Article by Brendan McAleer

In Ireland, having the road at a level below the fields with thick hedges as a barrier is a highly effective way to keep livestock penned in – it works about 99.9 percent of the time. As my mother would discover, with a large, airborne cow coming suddenly sailing into view, 0.01 percent of the time it doesn’t work at all.

Like most boys, I picked up my love of cars from my father. The specific rural Northern Irish expression is, “he didn’t lick it off the grass”. Lovely, but the point is valid: we take direction from the example set by our male role models, and our mothers become merely caregivers.

Mother McAleer's Driving Adventures
Mother McAleer’s Driving Adventures. Click image to enlarge

And then, sometime around your mid-30s apparently, you wake up and realize what this woman has done for you, has sacrificed for you. After three decades, you perhaps start realizing that it’s time to stop taking her for granted. You start asking questions, and listening to the answers.

Which is how we end up here, in 1976 County Fermanagh, with a fairy-tale-challenged heifer on a terminal approach vector with Mom’s tiny white VW Beetle. Perhaps the bovine in question had eaten a volume of nursery rhymes or a Jasper Fforde novel. Perhaps it was simply inspired by NASA’s on-going Apollo missions: whatever the case, what goes up must come down and Bessie careens off the Bug’s front bumper and then trots off down the road, somewhat chagrined.

Sensibly, my mother flagged down a following motorist as witness, as she knew no one would ever believe what had just happened. She wasn’t exactly an experienced driver and showing up with a prominent dent in the right fender – oh sure, a cow jumped on your car, riiiight

Mom didn’t learn to drive until she was 28. As a small girl, she’d been crammed into the back of another VW Beetle with her four younger siblings and my grandfather and grandmother up front. Her first real experience with a car was driving home from a dance with my father and two other nurses in a Morris Minor, which she diplomatically describes as “not healthy”.

At every stoplight, the car would expire, and the three nurses would have to leap out and push-start the Morris across the intersection. As the ladies were dropped off, soon there were two nurses, and then just one. She sat in the back, just in case my father got any funny ideas.

Mother McAleer's Driving Adventures
Mother McAleer’s Driving Adventures. Click image to enlarge

Then, as a happy dating couple on the sands of Rossnowlagh, Donegal, my mother behind the wheel of my dad’s white MGB for a driver’s lesson. They crawl along the long beach slowly, when my father spots a soft patch in the sand – “Step on it!” he cries. “Why?” retorts my mother. “Because I said so!”

Aaaand cue the argument and subsequent sunken MG. Four burly Gaelic Football types would help rescue the stricken car, but it would be a full half decade and halfway around the world before Mom would actually get her driver’s license. She graduated to driving behind the wheel of an automatic Toyota pickup truck in my hometown of Chilliwack, BC.

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