Posted by Kathy Waller
Driving around my hometown the other day, I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw a sheriff’s department patrol car, right behind me, with a flashing lightbar on top.
I’m not accustomed to that kind of thing, not on a street I’ve always considered mine.
I’ve been pulled over by DPS officers on the highway. Twice, I think, for mild speeding, twice for an expired inspection sticker. I consider that a pretty good record for a person who’s been driving since she was ten.
I’m a good girl, I am.
If any of those officers had known how old I was when I first soloed, they probably would have ticketed me retroactively. But I was just one of several pre-teen drivers in my town. No one thought a thing about it. Our parents taught us well, and they limited our range to the business district: grocery store, post office, and Dick Ward’s ice cream parlor, all about six inches from everywhere else in town.
From years of observation, I knew whom to watch out for: drivers who reversed without warning, either crept along at ten miles an hour or floorboarded it, pulled left before they turned right (a holdover from their horse-and-buggy days), drove on the left side of highways and streets (including streets so narrow they didn’t have a left side), veered across the center line while staring intently at the car they were veering toward, rolled through stop signs because they didn’t see them, or because, like my grandfather, they thought stopping would cause a wreck.
I knew most of these drivers personally, because we were related: Dad (my grandfather) and his siblings–Aunt Ethel, Uncle Carl, Uncle Maurice, and Aunt Jessie. Although they were in their seventies and eighties, their driving skills hadn’t deteriorated one bit–they’d driven like that ever since the first Model T rolled off the line. It was in the DNA.
My father, fortunately, didn’t inherit Waller gene for vehicular autism, and he made it clear that if I had, I’d better keep it to myself. If he or my mother heard I’d done something untoward–everyone knew who I was and many would have been happy to report, including the myriad members of my father’s family, especially the terrible drivers–I wouldn’t get near a steering wheel again until I was thirty. So I had a vested interest in being careful.
I was being careful the day the patrol car flashed its lightbar.
When the deputy approached, I gave him the toothy smile of innocence.
He asked whether I was having any trouble.
“Noooooo, thank you?” Wide eyes added to toothy smile.
“Well, I saw you driving real slow and I thought something might be wrong.”
Oh. “No. I used to live over there, across the corner from the baseball field, and I’m taking pictures of places I remember.”
He replaced his deputy smile with a real one. “I see. Well, I saw you stopping and taking pictures, and I just wanted to make sure you weren’t planning to come back and break in and steal stuff.”
“I live in an apartment now,” I said. “I don’t have room for any more stuff.”
He laughed and got back in his car. I pulled onto the street, turned left at the next corner, and again checked the rear view mirror. He wasn’t following. I continued my picture-taking.
My town is changing. It has been for a long time, but now the changes are more noticeable, because many of the things I remember are no longer there, or won’t be much longer. And it seems the places and things I have the fondest memories of are the places and things that have changed the most. And that look the worst.
What’s most difficult to get used to is that only a handful of people know who I am. Bill’s daughter, Frank’s granddaughter, the little Waller girl . . . Now I’m just a woman driving too slowly–as if that were possible on those narrow streets–and stopping to take pictures.
You know that street a couple of blocks north, the one where the sign says, Waller Street? The one that runs past my great-grandmother’s house, and where the old warehouses and the seed houses and the Mobil station used to be? I could have said. That’s who I am. But I don’t think it would have made much impression.
Driving on too slowly, I considered how easily I’d gotten off. The deputy could have ticketed me for the unbuckled seat belt. If he’d asked to see my driver’s license, he’d also have asked why my glasses were on the passenger seat and not on my face. And if I’d pleaded cataract surgery and excellent distance vision without glasses but miserable distance vision with, he could have nabbed me for not going down to the DMV and having the picture updated.
Taking the what-ifs to another level, I imagined what would–not could, but would–have happened if the deputy had suggested to Aunt Ethel that he suspected her of planning a burglary.
She would have lifted her chin and assumed her haughtiest stare–which was pretty darned haughty–and informed him that she was a Waller–pronounced Wawlah.
And, wiping the smile off his face, he would have gotten back into his car and floorboarded it all the way back to the county seat–on the left side of the road.
Thanks to my friend Patsy for allowing me to take pictures of her horses. If she’d been home, I would have asked permission first. Since I was pulled over right in front of her house, I would also have yelled for her to come outside and vouch for me.
Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write (http://kathywaller1.com) and at Austin Mystery Writers (http://austinmysterywriters.com). Two of her stories will appear in the anthology Murder on Wheels, soon to be published by Wildside Press.