Cars without brakes are scary, but my grandmother was scarier. She always saw imminent disaster.
When I was setting off with my dad to drive a rented moving truck from Omaha to Tampa, she asked if we were going through New Orleans. Why go so far out of the way when Nashville was on the direct route? “Because your brakes will go out in the mountains!” It was an utter certainty.
She had her reasons, having experienced plenty of small disasters. The battery that was located under the front seat of some Dodge the family owned had caught fire, and everyone jumped out while the car was still rolling.
Another time, the travel trailer came unhitched and passed the tow car on the way to oblivion. And then Aunt Mary cranked too hard on the wheel of her first car with power steering, a 1951 Chrysler Saratoga, and flipped it.
Disaster lurked around every corner. A few years ago I drove a ’51 Saratoga in the Carolina Trophy rally. The brakes faded so badly, I couldn’t have stopped that thing before the Tennessee line. But scary? I could veer off into a tobacco patch if necessary.
What has always scared me is the memory of her leaning across the front seat of her ’59 Imperial after I’d gotten out, asking through the open window, her eyes agleam as she planned misery for this eight-year-old, “Would you like to play the trombone?”