I was 11 years old. I was just starting to feel a little bit haughty about my worldly knowledge and was just dipping my toe into that span of time when kids cause adults to take up teeth grinding. I was realizing that I wasn’t a little kid anymore, and I was almost in junior high! My younger sister was a mere 7 years and was still, in my opinion, a small child … much less worldly than I.

Shelley Goad, left, and her sister, who taught her that she didn’t “need the keys in the car before it will go.” Photo courtesy of Shelley Goad

On this particular day, my mother told the two of us to wait for her in the car. We were going to get groceries, and she needed to gather the baby, the list and the car keys. We did as we were told and jumped into our late ’50s Ford. I sat behind the wheel, and my sister sat in the passenger seat. We had done this many times before. We would entertain ourselves by pretending to drive the car until our mother had everything organized and ready to go.

This time, maybe because I was feeling especially grown up, I decided I’d move the gearshift to make the pretending more real. My sister watched me try to move the gearshift and said, ”You’d better not. The car will move.” I looked over with a knowing smile and informed her, “You need the keys in the car before it will go.” My reasoning might have been correct if we had been on flat ground. Our driveway, however, was on an incline. Obviously, I didn’t understand the laws of physics, but my 7-year-old sister did.

I moved the gearshift, and the car started to creep backward. TERROR! What should I do? Stop the car! Yes! I can do that. My mind was racing as I made the decision to stop the car’s progress down the driveway. I opened the door, put my left foot out and tried to stop the car by dragging my foot. The foot dragging didn’t stop the car.  But something else did – the neighbor’s house.

My sister jumped out of the car and ran inside, yelling “MAMA” all the way. I sat there, hands on wheel, foot out the door, stunned. My mother came running out of the house, carrying the baby. My father was called home from the paper mill to check the hole in the side of the neighbor’s house and the damage done to our family car. When he finished with the inspections, he turned and asked, “Why didn’t you put on the brake?”

My answer then was, “I don’t know.” Today, many years later, I might tell him that I was just a kid who thought she had the world figured out, but her younger sister was way ahead of her.

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