My life has been riddled with catastrophes. Some of them I walked into unwittingly. Some I caused. Some are exaggerated for the sake of a bonfire tale. Some you can’t exaggerate enough. There was a sizable one when I was 2 and another when I was 10. The first of them was definitely not my fault. The second, well, it was also definitely not my fault, though perhaps slightly harder to prove.
All I will have to do is tell the story.
None of it was my fault.
In September 1973, I was 2 years old. I was closer to 3 really, but still very much an unlicensed driver. My online dating profile might have read something like: Great smile, speaks broken English, recently potty trained, enjoys cuddling, good fine motor skills, especially good with busy boxes.
Who even knows what a busy box is anymore? Now our 2-year-olds can swipe at Netflix and bring up the latest episode of Daniel Tiger. Then, we swiped at busy boxes that had plastic levers and rotating knobs and dials. I had the Kohner 1971 Busy Box. I could drive that thing like a herd of cattle. My parents knew this. After all, they provided me with it. I didn’t have a job.
For a toddler, I was skilled. Sometimes people underestimated my skills. One Wednesday night in particular, I was severely underestimated. And for a 4 minute period, I was also severely undersupervised.
We were trying to leave for church. As usual, I was the only one ready, waiting around for the others to get their junk together. The car had been having some engine troubles, so my dad had started it, popped and propped the hood, and left it idling so it would be good to go. My mom was trying to help my brother get his shoes on and my dad ran back in the house for the BIbles. I was standing on the front lawn waiting. Waiting.
Then I saw the car there. It was idling–waiting just like I was. My legs were kinda tired. I was carrying a little extra weight in the thighs at the time. That vinyl seat looked cozy. But that’s not what really attracted me. The real attraction was the steering wheel. I loved me a good steering wheel. I didn’t know what was taking them so long, but I climbed into the front seat to wait them out in comfort. I was shorter than the average adult, so I had to get on my knees to see over the steering wheel. Even on my knees there was nothing to see, as the raised hood was blocking my view of the house. Still no family. I put my hands at 10 and 2 and pretended to head into town, taking the corners nice and slow. But nothing was really happening and after a couple of minutes, my busy box instincts kicked in. I reached for the gears.
These days, a 2 year old reaching for gears isn’t going to get them far. Your foot has to press the brake to set a lever in motion. In 1973, all you had to have was one free hand and some gumption. I had both. I put my left hand at 12 o’clock and wrapped my right hand around the cool plastic of the knob that was sitting in Park. If they weren’t going to come to me, I could go to them. With a downward yank on the lever, I put my simple plan into motion. It had been idling high for 10 minutes, so the sage green Buick lurched forward with awkward power, racing through the boxwood bushes that were trying to line the sidewalk and hopping the 6 inch lip of the porch with ease. From there, it was a short journey through the plate glass window. I don’t remember the impact, but I’m told it sounded like a train wreck. My mother dropped my brother’s shoe and came running. My father dropped the stack of Bibles and came running. My brother stayed right where he was and screamed loud enough to be heard over the shattering glass. I climbed out of the car, with the door still open, and was walking circles on the lawn crying.
They thought I was dead.
Of course I wasn’t.
Only the plate glass window was dead. And the hood of the Buick. And maybe the boxwoods.
When they found me most definitely alive, they scooped me up and celebrated. And when the celebration settled down from the panic, my dad gave up all hope of making it to church and rifled around for the Insurance Company’s contact info. I’ll bet that was a fun call to make.
Insurance Guy: Wait, WHO was driving the car?
Dad: Our daughter was.
Insurance Guy: Sir, your daughter isn’t listed on your policy as a driver.
Dad: I know that. She’s 2. It was an accident. She doesn’t drive.
Guy: Toddler, driving. (he was muttering while writing in his file)
I never saw my 1971 Kohner Busy Box again. Maybe it was because my Dad threw it out, deeming it too dangerous to my development. Maybe it was because I outgrew it, having tasted the raw power of a real gear in a revved Buick. Either way, Insurance Guy replaced the windows, but not the bushes, and raised their premium, citing Gross Neglect and Child Endangerment with a Motorized Vehicle.
I made that last part up, but I know for a fact that I was cleared of all wrong doing. It’s all the in the file.
It was definitely not my fault.