Remembering the one and only Marie of Marie’s Driver Training.

November 24, 2020 | | Headwaters Nest

Sweet freedom was just a car key away when I was turning 16. The metallic jingle made as the keys and their mysterious chains and baubles dropped into the dish at the back door called out to me.

In those days, new drivers could get their “365” on the day of their birthday. Writing the test successfully gave you 365 days to get your full licence, no restrictions. It was a rite of passage – the lineup and small desk, the 45 minutes of sweaty check marks on the one test that you truly cared about passing. The official collected your test, and returned what felt like hours later with an expressionless face to present a document stamped “Pass.” Walking out, “Can I drive?” was a common refrain.

We were a driving family. My parents encouraged me to get my licence as soon as possible. They had been driving me in and out of town from our farm in East Garafraxa for years, and were more than ready for a break from the parental taxi service. My dad commuted and loved cars. He had a mechanic’s licence and worked for the Ministry of Transportation, specializing in safety and compliance with the Highway Traffic Act. In his eyes I had no excuse for not being a perfect driver. Cars came and went from our driveway and shed all the time. Add my brother’s cars and motorcycles, and it’s no wonder my mom regularly rolled her eyes and declared, “This place looks like a used car lot!”

As soon as I had my 365, I booked my road test. It was a mere three weeks later. That’s how it was back in those days before graduated licences. I got practising with my parents and friends. I even drove the farm truck around the fields – anything I could do to get some kilometres under my belt. The test date came before I knew it, and I passed! I was admonished, but forgiven, for one mistake: allowing my bumper to cross a sidewalk by a foot. I’ve never made that error again.

And then I was free. Sixteen and a small folded licence in my wallet, waiting for the permanent one to arrive by mail. Did I know how to drive though? Not really. To lower my insurance rates, I enrolled in driving school. It started in the fall with the one and only Marie of Marie’s Driver Training.

Oh, Marie! What a character! She was funny and exuberant, and strict and eccentric, all at the same time. Eternally tanned, with dyed blonde hair and gold clinky necklaces and rings, she was perfectly suited to Florida beaches with a frilly drink in hand. Into her car we hopped, three or four of us at a time. She rode the brakes from the passenger side and watched in her own rear-view mirror. Around and around town we went, Marie’s sing-song sayings and accent chiming in our ears.

“I Smell a Stink!” she’d announce to any kid who got in smelling like cigarette smoke or teenage pong. Then she’d emphatically douse the air with her perfume.

“Ching-Ching-Peek-a-Boo!” was her instruction to put on your indicator lights and check your rear-view, followed by “Mirror-Signal-Shoulder-Check!” before changing lanes.

“Hand Position – 10 and 2!”

“25 Cents for Dry Steering!” with a rattle of her coin purse for you to donate to future repairs.

Marie set us all off on the right road – defensive drivers before the term was coined. “Where would you go,” she would ask us, “if that truck crossed the line?” or “Watch for falling things!” We thought the last was hilarious, until we became adults driving the 401 and consciously looking up for kids’ hijinks on the bridges.

The final driving trip with Marie was to Guelph – long stretches of road to get your speed up, a bit of highway driving, reading unfamiliar signs and navigation. We all looked forward to it, teenage nerves rattling and everyone yelling, “Ching-Ching-Peek-a-Boo!” The reward was a surprise stop for ice cream when we reached our destination – Marie’s treat.

I can guarantee that many years later, Marie’s chimes still ring in the ears of hundreds of drivers cruising these hills. My love of cars and driving grew with every after-school lesson as I waited out front of the high school for her champagne-coloured car to pull up. She introduced us to the wild world of adulthood, not just driving. Signs, symbols and sayings, smells and sights. Danger. An open road and the joy of a road trip.

I saw Marie one time in the grocery store. She looked exactly the same – tanned, a little older, a radiant smile outlined with bright pink matte lipstick, and her unmistakeable Euro-accent as she thanked the cashier. “Marie!” I wanted to yell, “10 and 2! I’m teaching my son now! Ching-Ching-Peek-a-Boo!”

More Info

Get outta town!

Winter blahs and feeling “shack-wacky”? Get out of town with Google Street View and Google Earth. You can visit many world-famous places – the Grand Canyon, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, inside CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), or even just a virtual trip down the QEW to Niagara Falls. Lots of fun can be had connecting with towns and cities around the world, monuments and landmarks, and even our own rural roads. Both exploration sites allow for crowd-sourced contributions – a great opportunity for your homeschooled kids embarking on geography or photography projects.

New driver supports

“When you arrive at a four-way stop at the same time, the vehicle approaching from the right has the right of way?” True or false? Get your young drivers ready for their written driver’s test with the online version of the full Driver’s Handbook and sample test questions for the G1. Information for the Level 2 in-person driving test is housed there, as well as driving schools approved by the Ministry of Transportation. ontario.ca/document/official-mto-drivers-handbook

We Are Hockey​

Starting early 2021, a travelling exhibition highlighting the many contributions of people of colour to our very Canadian sport of ice hockey will be coming to Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA), in partnership with the South Asian Studies Institute. Watch for this digital experience for your hockey-mad family – but don’t expect just the regular historical figures we know and love. The exhibit also takes an in-depth look at many people who have contributed to the sport but are often erased from mainstream recognition, raising awareness of diversity, inclusion and exclusion in Canada’s national sport. pama.peelregion.ca

Download the Covid app for your kids

If you haven’t already done it, consider downloading the Covid Alert mobile app – on your own as well as your kids’ devices – to protect yourself and your community. The app uses Bluetooth technology and does not share personal information. When enabled, users will get a phone alert if they may have been exposed to Covid-19, and info on what to do next. It’s free, voluntary and works best the more people download it – at the time of writing, over 4.5 million Canadians had. covid-19.ontario.ca/covidalert

About the Author More by Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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