Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Life as I Knew It

Driving on the Left Side of the Road-Part 2
By: Jayne Garrison

All is going as planned when suddenly, Baby Noel awakens. She is either hot, hungry or wet, but our baby-sitting skills extend no farther than dipping her pacifier into a European alcohol based tonic that is suppose to take the colic away. Barbra leans over the back seat administering this aid several times, but it doesn’t work; Baby Noel keeps crying.

“You’re going to have to trade places and do this for a while,” she commands. I dutifully obey, switching places and taking over the pacifier routine. Carefully, I dip the pacifier into the bottle of liquid and poke it into the baby’s mouth. Baby Noel cries. Once again, I dip and poke, but still Baby Noel cries. By this time, her cries have aroused the attention of our audience.

“You should not let the baby cry,” they admonish in unison while pointing fingers toward Barbra, whom they have identified as the eldest and thus in charge.

“It is very bad,” one of them chides.

“Aw, be quiet,” Barbra shouts to the cloud of annoying advice that is steadily rising above the baby’s cries.
Chris, eager to help, leans out the window with a stick that he has somehow smuggled into the car with him and makes wide sweeping gestures toward the on-lookers. “Go, go,” he says. “Go away.”

The sound of his childish voice repeating this phrase in a perfect African accent suddenly awakens the senses of my big sister. “Oh, no, Chris,” she yells realizing things have gotten out of hand.

I know exactly what she is thinking. We are missionary children. We have been taught to always treat the people of our adopted homeland with courtesy and love, because we are here to help and love. We also know that Nigerians are notorious tattle-tellers and will not hesitate to report our poor behavior to our parents. With prizes on the horizons it would never do for Mother and Daddy to learn about this.  

“Stop it, Chris.  Stop it at once,” Barbara demands again.

But even as she reprimands, she is driving. Driving. Driving. Suddenly, she stops as if coming to a real halt.

“They're coming!” She shouts.

Sure enough, Mother and Daddy are making their way across the street, arms laden with packages and baskets of goods. Quickly, we all jump into our proper places in the back of the car, squeezing uncomfortably between Chris and the carry cot. Mother and Daddy look happy and relaxed, their hour away from us having been a brief respite from ordinary routine. Not surprisingly, Mother goes straight for her crying infant.

“Couldn’t you have picked her up?” She asks wiping the drool from Baby Noel’s red face. “I left a bottle for her right here. And my goodness, she’s all wet.”

Barbra and I look at each other sheepishly. Chris nonchalantly tosses his stick out the window. We are all quiet while awaiting the verdict. Has news of our driving drifted beyond the parking lot? Did someone report our rudeness? Could Mother have heard the baby crying from across the street? But it seems we are not to worry. Mother is actually glad that Baby Noel is so happy to see her and reaches for our prizes with a smile on her face. There is a Match Box car for Chris and the promised stack of British comics for Barbra and me. We reach for them excitedly, quickly recognizing our favorites and putting them on top. We are elated. Our world is perfect. We think a child could not ask for more than to drive and receive comics all in one day.
I don’t realize it at the time, but years later, I will look back on these shopping trips with wonder. Was the world really safer then, or did our ignorance of the common- sense rules that we live by today, actually shield us from the danger that was awaiting in the wings?  My children are grown now, but neither was ever left in the car while I shopped. As for playing behind the wheel? Perhaps one could describe my children’s early driving as “playing,” but even that was not started without a license. 

There is only one aspect of these childhood memories that is remotely recognizable today, and that is the pleasure of a good magazine or newspaper. For these things, I find I am still willing to give up an afternoon and work. Of course, driving to that job is no longer quite the thrill that it once was, and staying on the left side of the road, is out of the question.


  1. I started "driving" at 11ish by working the gearshift and holding the steering wheel while dad did the clutch brake, and gas on QE II highway in Ibadan. Usually this was when dad was driving the old blue Nigerian Press VW van over to the post office to pick up the mailbag. (Interestingly the press is still using the same mailbag number.)