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Where are Your Children?

by David Westheimer

 

Thirty, thirty five years ago, the question I sometimes entertained was, "Do you know where your children are tonight?"  Now that I've learned, fairly recently, where my now 52 and 45-year-old sons were on some of those long-gone days, the question I now sometimes entertain is, "Do you know where your children were thirty, thirty five years ago?"  You see, it has only been fairly recently that I've learned some things about their activities in those bygone years both, as it happens, involving automobiles.
      Not too many months ago I was sitting on his patio with my wife Dody's and my older son, Fred, a Senior Vice-President at the William Morris Agency, smoking cigars, he one of his expensive, illegal Havanas and I a Mexican brand he bought especially for me because I find his Havanas too strong, and out of the blue he said, "Dad, you remember that tire rut my friend Steve made in Mr. W's yard next to our driveway?"  (I'm using only our neighbor's initial instead of his whole name because I'm not sure if the statute of limitations has run out.)  "How could I forget it," I said.  "And you remember how he sideswiped Mr. W's cyclone fence another time and caved it in?"  Of course I did.  Let me point out here and now that probably every one of us who had a teenage son recalls there was always one kid in his crowd we thought was a little crazy.  In Fred's case it was Steve.  And it may well be that Steve's parents thought the crazy one in the bunch was Fred.  But I digress.
      Anyhow, Fred took another long, luxurious puff on his Havana, regarded the ash and said, "It wasn't Steve.  It was me." 
      Fred is too much bigger than me to spank and I couldn't threaten to cut off his allowance because he makes more money than I ever did so I just listened.
      "It was when I was learning how to drive, remember?  When you and Mom were away and one of the cars was in the driveway I'd practice driving it to the sidewalk and backing it up to the garage.  Well, one time I went off the edge of the driveway and dug that big rut in Mr. W's St. Augustine grass.  Then the other time I was practicing backing up holding the door open and looking back and I went off the opposite side and into his fence." 
      I'm not sure I wanted to know this any more than I wanted to know about the time he rear-ended the police car in my new blue Ford.  I was out of town at the time, taking my two-week Air Force Reserve duty at Travis Air Force Base in California.  I was spending the middle weekend in San Franciso and called Dody to tell her when I would be coming home and to pick me up at the airport.  She said she couldn't;  there was something else she had to do that day.  I said, "Let Freddie pick me up in the other car."  And she said, "What other car?"  And then she explained about Freddie rear-ending the police car on Bellaire Boulevard and the blue Ford being pretty well mashed up.
      A few months ago,  Dody and I met our son, Eric the veterinarian
and his wife Karen, who illustrated our book Lone Star Zodiac, and their daughter, Erin, for lunch in Ventura, halfway between Los Angeles and their  home in Goleta  For some reason,  I happened to reminisce about the sports car Dody and I bought in England in 1967, a racing green TR4, when Eric was 17.  I said, "Remember we drove up in the hills for me to teach you how to drive a gearshift car and how you shifted through the gears so much smoother than I did?  Man, you really learned fast."
    "Oh, I already knew how," Eric said.
    "How'd you learn to drive a manual shift car?"
    "In your TR4," Eric said shamelessly.  "When you and Mom would go off in the other car I'd drive it all over.  You used to write down the miles on the odometer so you could figure out what kind of gas mileage you were getting so I'd drive backward to run it back to where it was to start off."  (Did you know you could do that with a TR4.  I didn't. Not until that day, anyway.)
     Remember how your kids used to say they wouldn't trust anyone over 30?  Maybe what they were really trying to tell us was we couldn't trust a teenager. 
     Now that Dody and I have reached an age when we never ask ourselves, "Do you know what your children are doing tonight?" we find ourselves asking, "Did you know what your children were doing 30, 35 years ago?" and all in all being glad we didn't.

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