggested a picnic in the country.

“A perfect opportunity to take your father up on his generous offer,” Daniel said.

“And what offer is that?”

“A drive in his brand new Daimler TE 30 Cranmore Landaulet. Your man Pippins allowed me a glimpse. “ His eyes sparkled at the memory. “ A magnificent automobile.”

“Then it’s settled.”

The cook prepared a lovely basket of sandwiches and summer fruits. Daniel placed it in the backseat, and was about to move towards the drivers door on the left when I stepped in front of him.

“Darling, how would you feel if I drove?”

“Do you know how?”

“Of course I do. Father taught me in Boston.”

“But that’s entirely different. We Brits drive on the left side of the road. Trust me, it’s quite confusing.”

“I’m sure I’m capable. Besides, I’ll have you to teach me!” I didn’t give my poor husband opportunity to argue and slid in behind the wheel.

Daniel was correct in the assessment of the Damlier’s beauty. The four seater machine was painted deep blue. It had gold spoked wheels, and, according to Daniel, a powerful, smooth running six cylinder engine.

 I always thought that I would make a good driver, and I did not for one minute believe all the nonsense about women not being suited to command a motorcar. Why, there were even mechanics shops in London that were owned by women!

Daniel cleared his throat. “Perhaps I should explain a few things before we begin down the road. Your left hand operates the gear shift, on your left foot is the clutch, your right foot will operate the accelerator and…”

Whoosh, we were off!  The roar of the engine, the wind on my face, as the speedometer edged up to forty miles per hour. The trees seemed to fly by at an impossible rate. The power that was in my hands, so unlike the handling of a horse and carriage, was exhilarating.

“The other side of the road my dear!”

“Oh mercy. Old habits die hard.”

Daniel’s eyes were peeled on the road, as if he were the one guiding the motor car. He shouted without glancing my way, “You didn’t give me a chance to explain all the mechanics of driving.”

“Don’t worry,” I said breezily. “You can tell me all of that over lunch if you like.”

“Of course, why didn’t I think of that!”

We reached the bottom of the hill and as I shifted the car into a lower gear, which was something I had observed my father do many times. There was a sudden strange grinding sound coming from underneath the vehicle somewhere as I struggled a bit to find the right notch, but I was sure it was nothing. However, I did hear Daniel suddenly suck in his breath through his teeth.

“Oh well,” he said. “The Germans build very sturdy gearboxes I am sure.”

We continued on for a few miles through the countryside. I was starting to relax into my new role behind the wheel and so I started to coax a bit more speed out of the powerful engine.

“Is there a fire somewhere?” Daniel said.

At first I didn’t understand what he meant, but after a second I laughed out loud and glanced over at him. One hand was gripping the seat and the other was holding onto his hat. His eyes were as wide as coins and his face seemed to be drained of blood.

“Are you feeling well? I said suddenly concerned.

“Oh I am fine.,” he said. “Maybe we can find a good spot to pull over and… Watch out!”

As we turned a corner a farmer’s horse drawn hay wagon was just crossing the road in front of us. The driver stared wide eyed as the wagon clattered across. I expertly feathered the brake pedal, swerved my larger vehicle to the right and then slowly applied pressure to the accelerator to straighten the car again. We missed the wagon by at least three or four feet. I reached over and squeezed the horn and laughed. This was such fun!

“Dear Lord!’ Daniel said.

“Here’s a good spot.” I pulled the car over to a nice flattened area. There was a walking path that led to a small stream in the distance and a perfect clearing to sit beside it.

“Thanks for the lesson Daniel. You taught me a lot in a short time.”

“I had a few revelations myself, my dear,” he said as he somewhat tentatively climbed out of the car.

After a wonderful time relaxing in the warm sun and nibbling away on our sandwiches, Daniel said, “I propose that we take a gentler approach to our trip back. Do you mind if I drive?”

“Not at all,” I said. “I am feeling wonderfully relaxed and I would love a chance to just feel the breeze in my face and let the day unwind before us. It’s days like this that makes one thankful to be alive. ”

“I would love to feel that relaxed, my love, but I fear it might take me a bit longer.” He put his hat back on his head and tugged at his tie. “But yes, that pretty much sums up how I feel after that drive. Glad to be alive.”

I looked at him in surprise and we suddenly both burst out laughing.

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