My grandfather bought his driver’s license with a jug of moonshine, and then he taught my mother how to drive

Tracey Folly

*this is a work of nonfiction as told to me by my mother based on actual events that she witnessed and experienced personally

In the 1950s, my grandfather exchanged a jug of moonshine for a driver’s license; so it was no wonder that he taught my mother the wrong way to handle a yellow traffic light.

My grandfather was a nervous driver. He was so nervous, in fact, that when it came time to get his driver’s license, he resorted to an unusual way to get the job done. Rather than go through official channels, he bribed a man at the Department of Motor Vehicles with a jug of moonshine.

While I wouldn’t recommend pulling a stunt like that now, it just so happened to work back then. There were no computers, very little oversight, no way to know that one man had exchanged one jug of moonshine for one driver’s license.

In other words, no one was any the wiser.

That’s how my grandfather ended up with a car, a driver’s license, and three teenage daughters on the verge of earning their own driver’s licenses by virtue of their driving skills alone. My oldest aunt got her driver’s license first of the three sisters. So she decided to teach their father, my grandfather, how to drive.

My aunt would encourage my grandfather to leave his pipe, and his overstuffed living room recliner, and the television set that caught exactly two channels in black and white to go riding up and down the street under her expert guidance. He never really got the hang of it despite my aunt’s best efforts.

In time, my grandfather became an adequate driver, but he never became a good driver. He was obsessed with timing his approach through a series of traffic lights so that every light was green when he drove through it. When the lights were yellow, he drove faster.

He was a great believer in clearing the intersection, whatever it took, or at least that’s the way he taught his middle daughter to drive. My grandfather’s middle daughter just happens to be my mother, and my mother said he was very explicit about driving through yellow lights.

You have to clear the intersection.

My grandfather taught my mother that you couldn’t drive through a yellow light too fast and that a yellow light was the perfect opportunity to bear down on that gas pedal as if your life depended upon it. Yellow lights, he taught her, were for speeding — not slowing down. That’s what red lights were for.

Although my grandfather was a nervous driver, he turned my mother into a confident driver. She wasn’t intimidated by traffic or traffic cops. She certainly wasn’t intimidated by yellow lights. That’s when she really put the pedal to the metal.

Then one day, when she was already married and the mother of one child, she made her customary speed-through of a local yellow light when a police officer pulled her over.

“My father always taught me to speed through yellow lights,” she told the police officer.

He was not amused, and that’s how my mother found out that while yellow lights are indeed intended to clear the intersection, they don’t necessarily necessitate speeding up. Sometimes yellow lights require drivers to slow to a stop, and drivers — good drivers — are expected to know the difference.

My mother learned the difference the hard way. The police officer wrote her a ticket.

She tried to tell my grandfather that he’d taught her to do the wrong thing regarding yellow lights, but he wasn’t receptive to her criticism. After all, he got his driver’s license first, and it was fair and square no matter how he got it.

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Writing about relationships online since 2009.

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