#136 – Driving Captain Daisy

Sophia and I were supposed to go to the movies last night. Instead, her mother again drafted her as chauffeur. I immediately expressed my displeasure, albeit irrationally: “Why are you always the one driving ‘Miss Daisy?’ And why can’t your mother learn how to drive herself?”

Sophia replied with the same exasperated tone she typically uses when answering my complaints: “Really, Richard? You think my seventy-year-old mother should start driving now? Anyway, who’s ‘Miss Daisy,’ and what’s she got to do with my mother?”

I answered the last question first: “You never saw Driving Miss Daisy, the movie about the relationship between a black guy and the old southern woman he chauffeurs around? Of course you didn’t. Well, take my word on it; you’re the black chauffeur and your mom’s Miss Daisy.”

As an afterthought, I added: “Anyway, why can’t your mom learn how to drive now? My father didn’t set foot in a car until army boot camp when he was twenty, and he became an excellent driver! In fact, never mind ‘Miss Daisy’; dad ended up driving ‘Captain Daisy.’”

To “drive home” the point, I told Sophia my father’s tale. One night during his first week of boot camp, in 1942, dad’s platoon sergeant shook him awake and ordered him to drive a captain somewhere. Dad tried to tell the sergeant he didn’t know how to drive, but the sergeant cut him off after a single “but Sarge!” and told him to get his ass to the awaiting officer, “on the double.”

Dad obviously couldn’t refuse. Nervously, he climbed into a jeep parked outside the barracks. Before his butt hit the driver’s seat, the vehicle’s other occupant, Captain John Daisy, impatiently barked: “Let’s get moving solider!”

Dad stared blankly at the vehicle’s controls, trying to make sense of them. But he couldn’t puzzle out how to start the engine, much less take the jeep for a spin. After thirty seconds, the Captain understandably wanted to know why they hadn’t departed. He sarcastically asked: “Private; you waiting for an engraved invitation? Well, here it is. Step on it; that’s an order!”

Complying with that directive obviously wasn’t an option. Instead, inwardly wincing, dad confessed the truth. Captain Daisy digested the surprising news and promptly summoned the NCO. While my father glued his eyes to the steering wheel, the captain frostily intoned: “Sergeant, when I told you to send me a driver, didn’t it seem clear I wanted someone who actually knows how to drive?”

At the captain’s command, dad went off to driving school the following day. Not only did he master the intricacies of the jeep, but he also learned to operate every other vehicle in the army, including a tank! And his first passenger after completing the course was none other than Captain Daisy. The captain took a liking to him, and dad ended up driving Captain Daisy for the remainder of boot camp.

I finished talking and Sophia matter-of-factly responded: “Nice story, Richard. But my mother’s not in the army, and she won’t be climbing behind any steering wheels in this lifetime. So why don’t you plant your ass in front of the TV … while I’m off driving Miss Daisy.”


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