June 20, 2012

The Driving Lessons.

“You’re having a baby? You need to learn how to drive.”

I was 4 months pregnant and living in London when one of my more practical friends hit me with this. It was true that I’d never got my license and was happy to sit in the passenger seat while everyone drove me everywhere. But Vanessa pointed out that once that baby popped out, I would become increasingly dependent on The Huz and what if he wasn’t around? What if I needed to get somewhere in a hurry? What if I couldn’t manage the Underground or bus?

I had to admit she had a point; I might become isolated.
That thought scared me. But there were obstacles.

“Well, we haven’t got much money and driving lessons are expensive.”

Vanessa simply said, “I’ll pay for them.”

She insisted; she said it would be a gift. You couldn’t argue with Vanessa…well you could try, but once her mind was made up, that was that.

I considered it. As she was financially stable it wasn’t going to put her in troubles. So I decided to graciously accept what became known as The Driving Lessons.

* * * * *

I got my license three weeks after my baby was born. I loved zooming around London in our 1969 VW camper van with our little sweetling and our giant Newfie.

When The Huz went away on tour, I could easily shop for groceries, visit friends, and head for the doctors if the wee one ran a fever. When I suffered from post-natal depression, and everything overwhelmed me, my driver’s license got me out to mother/baby playgroups every day.

Vanessa had been right. I was ever so grateful.

* * * * *

Years passed and we moved to Vancouver and eventually Montreal. I was working full time as a producer and had a decent salary. I began to think, why not pass Vanessa’s gift on to someone who needs it? I began to search for suitable candidates…someone whose situation would mean they’d benefit from the ability to drive but who couldn’t afford it financially. I approached several people but it wasn’t so easy! You’d be surprized at how many people are actually unwilling to learn to drive.

They say they want to, but if you put it within their reach, they will shy away. They may prefer to be driven, or the responsibility of being behind the wheel is too much. People have their reasons, I guess.

And then I met Martin. Martin and Colleen were the parents of our daughter’s kindergarten BFF. We became good friends with them; we hung out, we went to the countryside together with our collection of kids and dogs, and we had some pretty great dinners. Martin rocked a fantastic salad with baby spinach, lemon and salt. Good times!

Martin did all the driving in their family as Colleen was a NON-DRIVER. Actually it was kind of a bone of contention between them.

As our friendship grew, the closer we became, the more certain I was that Colleen would be the ideal recipient for Vanessa’s gift.

You see, Martin had terminal brain cancer. It’s strange to become friends with someone knowing that you will one day lose them completely. By the time we met he’d already survived a couple of brain surgeries to remove tumors, and all kinds of radiation therapy and chemo. He’d lived longer than modern medicine said he would, managing to help raise two daughters from babyhood to children. He was doing okay… but I knew that someday he wouldn’t be able to drive anymore and that Colleen could be stranded…and isolated. The family had little money and their collective ability to work was becoming sporadic. I decided to offer her The Driving Lessons.

Colleen resisted at first, perhaps not wanting to accept a charity. But I asked her to reflect on it; I said that someday, if she ever was in a position to do so, she could pass on The Driving Lessons to someone else. And that way Vanessa’s gift could keep on giving. She agreed.

Several months later Colleen got her driver’s license. She eventually took over all the driving for her husband, their two children and two large dogs. Martin, once an Ironman triathlete, lived as long as he could and when the cancer took too much, he gently passed away at home. He is missed. I made some spinach salad yesterday and it made me think fondly of him.

Our kids are still great friends, and well into the throes of their adolescence.
And Colleen? I just saw her in her car outside our kids’ school and she honked at me.

Thank-you Vanessa.


  1. Great story!! So uplifting and sweet. Thanks for this JC!

    1. Thank-you for saying so Shelagh. This story wanted to come out.

  2. I have missed your stories, this one made me sniffle.
    Its a great idea, paying it forward.
    Trying to think now how I have been specifically blessed in a way I could pay forward!

  3. What a wonderful story JC! You truly took the spirit of paying it forward to heart and followed through. Inspirational and well illustrated ;)

  4. Great story. Makes you want to look for ways to pay it forward.

  5. Good story. I am lost as to how someone wouldn't want to learn to drive though. Driving and being self sufficient is so rooted in my family that there was never any question that I would learn to drive. I was being taught brake from gas as a toddler and sitting on my moms lap at the drive in playing with the steering wheel. The prospect of someone over the age of 15 not knowing how to drive is just so foreign to me.

    1. I think living in a city where one can depend on public transport as a part of everyday life has a big part in it. But I do know many people who don't drive and prefer not to.

  6. Man, do you know how to spin the emotions. I smiled, I giggled, I did some full-belly laughs. And then you flipped it and had me bawling. It probably impacted me a little more because of...well, you know. Beautiful story...just gorgeous.

    As for driving, I also waited to learn. I was 18 before I got my license. Even now, I HATE driving. Well, it's more like I hate driving in unfamiliar places. Frank is definitely the driver in our marriage.

  7. JC .. as several stated, this was great. Yes, there was a sad ending, but I loved the story and your pics. Funny and creative. And the end result, just another example of paying it forward. Nice job...

  8. Beautiful. You really do know how to squeeze a bazillion emotions out of people with your words and pictures. I love how the ability to pay it forward finds you, you don't find it.

  9. That was a wonderful story JC. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Love hearing about your early motherhood days, and was really touched by Vanessa's continuing gift. At 34 and 35, my husband and I are just now learning to drive, so it kinda hits home. (We still love taking the kid on the bus though.)

  11. Love this story! I learned to drive as soon as my feet hit the pedal, but neither of my grand mothers learned to drive. You passed on an awesome gift!