There was no such thing as a drivers liscense in 1920.
Papa did not attempt to wedge it inside the carriage house but brought it to a shuddering stop just before the white wooden doors. Okaasan stood staring, holding baby Elsie in one arm and attempting to keep Ernest and I at bay with her other. Ernest, at only two and still in long dresses, remained firmly chained by Okaasan's strong grip, but I broke free. As soon as the automobile had stopped pouring smoke from its rear end I raced toward it and Papa. My head came no higher than the hood, but I was not afraid of it. It smelled beautifully new, of fresh paint, polished leather, and hot rubber. I wanted horribly to touch the gleaming paint but I dared not mar it with a single fingerprint. Instead I clasped my hands and hopped where I stood, unable to express my excitement in a less ladylike way.
"Oh papa!" I squealed enraptured, "it's /beautiful/!"
Papa smiled behind his handlebar moustache as he slid from the driver's seat and hopped down and back to earth.
"Isn't it glorious? And at half of what they used to charge! An automobile all our own that will last us years and years."
Okaasan did not look convinced. "Isn't it dangerous?" she asked, lunging to catch Ernest from racing to inspect the new monstrosity.
"Nonsense. It's made of metal! It's a hundred times safer than an open carriage."
"Horses don't burn." She put in, frowning.
"Nomiko don't be like that. It's perfectly safe and so simple. Why, the salesman told me that a child of six could learn to operate it in less than a day."
I could feel my heart swell with hope and my eyes grow wide. A child of six? I was more than ten years old, nearly eleven in fact. Perhaps I would be taught how to pilot this new beautiful green wonder. /Okaasan/, however, looked horrified.
"Are you certain? Who would let a child operate that thing?"
"It's really very simple. See here?" he said, opening the door and pointing to a trio of levers on the floor and a knobbed stick set next to the wheel. "This one near the center is the gas, it makes it go forward. This one in the middle is the break that makes it stop. This last one is the clutch, you use it with the gearshift," He indicated the lever near the steering wheel. "You press it down and move the gearshift to pick a gear and that gear determines how fast the automobile will go."
"It sounds complicated to me..." Okaasan said doubtfully, finally approaching and allowing Ernest to sate his curiosity.
"I'll teach you how to drive it if you like." Papa smiled. Okaasan blushed and shook her head.
"Oh no I couldn't!"
"Why ever not?"
"Are women allowed to drive?"
"Of course." Papa sometimes had to remind Okaasan that she was living in the West and women here had more freedom. "I passed three lady drivers on my way home."
Okaasan didn't look as if she believed him, but smiled just the same.
"Well, maybe some other time."
"May I drive it papa? I'm over ten! I'm sure I could do it!" I looked up at papa's gentle face and pleaded with all my heart. I wanted so badly to sit high up on the driver's seat, to push the pedals with my own feet and direct the beautiful machine where to go. Okaasan gave papa a dubious look.
"Maybe later." He said, reaching and smoothing a hand over my head. "Maybe later. As for right now, let's all go for a ride!"
My disappointment died at once and I hurried to scramble up and into the automobile. Papa offered his hand to Okaasan and helped her climb into the back seat before lifting Ernest up to her. Papa then offered his arm to me and boosted me onto the seat beside him. I had never been up so high, not even when seated on papa's shoulders. The dark brown leather was warm and smooth beneath my hands and I grabbed hold of Papa's arm as the machine suddenly lurched to life. It jerked and bounced backwards, its tail edging back out into the street. Papa wrenched the wheel around, bringing the nose out and pointing it towards the traffic. With a mighty shove he pushed the lever in and up and the automobile lunged forward. It was a marvelous ride, loud and dusty, bouncing along the uneven street in a carriage that had no horse. We were dusty and bruised by the time we returned but even Okaasan was laughing and smiling. It was clear she had changed her mind as she climbed down and said, "Maybe I will have you teach me to drive this contraption." In my heart, I wished that he would teach me.
Papa didn't take the trolley to work anymore, now he took the /Laubfrosch/. The gasoline cost him less and the ride was quicker. When he came home in the evening he would take me up onto the driver's seat with him and drive once around the block before edging inside the carriage house. Every night I would beg him to let me take the wheel, and every time he would smile and shake his head and promise to teach me another time. I was always disappointed, but I believed he would keep his word. He did keep it one Sunday afternoon.
We had all bumped back from church. Okaasan put Ernest and Elsie to bed for a nap and had lain down for a rest herself when Papa beckoned for me to follow him outside. I came and he boosted me up onto the front seat of the automobile with him. I had no idea where we were going. All the shops were closed on Sundays, even the grocer. Nothing was open save the churches and even they were sleepy and silent, the faithful having already returned home from the morning services. I asked where we were going but Papa only smiled and said "For a drive." That suited me well enough. I loved bouncing along on the seat beside him. Usually children had to sit in the back seat, but because Ernest and Elsie were so little and needed Okaasan to hang on to them, I always got to sit up front with Papa. I knew that would change as soon as they grew old enough and I would have to sit in the back as well, but for the moment I enjoyed it. We drove through town, past the old fountain and the war monument, out towards the country. The summer fields had been cut low and stood empty save for the huge piles of hay stacked here and there. Papa turned off the road and into the golden stubble of the fields, stomping on the break and heaving on the gearshift. He slid out of his seat and patted the place where he had once sat.
"Your turn, Edna." He smiled. I could not believe my ears. Thrilled, I hurried to scoot over behind the steering wheel. I gripped it eagerly with both hands while Papa ran around the front and took my seat. After a few moments of exultantly holding the wheel, I realized this was not going to work. I was too short by half. I knew I was little for my ten years, but taller than a child of six. And Papa had said a child of six could pilot this mechanical beast. Considering my situation, I slid down off the seat and instead stood on the floor, leaning my back against the leather padding meant for an adult's legs. I could still see over the steering wheel reasonably well and so turned to Papa for instructions.
Under his tutelage I managed to get the automobile to listen to me. It was not easy. The gas was difficult to press down initially, but once down moved far too easily. I had to learn to balance my foot halfway between the floor and the "off" position so we weren't going too fast. The break too had a difficult catch and one had to press slowly down upon it or risk giving everyone else in the car a terribly sore neck. The clutch was hardest of all. It required all my weight and strength to press it to the floor. I felt bad for Papa, having to lurch about so much, but he never scolded or yelled, only smiled and gently told me what needed to be done to correct myself. Despite the rocky start, by the time the sun had begun to sink behind the golden bales of hay, I, not Papa, was driving the car home to Weimar and our little house, smoothly as Papa did himself. I even wedged it into the carriage house, slowly, but without touching the sides of the wooden doorframe.
"Wonderful!" Papa exclaimed when at last the engine groaned to a weary silence. I laughed and felt my cheeks grow warm with bashful pride.
"I did it." I giggled, only now realizing how frightened I had been of failing. "I could hardly reach, but I did it!" Papa smiled.
"Of course you did! You're a special girl, Edna, don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. You can do anything you want. Anything. Whether driving this car or flying an aireoplane. I believe in you and so does your mother. You are the biggest little girl there is. Never let your size limit you. And never let anyone tell you you're too small or too young or too female. You are YOU. And that is worth more than anything."
"I love you Papa..." I threw my arms around his middle and he lifted me up in a thick hug, his whiskers tickling my cheek. "I promise."
*The Opel 4/12 hp Laubfrosch or "Tree Frog", so named because of its bright green paint, was the German equivalent of the Model-T Ford. It was the first vehicle that common Germans could afford, costing around 1,990 marks.