January 19, 2022

‘Daddy let me drive’


            One is legal.  Another is legal, with adult supervision.  Six others—when they come to Grandpa’s—can’t wait to be 15 and 16.  They want to drive, drive anything.  And that’s what we do.  If it’s got a motor and a steering wheel, here we go.

            Daughter Emily, mother of four boys, lives in Coweta County, not far from Alan Jackson’s hometown of Newnan.  When she hears the country balladeer sing “Daddy let me drive,” she reaches for a Kleenex.

            Ahhhhhh, the memories.

            An old Jeep—waiting to be restored—sits under the barn, collecting dust with the memories.  Emily and her brothers, Alan and Eric, wore out the dirt roads on our place in that Jeep.  Just looking at it, I can hear Alan Jackson singing, in his rich baritone, “... I’d sit up in the seat and stretch my feet out to the pedals, smiling like a hero that just received his medal.”

            I also remember the day Eric was playing in a basketball tournament in Rome.  We decided mastering big-city driving would be Emily’s ultimate driving test.  She started out excited, and she navigated I-85 just fine.  But then came I-285.

            Emily championed about 10 miles before she turned on the blinker and pulled to the shoulder of the chaotic North Atlanta loop.  Tears the size of marbles tumbled down her teenage cheeks.  “I don’t care if I never drive again,” she wailed.  The last time I was in Atlanta, sloshing through six lanes of sideways rain and disruptive road construction, I didn’t cry.  I just wished someone else was driving.

            But when the youngest of the grandchildren are visiting, they want to drive.  There’s a race to see who’s first behind the wheel.  A small ruckus erupts. I am the referee, establishing the who-drives-when roster.

            When warm weather permits, gasoline or diesel isn’t required.  I keep a couple of batteries charged for the trolling motors. Around and around the pond, they guide the pontoon boat or flatbottom fishing boat.  Over the squeals and laughter, I hear Alan Jackson, “…  just a little lake across the Alabama line, but I was king of the ocean when daddy let me drive.”

            Now that Mother Nature has sent us shiver season, the boats are in dry dock.  These days, I’m likely to hear, “Grandpa, can I drive the tractor?”  Thank you, Lord, for an enclosed cab.  I sit way back in the seat.  A pint-sized farmer is between my legs and steering us from fence line to fence line.  There’s always the plea, “Grandpa, can I do the pedals?” 


But in my farm truck, if they’re sitting between my legs, I say, “OK.” 

Invariably, the next question is, “Grandpa, can I gas it?” 


Well, sometimes, if we’re on the driveway’s asphalt straight-of-way with no trees around, I nod, “OK.” 

The squeals last for every inch of the 50-yard stretch, and then I give my standard speed-kills sermonette.

Yep, just the other day, 9-year-old Bayard “gassed it.” On cue, there was Alan Jackson, again, “…  maybe one day they’ll reach back in their file and pull out that old memory and think of me and smile.”

Uhhh, Emily.

You got a Kleenex?