I didn’t want to learn to drive, I was afraid of being in charge of a large, heavy, contraption which could cause so much damage, perhaps hurt or even kill someone. But everyone drives, they said. It’s very useful, you can get so much more done in a day, not be dependent on public transport, go wherever you want whenever you want.
When I reached 17, the legal age for driving in England, my father tried to persuade me to take driving lessons. He promised that as soon as I’d passed my test he’d let me have the little old green Austin car my cousin drove when she passed her test. He’d have it overhauled, and then it would be mine to drive. TLL 869 – that was the number plate. I remember it after all these years.
Until I was 23, I managed to withstand all the hints, prompting and inducement to enroll in a course of driving lessons. Then I finally agreed to contact the person who had taught a friend to drive. He was called, appropriately, Mr. Teacher.
I had a course of lessons, and painstakingly studied the Highway Code so that I would be able to answer any questions on the theory of driving the examiner might ask me.
Mr. Teacher was quite patient, but I sighed inwardly as my prowess was slow to improve. I finished the course, took the test, and failed.
My father took it quite well, and just said, “Never mind. Have some more lessons, get some more practice, and already book your test.”
My next test was booked for Thursday, August 17, 1967. I couldn’t have known when I was given this date, and not one later in the month, what siyata dishmaya I had received.
It had been very stressful for our family ever since my mother was diagnosed the previous November with a form of cardiac disease which had kept her almost totally at home. Her cardiologist in Manchester said there was nothing that could be done apart from medication which would ease her symptoms but not restore her to the active life she had formerly led. My father, himself a heart patient for several years, suffered a heart attack the following February and had to stay in the hospital for several weeks.
It was a crisis and, as an only child, I had to take charge of the situation. There was no one else, no aunts and uncles to rely on.
I gave up my job, and my days were spent looking after my mother in the mornings and evenings and going to the hospital to visit my father each afternoon, either on two buses or in an occasional cab. I began to wish that if I had listened earlier to my father’s promptings about taking driving lessons, it would have been so much easier, saved so much time and energy.
My father came home to convalesce. I made Pesach for the three of us. And then, just after Pesach, something of a miracle occurred, we had a huge amount of siyata dishmaya.
My parents were friends with a family with a relative in London who ran a medical research laboratory. He at that time was working with a team which was beginning to do open-heart procedures on an experimental basis. My mother was assessed by the surgeon as being suitable to undergo the procedure. My father was with her through all the preliminary tests and then the operation, and went to the hospital each time. I had returned to work, and joined him on Fridays to Sundays.
My mother, thanks to Hashem and the skill and care of the medical team, made an amazing recovery. She returned home and, for the first time in many months, was able to walk about in the garden, do some cooking and even light housework. She was grateful to Hashem for each day. But my father went downhill. It had been too much for him, who had only so recently recovered from his third heart attack.
The months of summer passed, and I now worried more about my father, as my mother seemed to be doing well. They decided, in August, to go away for a few days, to enjoy the bracing sea air in Blackpool, about 40 miles away from Manchester. They booked a room in a hotel there for a week, from Thursday, August 17.
I had my second course of lessons with Mr. Teacher and somehow felt more capable and confident in my driving. The car was waiting for me in the driveway, for my father was sure I’d pass the driving test this time. My parents set off for Blackpool, I went to work, and immediately afterward, took the test. I passed!! I phoned my parents as soon as I got home (remember, no mobile phones in 1967) and, on the spur of the moment, said I’d drive over to see them on Sunday.
I was either brave or foolhardy to think of doing that. Just passed my test, never driven alone, a 40 mile drive, part of it over the isolated moors of Belmont…
“Don’t be silly,” my father said, “Don’t think of driving alone.”
“And if I have a friend with me, who’s been driving for a few years?”
“All right then. ONLY if you have a friend with you,”
I called my friend Sue, who agreed to come with me on Sunday.
Early on Sunday morning, the phone rang. It was Sue. She couldn’t come after all.
However, I phoned the hotel and told my mother we’d be arriving at about 12.30.
I didn’t want to tell her the truth, that I’d be driving alone. She told me that Daddy hadn’t been well during the night, but was feeling better and resting in bed. I was more determined than ever that I must go over to Blackpool to see them.
I set off, the drive went well, I was slightly nervous as I went over the outlying moors, and I arrived in Blackpool and went straight to the hotel. My parents had a pleasant room overlooking the sea, my father was in bed, reading the Sunday papers. They immediately asked, “Where’s Sue?” and I admitted that I drove over alone. As nothing untoward had happened, they didn’t make a fuss about it. We had a nice afternoon, the three of us together, talking, reminiscing, I heard their plans for the week – nothing energetic, a stroll on the boardwalk, sitting in a deckchair looking at the sea – and plans for their return to Manchester on Thursday.
They said I should leave before it got dark, so at about five o’clock, I prepared to go. I kissed Mummy, and went over to Daddy lying in bed, and pressed his hand, saying, “See you on Thursday, feel well.”
I drove home feeling relieved now that I’d seen them. As I reached into my bag for the house keys, I heard the phone ringing. I opened the front door, went to the phone and picked up the receiver.
“Betty, “ It was my mother.
“Oh, Mummy, I’ve just got home, everything’s all right,” I rattled on and on.
“Betty,” my mother said again, “Mrs. Bloom’s on her way round to you.”
“Betty,” my mother said for the third time, “I have to tell you something. Daddy has died, a few minutes ago.”
In the shock and turmoil of that heart-breaking evening, the numbness I felt at his funeral the next day, and the week of shiva, one thought went over and over in my mind.
The siyata dishmaya I’d had enabled me to see my father on his last day on this earth. I was truly grateful for that, but it also taught me a lesson. Not to put off doing things today – as I had done with learning to drive – because you never know what may happen tomorrow.