Monday, August 14, 2006

Julia, Lillian, & The Horseless Carriage

Now, this is a story of the ever-so-long-ago. Before Maya was born. Before Maya's Mama and Dado were born. Before Granny was born (and yes, dear child, there was a time before Granny was born). Even before Granny's Little Mama was born. Yes, ever so long ago as all of that, that all of those people hadn't even been born yet. Indeed, Granny's Papa had been born, but he was only two years old when this story happened — and he isn't in it.

This is a story of when Granny's Little Mama's mother was a young girl. You see, Little Mama's mother, who was named Lillian Upton when this story took place, was born in 1899 and Little Mama's father's sister, who was named Julia Herndon, was born in 1900 and so in 1916 they were both 16 year old girls, living out in the country between Modesto and Ceres. And in those days, people didn't have cars like they do today. No, indeed, cars were rare, and very different from the cars Maya is used to. Most people rode horses or drove a buggy or wagon pulled by horses or walked when they wanted to go somewhere. Cars were big and slow and noisy and sometimes they scared the horses, who were startled to see such strange things on the road and might rear up in fright at the sight of them. Indeed, cars were so new in those days, that they were called horseless carriages, because they went places without a horse.

So, in those days of horses and horseless carriages, Julia's father (Granny's great-grandfather Benjamin Herndon) bought one of the very first cars in that part of California. That was amazing enough, but what was even more amazing was — he let Julia drive it! Oh, that was truly amazing. To let a girl drive a car! That was unheard of in those days, but then that Herndon family did a number of unheard of things, and one day Granny will tell you more of them.

So, one bright day, when the sun was shining and all was right with the world, Julia was driving that horseless carriage, and she drove to Lillian's house and asked Lillian if she would like to take a ride. Lillian could have quite a bit of spunk, even though she was a gentle and shy person, and she would indeed like to ride in the horseless carriage; it was her very first ever in her entire life ride in a car. She wrapped herself up in a long driving coat (just like Julia was wearing), over her long skirt that came down almost to the ground (just like Julia was wearing), and she put on a hat to keep the sun off her face and a scarf to keep the dust out of her eyes and nose (just like Julia was wearing) and off she went. Those coats and scarves were needed, because in those days the roads were dirt and driving on them threw up a lot of dust and a person could be covered in dust without a coat and scarf.

So, there they were, two beautiful young women wearing long skirts and coats, with big hats on their heads and scarves covering their mouths, driving down the back country roads with the dust flying behind them, and horses being startled by the sight and sound of them. They were having an adventure indeed. And Julia decided to make it more exciting still. She told Lillian, "Something sounds wrong with this engine!" And Lillian couldn't answer anything to that, since she had never heard a car engine before, and indeed something might be very wrong with it. So, Julia, who was driving, remember, pulled over to the side of the road, and she opened the hood of the car. In those days the hood opened from the side like a louvered door, and folded onto the other side, it didn't block the windshield. So, Julia could see the road even with the hood open. And, in those days, cars had running boards on the side, that a person could stand on. After Julia had opened the hood, she stood on the running board and steered the car with one hand, and drove down the road while she looked at the engine. She wasn't even sitting in the driver's seat! She wasn't even looking at the road! There was Lillian, her first ever ride in a car and the driver wasn't even looking at the road!

Forty-two years later, when Julia was Granny's Auntie, and Granny was Joy and 16 years old, Julia told Joy this story, and she said, "Even though your grandmother acted very brave, I still think I managed to scare her." And several weeks later when Lillian, who was Granny's Grandmother Herndon, told Joy this story, she said, "I think your Aunt Julia did it just to scare me, but I never let on."

1 comment:

kenju said...

A wonderful story, Maya!