Wednesday, June 22, 2011


    For no good reason I was thinking the other day that the thing I miss most about being a young child may be the feeling I had lying in the back seat of my parents car at night.  I loved looking out the back window at the stars, or more often at passing streetlights or the occasional sign lit up in front of a gas station or diner.  I would always try to figure out how close to home I was by counting traffic lights, or how many left and right turns we were making.
     Those were the days when people (at least my family) weren’t as concerned with seatbelts.  In fact, the seatbelts in the backseat of our family car had long since disappeared into the space between the seat and the back cushion, never to be seen again.
     I always felt completely safe back there.  When you’re young (if you’re lucky) your dad seems like the most capable man in the world and you feel like he is in control and can protect you from anything.  I feel sorry for people who didn’t have that when they were children, and upon writing it just now, I realize why some of the people I know have serious problems stemming from their childhood, but it’s not the place for that now.
     I felt so safe that I would often fall asleep on the drive home, although I think many small children experienced that regardless of the safety factor.  Being tired accounted for a lot of it.
     Sometimes we would be at the home of friends or relatives that had no children to play with and as the night dragged on I would become cranky and bored.  When the moment came that I could finally crawl into the backseat, it felt as comfortable as my own bed.
     Sometimes my parents would take me to a drive-in movie and I would go already wearing my pajamas.  If I didn’t fall asleep by the end of the movie I definitely did on the ride home.  It always seemed magical in the morning when I woke up in my own bed with no memory of how I got there.
     True, it wasn’t always great in the backseat.  Sometimes I would have to share it with my brother and that almost never went well.  We would fidget and fight and get regular and ominous warnings about what would happen if we didn’t behave.
     The worst was when we took a car trip from New Jersey to Arizona in the early seventies. In the backseat with me were my brother and our big black lab Max.  I have many fond memories of that trip, but hardly any of them occurred in the backseat.
     One thing I did like was that we got rub-on decals for the windows for each state we went through.  Even a year or two later when they were flaking and peeling off I still loved looking at them and trying to make out the state bird of Missouri (the Bluebird) or the capital of New Mexico (Santa Fe).
     A few years back I was dating a girl with a young son and he would ride in the backseat of my car (belted and strapped in of course!) and I had the chance to see it from my fathers perspective.  He was as curious as I was looking at everything outside as it went past and talking non-stop about all of it.  He had no fear either, and he used to love it whenever we were in a big empty parking lot because I would drive the car around and around in a tight circle, just shy of actually doing donuts.  He always wanted to go faster and his face lit up with pure joy.  I would look back at him and he would smile back and I felt like I was invincible.
     I never had children and it doesn’t look like I will at this point in my life.  Who knows what other “dad” moments I missed out on.  I just know that I really enjoyed those drives knowing I was in the front seat and the kid in the backseat felt at least a little like I did when I was his age.
     Maybe that’s the selfish joy of being a parent, reliving a part of your life when you felt happiest through your own child.
     Maybe it’s not selfish at all.

© David Ferraris 2011


  1. Great writing. You took me right back to that place. Dad was invincible and I'm glad you got to feel that way too.

    Just days ago, listening to "Up on the Roof" from the Drifters I mentioned to a friend that I remembered lying in the backseat (before I had to share it) listening to that song with the windows down as we drove down Dean Street. I too was watching the street lights and occasional sign, or possibly a star when I was lucky.

    As magical and safe as the backseat was, I remember thinking that the roof must really be the place to be. Even then music had a powerful affect on me.

    Soon you came along and I had to share part of my vinyl kingdom. I'm sorry if I didn't give it up without a fight, but I'd owned it for a while and felt entitled.

    As for the trip to Arizona, at least you didn't have the dog step on your face. I wasn't as lucky.

    A couple of bright spots were the silly 'car bingo' game we took with us. It was fun until all the magnetic pieces melted in the heat. Do you remember first hearing 'Beetlebomb' driving through Oklahoma? I can't remember if it was Tulsa or Oklahoma City, but we laughed until my face hurt.

    Thanks for taking me back there.


  2. This post made me a bit weepy. I too have a great day. And as a kid felt completely safe riding in a car with him. My two sisters and I in the back seat. Me controlling who sat where and instigating fights. But mostly I remember those times really fondly. And yep, I too felt my dad was the best driver ever. He was so sure of himself, the ride was so comfortable, despite the fact we were always in big, boaty Ford station wagons. Thanks for bringing this all back. This was the first story of yours I've read, so now I know I need to keep reading.