LEARNING TO DRIVE: Titán, my dad’s brother, and husband of Aunt Mae, is the one who taught me to drive an automobile. He was also very high on my favorite uncle list — quite possibly, no not possibly—he WAS Number One. Just like Aunt Mae was Number One in the Aunt department. His given name was John, but in Spanish the “cut-short” for Tío Juan became Titán.
At the age of 14, I got a Driver’s License. With that one, I could drive all over the hills by myself, but when driving on the highways, I had to have someone with me who was licensed. The local judge, who handed out licenses, was a 4th
cousin of the Forsters. At 16, he gave me a regular license, and then I drove everybody around, and probably drove them all a little crazy while I was at it.
His auto was a 1926 Hupmobile 4-door touring model. In that era, the touring car did not have windows, instead there were sort of flaps that you could see through — maybe the see-through stuff was isinglass — which were attached when the weather was bad. This particular “Hup” had a black soft top, the body was dark,dark brown, and then some black trim on the fenders. There was no hump in the front seating area, just flat flooring where the long stick shift was located, then the driver had the gas pedal, the brake pedal and the clutch pedal. There was also a hand brake. A good “workhorse,” not too sporty, but great for a rancher in those days. Aunt Mae always had a Cadillac, and at this time hers was a 1925 big sedan, probably a Fleetwood Limo.
Titán would always take me with him —- sometimes just to go down town to pick up the mail, or a loaf of bread, or any other errand we might be sent on. Then pretty soon, when we were just going up on the ranch in back of the home, he would tell me to get into the driver’s seat, and I was in seventh heaven. This procedure started when I was around 10 years old. At some earlier time in my life he had taught me to ride a horse, so it was fitting for him to put me behind the wheel of his Hupmobile and proceed to teach me the basics of driving — he did not live long enough to see me pilot an airplane.
We would just take off and ride all over the ranch — up and down hills — but it was not just a joy ride. Once in awhile we would stop and check fences, and check the locks on all the gates — just like the old days when we went out on horseback to secure the fences and gates so the cattle would stay put. The cattle were gone now, however.
Many times, Titán would bring a rifle and a pistol so we could take a little target practice shooting at tin cans that we had brought along from the trash. We would place them on the fence posts. Our targets were never any of the live little animals that might be in the neighborhood. As soon as the shooting began, if there were any little rabbits or squirrels around they would hightail it out of there.
There was this one day that we drove all over, as usual, up and over and down the hills —no roads, just sort of paths, and then Titán mentioned that we should go over to the beach to check those gates. We didn’t always drive there from where we were in the hills. Those gates could be checked from the Coast Highway which runs along the beach below the palisades from Capistrano Beach to San Clemente. We had to drive down through a little valley that leads to the beach. This beach property was a quarter-mile of ocean front, and coming out of the valley, there is the property fencing and gate on the Highway, then you cross overli the Highway and over the Santa Fe Railroad tracks to the gate and fencing of the beach property. I maneuvered across the highway and the tracks, and Titán got out, unlocked and opened the gate and I drove through so we wouldn’t be parked on the railroad right-of-way. We enjoyed the scenery for a little while. Forgot to mention my sis, Vivian, was with us on this trek, and the two of us stuck our feet in the surf for a little while, and then it was time to get back home.
I drove the car through the gate, and while Titán started to pull the gate closed, something was happening in the cockpit!!!!!! I won’t ever really know what happened, I had the foot brake on but the car started sliding backwards down the steep, pebbled right-of-way of the RR tracks, and BANG! there was the left rear fender trying to knock over the 8 x 8 gate post. The fender did not win. Titán was trying to dodge out of the way of the way of the Hup, and Viv was absolutely scared spitless in the back seat. At least the gate post stopped the car from rolling farther back into the sand — and that would have been a terrible scene — stuck in sand and no cell phone in those days to call Aunt Mae for her to come and pick us up in the Cadi. Titán had to pull the back left fender away from the tire, and he stayed out of the car while I got traction somehow to move up onto the tracks. He got into the car without even one word, but sort of glassy-eyed —still leaving me in the driver’s seat —he may have been in some sort of shock too. After we crossed over Coast Highway into the canyon, heading back home, all was quiet on the western front … only the purr of the engine. To be quite truthful, there was no purr, just some loud noises and they were magnified due to the quiet of the passengers. We didn’t even stop for target practice.
I knew I had to report to Aunt Mae the facts of the “Fender vs. the 8×8 Gate Post” Incident at the beach, so I went on and on about how the accident happened, about the loose gravel on the steep RR bed, and me with the brakes practically to the floor board to no avail, and finally the big crunch. I must have put her to sleep with my lengthy explanation — there was no scolding — maybe she was just happy it wasn’t her car.