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The driver of the black sedan is not to blame

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow
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Contact writer Dolly Withrow at ritewood@aol.com.

"We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions." — Ronald Reagan

Stirring up dust, an old black sedan rattled past our house on the dirt road and went to the end where a narrow path cut through weeds to Sattes Cemetery. The driver did a U-turn and came back to park in front of three concrete steps leading to our front porch. He opened the car door, got out and walked upon the porch. A tall thin man with light brown hair, ice-blue eyes and a dimpled chin, he would have been handsome except for an extreme overbite.

Four of us were sitting in the shade of the porch. My Grandfather Frame did not speak to the man but stared at the well on his left. My grandmother ignored the man while holding her Bible close to her face, a necessity because of advanced cataracts. The man looked down at my mother and said, "Esther, I want to take you and Dolly for a drive."

My mother did not answer, but arose, went into the house and came out with her purse. A small child at the time, I sat on my mother's lap in the front seat as the man steered the car down the dirt road and across a small bridge that spanned a creek. He turned left on a skinny blacktop road and headed toward West Washington Street. A teenage boy stood near the car at the intersection where the driver had braked to check traffic. 

The teen began pounding on the passenger window. My mother rolled the glass down as she heard hear him yell, "Your car's on fire! Get out! Quick!" Then we saw the smoke.

I don't know what happened to the car or to the driver because my mother and I immediately jumped out and began running back up the road toward home. As we slowed to a walk, my mother said, "I knew better. I should have stayed home. This was my fault." 

The next time I saw the man was again on our front porch. I was two years older but still only a child. He paid scant attention to me as he and my mother engaged in a long, and sometimes heated, conversation. Just before he left, though, he scolded me for something I had said. In the long distance of many years, my remark that displeased him has vanished into the folds of time. I remember he removed his belt and threatened to whip me. I might have deserved the whipping, but he did not carry out his threat. 

Throughout my childhood and into my teen years, I seldom saw or heard from that man. He was my father, whom my mother had divorced when I was about five years old. His absence in my life did not scar me psychologically, nor did his neglect give me an excuse to blame him for decisions I made as an adult.  

My father left a legacy: His absence taught me to be self-reliant like the cat in Marianne Moore's poem "Silence." It has been decades since an old black sedan rattled past our house on Brickyard Hill, but that shortened car trip was the beginning of my learning not to blame my childhood or anyone else for my own decisions and actions. Unfortunately, blaming others for bad behavior — even criminal behavior — has become the American way.