Stories I Couldn’t Tell Before: Driving Dad’s Oldsmobile


A 1972 Olds 98, four door sedan. Now imagine it forest green. That was my dad’s car.

When I was in high school, my father had this huge Oldsmobile 98. It was a big four-door sedan, the biggest car Oldsmobile made. The V8 engine could tow a boat crammed full of boxes for a summer on the lake. The passenger compartment could transport our family of six, plus our large dog, comfortably. (Well, maybe not comfortably—small kids and dog often sat on the floor of the back seat—but it did hold all of us. While towing the loaded boat.)

Only my father typically drove the Olds. My mother and I could drive it. It was an automatic transmission, had power steering and power brakes, and moved more easily than my mother’s little Ford Falcon station wagon (which is what she drove until my parents bought a Capri). But the Olds was a behemoth. Huge. A tank—and it was dark green and somewhat resembled a tank.

My class—the Class of 1973—was the last class in Richland, Washington, to have all students graduate from Columbia High School. The next year’s class was split between Col Hi (as it was called) and Hanford High School. My senior year, my fifteen-year-old brother was a sophomore at Hanford. But I had classes at both high schools that year, because the only Russian teacher in town taught at Hanford, and I wanted to take second-year Russian.

Occasionally when my father was out of town that year, I was allowed to drive the Olds 98 to school. My mother usually drove me to Hanford for my first-period Russian class, then I took a school bus to Col Hi. Either Mother picked me up after school when she picked up my younger sister at the Catholic grade school near Col Hi, or I took a bus home. With all this shuttling, it was really a treat when I got to drive myself around town all day long.

One evening late in the autumn of 1972, I drove my sophomore brother and myself to Col Hi for a basketball game. Col Hi always had a good team and was an area powerhouse in basketball. This was early in the season, and fans were pumped. The parking lot was packed. I couldn’t find a space.

I drove down the last aisle in the parking lot, only to find myself boxed in at the end of the row. Earlier cars had parked illegally, blocking the end of the lane. Cars lined up behind me, honking. I couldn’t back out, and I couldn’t go forward.

There was only one option.

I gunned the powerful engine in that Olds and drove it up the side of the hill, around the cars blocking us, into the next row over, and headed out of the lot. An illegal move, to be sure.

But even worse, the hill had a 30% slope. The Olds leaned to its side more than I’d ever felt a car lean in my one year’s driving experience. And probably more than I’ve ever felt a car lean in the forty-plus years since.

Momentum carried us around the blocked cars, and nothing bad happened. As reckless acts go, this was minor. But it was still about the most reckless thing I’d ever done at age sixteen. Certainly the most reckless thing I’d ever done with Dad’s car.

“Don’t ever tell,” I warned my brother, knowing that our father would chew me out royally if he ever found out I could have rolled his Olds.

As far as I know, my brother never told. And I never did either—I never told my father, and I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone before writing this post. Maybe Dad would have laughed. And maybe he would have chewed me out after all this time.

What reckless acts have you undertaken in your life?

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  1. I thought you were going to tell us you stole your dad’s car, Theresa. 🙂 When I was around fourteen I had a friend who was older and had his driver’s licence. He used to let me drive his car; he really taught me how to drive. But, illegal for sure! Now, he wouldn’t even be allowed to drive with me in the car for at least 6 months after getting his licence.

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