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My Brother Louis Measures WormsAnd Other Louis Stories
By Barbara Robinson
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Barbara Robinson
All right reserved.
Louis at the Wheel
I was ten years old when my little brother Louis began driving my mother's car, and by the time I was eleven he had put over four hundred miles on it. He figured out that if he had done it all in one direction, he would have landed in Kansas City, although I'm not sure he allowed for rivers and mountains and other natural obstacles.
I also wasn't sure that my mother was really as astonished as she said she was when all this mileage came to light. And, in fact, she finally acknowledged that she probably knew what Louis was doing, but she just didn't believe it.
"It was like one of those dreams you have," she told my father, "that seem so real when you wake up. Let's say you dream that the President of the United States shows up for dinner. And you say, 'Oh, I'm sorry. All we have tonight is meat loaf.' And he says, 'That's just fine, Mrs. Lawson. Meat loaf is my favorite. Do you cook it with bacon across the top?'"
She hurried right on before my father could comment on the story so far. "Now, when you wake up, you know it was a dream. You know perfectly well that the President of the United States didn't come to dinner, and isn't going to come to dinner. But if he were to come, you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he would say, 'Meat loaf is my favorite. Do you cook it with bacon across the top?' . . .
"That's the way it was with Louis and the car -- as if I dreamed that he was driving the car, woke up and knew absolutely that he wasn't . . . but if it turned out later that he was, I wouldn't be surprised."
My father said that was the wildest kind of reasoning he had ever heard in his life; that dreaming the President came to dinner had absolutely nothing to do with why Louis, at his age, was driving up and down the street and all over the place. He also said that anyone who dreamed about meat loaf probably needed to get up and take some Alka-Seltzer.
"Well . . . you don't like meat loaf," my mother said.
This was a good example of how her mind worked, and to say my father found the process mysterious is an understatement. He never understood her brand of logic, but at least it never surprised him.
Nor did it surprise him to learn, when the whole thing was sorted out, that it was Mother who first told Louis to drive the car -- though of course she didn't say, "Louis, go on out and drive the car. Pull the seat up as far as it will go and sit on one or two telephone books."
Mother was not that casual about cars and people driving them, probably because she didn't learn to drive till she was almost thirty-five years old. As a consequence, she never enjoyed driving and would go out of her way to avoid it unless she absolutely had to go someplace and there was absolutely no other way to get there.
She was, therefore, dismayed when my father bought her a car for Christmas. It wiped out her number-one excuse.
"Now you won't have to depend on buses," he said, "or other people, or using my car. I hope you like the color. Do you like the color?"
Mother said she loved the color, that it matched the living room. This was very much on her mind because what she really wanted for Christmas was a new sofa, which would also match the living room.
My father led her in and out of the car, showing off its many features, while Mother oohed and ahhed, stuck her head in the trunk and under the hood and nodded knowingly at the mysterious innards coiled up there.
It was a difficult performance, since all she asked of a car was that it would start, keep going and stop when it was supposed to -- and that she would not have to drive it very much.
But there was worse to come. Having provided Mother with the means of mobility, my father wanted to hear all about how she was enjoying it.
"Well, where did you go today?" he asked every evening, and he was always disappointed if she hadn't been off and running. So she had to lie, which she didn't do very well; or tell the truth, which was not what he wanted to hear; or hedge, by saying she was sick, or worn out or cleaning the oven.
In view of all this stress, it was probably not surprising that she should absentmindedly tell Louis to pick me up from my flute lesson on a day of complicated comings and goings. My father was out of town; Mother was leaving at noon with her friend Ada Snedaker to go to a flower show forty miles away; I had missed my regular flute lesson and, hence, my regular ride.
As we ate breakfast that morning Mother tried to work all this out: "If I drive to the flower show I could leave early and get you at your lesson -- but I can't fit all the plants in my car. Your father won't be home till after nine o'clock. The car will be here but what good is that? I suppose Louis could pick you up, he gets home from school at three thirty. . . ."
"All right," Louis said, but nobody heard him -- and of course my mother didn't really intend that Louis, not yet eight years old, should drive her car all the way across town and get me at my flute lesson. She was simply thinking out loud, dissecting a problem: people who must be picked up; plants which must be transported; cars in which to do all this; and people to operate those cars.
Excerpted from My Brother Louis Measures Worms by Barbara Robinson Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Robinson.
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