Sunday, January 18, 2009

Driving Lessons

Ah yes, life was good for the kid. As usual, he was visiting his grandparents in Arkansas for the summer. Back home in California, he'd have to wait until the age of fifteen to get a learner's permit, but here in Arkansas, the minimum age was thirteen, and that little piece of paper was burning a hole in his pocket.

His grandfather was a patient driving instructor, to be sure. No one got in their way, either, not while they were driving Grandpa's patrol car. Grandpa was the Chief of Police in that little Arkansas town. During the kid's third lesson, he chased a speeder and watched, smugly, as his grandfather wrote the man a ticket.

The kid was the man that summer.

One hot, lazy afternoon, they sat in the patrol car watching for more speeders. The kid's grandfather was quiet that day, until he asked, "You still going to church when you're back home in California?" "No," the kid answered. "Mom doesn't make me go anymore." "You still let your grandma drag you to church while you're here though." The kid thought for a moment. "Yeah. It seems like an easy way to keep her happy." "Good boy," Grandpa said. They both laughed.

"The thing about churches as that they want you to believe they have a lock on right and wrong. They believe it's all black and white. It ain't. In life, you'll find lots of shades of gray when you're deciding what's right and what's wrong. Son, if you don't believe anything I've ever told you, believe that."

The kid looked at his Grandfather. The older man usually met his grandson's eyes when he made a point, but he continued to gaze straight ahead. "When I was a new deputy sheriff down in Brownsville, we had a little . . . event. There was a new kid on the force. Everybody liked him, and he loved his job. One day he pulled over a drunk. He thought the drunk was pulling a gun on him, and he shot him dead. He found a baby crying in the back seat. What he didn't find was a gun."

The older man paused. His jaw clenched for moment. His eyes looked far away. Then he came back.

"Two senior deputies showed up. The kid told them what happened. They told him to go sit in his car and keep quiet. When the sheriff himself showed up, he found a revolver in the dead man's hand. The senior deputies told the new kid to shut up about it and forget it ever happened."

The grandfather cleared his throat. "Was it the right thing to do? I don't know. The man was a good-for-nothing drunk who beat his wife and kids. The kid went on to have a good career, and got commendations for heroism. He never talked to those senior deputies about that day, and they never mentioned it either. Was it the right thing to do? You tell me."

Except the kid's grandfather wasn't looking at him. He was gazing off into space, into another time.

"Grandpa?" "Yeah." He wanted to ask was it you? He didn't.

Ten years later, he attended his grandfather's funeral. He walked from the service to his car. He sat at the wheel thinking of that day, and about having never asked the question.

He drove away. He felt at peace. He pondered that sometimes, the truest path didn't follow the truth. Sometimes the truest path could be found in the not knowing, wrapped in shades of gray.


  1. Excellent first entry, Hal, and a large congrats on the new blog.
    What I especially enjoyed about this entry was it's timeless quality. It could have been today or it could have been in the 50's. Really great ending as well, full of the patented Hal wisdom and empathy. Look forward to reading more!

  2. That was incredible. Very, very well written. I am excited to read more!!