Driving Lessons



I learned to drive in a 1975
midnight blue Impala
made by Chevrolet – in the U.S. of A.
The kind with settee-seats so big
you kept a beat-up box of 8 trax
beside you with your purse;
your old man’s Mantovani,
in there with Irish pub songs and
a copy of the Eagles’ Hotel California.
The kind with a trunk so big
it could hold a couple of marked men
in cement shoes, goin’ for a cruise 
to  the end of the road.

And Daddy, he was out on a Raleigh
ten-speed;  blowin’ with the wind
on those back roads;
tryin’ to erase those days
of civil servant-servitude ;
hopin’ for a fresh start
in the Import-Export biz,
that was never gonna happen.

I was sittin’ in a schoolbus
on a patched green leather seat
readin’ a Miracle or Mystery play;
headin’ home from 4th year Uni;
when he was lyin’ in a ditch
or being lifted by a chopper
pointed towards I.C.U. —
black and blue and bloated
as a blowfish on a Tokyo platter.

Some shithead hit him
with a side-mirror he never saw comin’ ;
Left him for dead,  just like that episode
Of Mannix or maybe Barnaby Jones?

Only this one never got solved.

I sailed midnight blue Christine –
that’s what I called her – from that King book –
tryin’ to have a look down dark,
country roads I didn’t even know–
Came up with nothin’ and went home.
Mom and me, and little sis,
we were sittin’ on the piano bench
in the front room. Two cops, nice as pie,
their walkies cracklin’ with the cacklin’
of some stranger sayin’ some guy’d
been found on Sixth Line
and they’d taken him to “Mac” —
a  hospital attached to that university
where I’d been to see Martha and the Muffins
and drunk shots of Tequila for the first
and last time, cuz there was nothin’ else.

Well, you don’t want to hear it
and I don’t want to tell ya about
those years that followed.
Let’s say it was “Hell” and leave it
right there.

I remember feelin’ so free
each time I took Christine
up the street and turned right —
headin’ out for a night
Of dancin’ and drinkin’ —
no seatbelts, no MADD, no sense.
Lucky I didn’t get killed
once or twice.

One time I was seein’ a sous-chef
workin’ in a restaurant
that served up escargots
with chablis and crème brulee
for afters.  He smelled like garlic
all the time, but he made a mean
plate of eggs, scrambled, just
like my daddy used to.

He was workin the afternoon shift
so I met up with a girlfriend
at a place called “O’Tooles” .
We bellied up to the bar
and ordered some cocktails.
Mine was a “G and T”
and I swear I only had the one ,
but when I got out to the mall lot 
my head was just fuzzy enough
to forget that rule of thumb
I’d heard too many times:
“Straighten your wheels”.
So when I pulled out of her spot
the Imp’s big nose nudged the
Hot-off-the-belt beauty beside
With the pristine red paint
–Hoisting her up off the ground!

I spun those wheels to the right
so fast – edged Christine back
and watched the little deuce coupe
drop slowly to the ground.
I’m a moral person, honest I am;
in other days, I’d a got out and
left a note beggin’ for forgiveness–
phone number, insurance – the lot, but
I had a post-coma, paranoid father,
prone to rages and near-suicide,
so this ride was going to have
to stay quiet. Forever.

I learned to drive in a 1975
midnight blue Impala.
When the day came she got carted away
there was a  gap in her front grill 
a  hole in the floor
and a door so stuck you had
to get in from the other side
to go for a ride.

She took my secret to her grave.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

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41 thoughts on “Driving Lessons

  1. Wow. A nice mix of biography and poetry. So much here, nostalgia, drama, visuals. I can hear it being read. Funny, I posted a poem about my dad (PTSD WWII vet who struggled with alcoholism) today too.


  2. Kat, I think this one might just be your finest piece! Maybe because WT had an olive green 73 Impala? Anyway, this read very much like a ballad. Loved it.My dad loved Montovani, too.


  3. Well done story. And that sounds like some of my early scrapes! When I was learning to drive a stick-shift (1974) in Florida, it was raining, and I down shifted on a curve and didn't clutch properly and / or inadvertantly hit the brake. It happened so fast I'm still unclear as to the whole circumstances. But, the force of the back end breaking lose spun the Pinto around. It finally came to rest on the side of the road, backwards between two large pine trees! Didn't hit a thing and no witnesses (except for the passengers, whom I'm think had a couple of skid marks of their own … ha ha). I'm lucky to be alive and unscathed. Oh, and no seatbelts back then. Dang. What an adventure that was!


  4. This is great! Really get a sense of time and place off of it (as I do with all of your stuff that I read), but this one is even more so.Christine is such a great name for a car.


  5. Hi Coleen! Thanks. I'll check out your dad poem as soon as I can. RachelW- The dark ones are often the most interesting.Elise – Thank you. Yes. Christine, The Getaway Car and The Boat.Pamela Terry – Thank you very much!Willow – I've been in one of the olive green ones too, and my friend drove a gold one. They were great for piling in the gang and going off.Sparky – Leave it to you to have one of those misadventures. A Pinto? LOL! A friend of ours had a Gremlin – just as bad.Lauren – Glad you had a good ride. Thanks for the compliment.Lyn – You're always welcome on any of my jaunts.Kat


  6. This is a bio + poetry together. Better come up with a word that combines both. Very well-written!!! You always manage to dramatize your poems too which makes it quite addictive, frankly. Great job!!!


  7. the way you seamlessly weave thought with memories is astounding.I can't even begin to tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed this post.I want to read it again and again.Wonderful.I always feel guilty when I visit because I see how much I've missed.~mps. my word verification?Micky (my Mom's nickname for me)


  8. Oooh a dark secret! Thanks for the great ride – the radio was a bit loud, but that's the way it sounds best on a summer night with the windows open. My Dad loved Montovani too.


  9. What a great poem Kat, so deeply sad and incredibly tough about your Dad but boy what a beautiful car and the colour 'Midnight blue' sounds so cool,romantic.I love cars for the nuts and bolts of themselves, but also for the pure joy of freedom in youth that they gave.Each one, when I was young, held a place in my heart synonymous with the person I was at the time.Great memories.


  10. You could practically live in those old cars, couldn't you? All of us who survived the Big Ole Car era should count our blessings. I used to drive my boyfriend's GTO without my glasses! Jeez it's a miracle we weren't killed.Happy Tuesday!


  11. Ajay – Addictive? Wow! That's a good thing, right?Deb – Thanks Deb, you know how much I appreciate your response.Gramma Ann – I know! The secret's out, but it was a long time ago and I think I'm in the clear.Karen – Glad you enjoyed the trip.Winifred – Sometimes the dark ones just HAVE to be told.Pat – Glad to be getting reactions from readers – the car was not identical, but the size and colour made me think of “Christine”.Nanatrish – Thanks so much.Quackster – I'm glad you came along for the ride.Michaelm – I respect and appreciate your responses. You always “get” it. Thank you.That's quite a coincidence (the “Micky” – wow!)Musey – Oh, now you're making me miss those “Summer nights” – when you had the glow of the sun on your skin, skimpy clothes, sandals and sitting in the car with all the windows down and the breeze blowing through your hair. Yeehaw!Sallymandy – Thank you. I really appreciate that.Dave – There were two Raleighs in the garage at the time of the accident. My dad's was “totalled” and the I never got on the second one ever again. My dad did.TFE – Thank you! You're right – Midnight Blue was a great colour. Now I'm wondering if someone named it after the Melissa Manchester song. If they made a Porsche Carrera in Midnight Blue, I'd have to steal it.Reya – My sister and I once took “Christine” to the drive-in. We brought sleeping bags, tons of junk food and our cat along for the night!Kat


  12. I am not one for long writes (I have such a short attention span), but this I really enjoyed reading.You made me feel like I was on the ride with you.I love the: 'I had a post-coma, paranoid father, prone to rages and near-suicide'and 'She took my secret to her grave'Good write, you.


  13. I had a thing for big cars for awhile– Pontiac Bonneville, Chrysler New Yorker, Ford Galaxie 500. I second Reya's comment about how lucky we were to survive those cars.A different tone here– kind of hard-bitten– I enjoyed it.


  14. SarahA – Well I take that as I high praise if I managed to keep your interest.John – Hard-bitten? Yes. I suppose I DO feel that way with regard to the situation at that time.We had a Ford Galaxie 500 prior to the Impala. I remember many family trips in that car.Kat


  15. Quite a story here, Kat, and a gutsy telling of it. What a terrible thing to happen to your dad…..and your whole family. My goodness. We all get quite attached to those first cars we drove. In high school my best friend would pick me up for school in one of three old Impalas her family owned. Yeah, big boats, they were.Great post!


  16. Yoli! Thanks! I'll look forward to that. In the meantime, you might also like my Blasts From the Past blog.Thanks, Jeanelle. Yeah, everything in there is true – unfortunately. Mind you, the Impala was a great car!Kat


  17. oooh chilly. I have goosebumps for 2 reasons now. 1 reason being my son finished reading Christine yesterday, and we finished watching the movie on Youtube THIS MORNING morning before he went to school.


  18. Me again. Your spine-tingling poem reminded me of this equally goose-bumpy song by Bobby Gentry”A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billy JoeAnd Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in TupeloThere was a virus going 'round, Papa caught it and he died last SpringAnd now Mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anythingAnd me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw RidgeAnd drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge”


  19. Clever Pup – That's interesting because I just saw Kris Kristofferson on Elvis Costello's “Spectacle” program the night before and it definitely influenced the poem. He sang, “Me and Bobby McGee” which I had always got mixed up with “Ode to Billie Joe”. (*more shivers*)Kat


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