My grandpa was a piano tuner by trade, and he also happened to be totally blind, which meant he had to hire a driver to ferry him around to his different appointments. Once I got my license, I became his “favorite” Saturday driver. The story below is my stab at recreating one of many favorite stories he regaled me with as the two of us traipsed from job to job.
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Lewiston is located at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers in northern Idaho where the rivers converge before emptying into the Columbia River. The town sits on the eastern side of the Snake River; westward, on the other shore, lays the state of Washington and Lewiston’s sister city, Clarkston. Much like its namesake, Meriwether Lewis of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition, the small town of Lewiston, Idaho, has always attracted the adventurous. First settled by gold miners in 1861, it became the first capital of the newly-formed Idaho Territory, although it quickly lost that distinction as the gold rush turned to parts further south in the rugged Sawtooth mountain range. Despite the change in fortune, the town continued to grow, eventually becoming the site of the Lewiston State Normal School (which is still running as the Lewis and Clark State College today), where Grandpa Frank attended.
It was 1932, and included among the more recent group of adventurers were two young 19-year-olds, excitedly making their way to a dust-covered Ford Model-T sitting in the dirt lot outside the mens’ residence hall at the Normal School, situated at the top of a hill overlooking the town’s business district. It was a beautiful fall day, God’s gift in October before the coming winter, the sun shining steadily down but with enough of a breeze to make the sweaters both boys wore a little too warm. Taking a well-deserved break from their studies, Frank, at a strapping six-feet tall, loosely grasped the left shoulder of his friend Jesse with his right hand as they made their way to the vehicle. They stuck together all the way down the stairs and across the large expanse of lawn, listening to the leaves crunching satisfactorily beneath their feet, finally reaching the car itself.
Letting go of Jesse’s shoulder, Frank lovingly stroked the still-sleek black paint of the car – a 1926 Model-T Touring Car – walking around the back, trailing his fingertips down the side, until he reached the driver’s side door. Even though the nation was still in the stranglehold of incredibly hard economic times, “the Great Depression” Frank had heard it called (like there was anything great about it), Jesse’s family had managed to stay afloat. In fact, he had been granted the use of one of the family cars to get back and forth to the farm when he could escape his studies long enough to help out.
Feeling more than a slight thrill, Frank opened the driver’s door and climbed in. He fumbled his feet around the pedals until he figured out which was the accelerator and which was the brake, with coaching from Jesse, who then handed him the key. Hands shaking slightly, Frank turned the key and felt the rumbling power set his feet and hands to vibrating – whether from the power of the engine or the anticipation and accompanying nervousness about his first time driving a car, it was hard to tell. Jesse was close by at his shoulder.
“Okay. Ease your foot off the brake and go straight ahead until I tell you…”
“Like this?” Frank asked.
“Exactly! Get ready to make a 45-degree turn when I tell you, but be sure to go slow. Not yet…not yet…not yet… okay, NOW! Good, now tap the brake a little bit to slow down some… Easy over this bump…”
“Let’s drive over to Talkington Hall,” Frank suggested, once he’d become a little more comfortable behind the wheel. Talkington Hall was the women’s dorm that had recently been built on the other side of campus. Just like today’s college freshmen, they were out to see and be seen! On they drove like this, Frank listening intently to Jesse’s detailed instructions, following them word for word, all across campus, making turns, stopping for pedestrians, gaining speed on the straight ways, just like any other driver on the road. In the distance Frank could hear the blasting horns of tugboats on the waterfront just a few blocks away from campus, getting ready to make their 465-mile journey back to the ocean, back to open waters, and the freedom they represented.
“Man! What I wouldn’t do to just keep driving this thing…” Frank said, with a slight wistfulness. They had completed their tour and were headed back the way they came, back, back, back to the little dirt lot outside their dorm. As he inched his way into a large, clear spot on the end of the row furthest away from their dorm, Frank could hear the buzz of voices around him.
"Did you SEE that?!” an incredulous voice rose up above the others. “That Collins guy was driving Jesse’s car!!! I can’t believe he’d even let him try something like that. He must be crazy!!!” Around him, others agreed.
Jesse came around to the driver’s side, waiting for Frank to get out. Once again, he offered his friend a shoulder, which was gripped under a sturdy hand, and they skirted the small crowd that had gathered. As they climbed back up the steps of the dorm, they both began to laugh uproariously, Jesse with his blind friend Frank, walking proudly behind him.
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The reason for my long absence from the blog is that I'm taking a Memoir-Writing class this semester, and I've been completely buried! This paper is a scene I had to create for a longer piece that is due in a few weeks. I’ve taken the bare bones of the story Grandpa told me and tried to imagine it as it would have been. The name of the friend was long forgotten by me (if I ever knew it at all), so I took the liberty of using the name of one of his dearest friends, who was also blind, and put it in here in honor of them both. After hours and hours of research, writing, and rewriting, I finally turned in a different version of this piece. Unfortunately for me, I ultimately decided that none of this fits in the essay I'm trying to write, so it's back to the drawing board.
However, I didn't want to waste what I'd done, so I hope you'll enjoy it! I'd also love to get some feedback. Let me know what's working, and what isn't. I promise to surface again soon... :)