Violetta was nervous; the icy weather before her driving test wasn’t a comfort. New York City wasn’t easy to drive in to begin with, even in 1943, and the snowy streets made it worse. Her father had lectured her and Agnes as he taught them about how to drive in New York. Agnes had driven first, and then Violetta had tried. It had taken a bit of time to get the feel for the pedals and the sensitive pressure needed to maintain a smooth ride, but she was finally feeling comfortable. Her father had signed her up for the test with a pat on the back and a not-so-comforting: “I expect my girls will do just fine!” in his booming voice. And, she had in fact believed him until the massive dump of snow and ice the previous evening.
” Well, I guess our driving test will be postponed then,” Violetta had commented to Agnes as she watched snow fall through the glow from the streetlight last night. Her father, of course, cigar in hand, had heard her.
“No, why should it be? It’s only a little weather. Shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you don’t brake!” he said with a cheerful wink.
“Right,” Violetta said. What??? She didn’t venture any other questions. After all, in her family, her father was always right. She couldn’t help the worried look she shot Agnes though.
Now as she prepared to put the car in gear, Violetta thought that maybe contradicting her father hadn’t been such a bad idea, despite the traditional Italian family taboos. The road seemed glassy with black ice, and Agnes had silently gripped her sister’s hand before Violetta slid into the driver’s seat. Violetta took her time adjusting the mirrors, lights, and seat, hoping the instructor would change his mind. He was an older man, about the age of her father, and he did look nervous.
“Alright, Miss Violetta,” he said, dashing her hopes. “Why don’t you drive to the end of the block and make a right?”
Violetta silently slid the car into gear and tapped the gas to pull out, testing the car’s grip of the road. She went slowly, much slower than usual, but there were no other cars on the road – a sure sign something’s wrong, when no one’s driving in New York City– and the right onto Pelham Bay Parkway was without incident.
“Very good,” he said, making a note on his clipboard, although Violetta wasn’t convinced there was anything for him to write down. “Now please continue to the next intersection and make another right?”
Violetta was almost to the intersection anyway, and as she made the right she wondered: Why are we just going around the block? A general store was on her right; its parking lot was completely shoveled clean but also completely empty.
“Pull into the parking lot,” he instructed. Violetta saw Agnes’ eyebrows raise in her rearview mirror as she turned into the lot. “Stop here, and put the car in park.”
Mary, Jesus, and Joseph, did I fail that quickly? Violetta thought, panic-stricken, but she pulled to a stop right in the aisle of the abandoned parking lot. She stared straight ahead as she put the car in park, waiting for the reprimand.
“Congratulations, Miss Violetta, you are now a licensed driver,” her instructor announced disinterestedly. He shook her hand.
“Thank you,” she replied automatically, dumbstruck. Never mind failing, how did I pass that quickly?
“Miss Agnes? Your turn.”
Agnes and Violetta switched seats, not saying a word. Violetta grinned when she realized Agnes’ test was simply to continue around the block until she reached their starting point. Maybe the snow had been beneficial. And what had her father meant about the brake?