On the left, writer Jan Risher – age 4, laughing beside her dad, Gary Risher, on the front porch of their home in Hickory, Mississippi (not the driveway home mentioned in the column below because this childhood was in an era without photos by the thousands!).
The people who built the house where I grew up had a giant RV.
To accommodate the RV, they built the biggest, smoothest, paved driveway anyone around there had ever seen. Other than a giant crack about 17 feet from the street, which I referred to as the driveway’s fault line, that driveway was as smooth as soft butter.
When I was eight, my dad gave me a pair of super cool skates — almost like the ones you rented from the skating rink. I spent hours and hours upon hours skating around that driveway.
When I was nine, my dad put up a basketball goal on the far side of the giant driveway — and my whole world changed. I played and practiced basketball almost every single day. Playing basketball on a smooth as silk driveway in a neighborhood full of boys does wonders for a girl’s social life. As the years passed, on most afternoons, about six kids came over, and we played basketball. Guests knew they had to leave the driveway open, so they parked on the side of the road to leave room for the daily game softball.
Afternoon basketball was our lives until I turned 12.
That’s when my dad got me a skateboard — believed to be the first skateboard in those parts. It was yellow, and the wheels had ball bearings and riding it was as smooth as the driveway.
No driveway has ever been a better one for skateboards. As long as I stayed on the house-side of the giant crack, I could make magic happen on that skateboard. The other side of the jagged crevice in the cement was much more littered with rocks. I deemed the street-side of the driveway fault line far too dangerous to skate on or really venture into often (except to check the mail).
Occasionally, when all the neighborhood boys would come over (with those faded circles on the back pockets of their jeans), we tried to do both skateboard and play basketball — to mixed results. Once we played softball in the front yard, but a broken window sent us back to the driveway. It was a safe place to play, and we did so until the streetlights came on, and everybody had to head home.
Though the driveway was my paradise, it was on occasion the bane of my existence. When I got in trouble, my father made me sweep that blasted driveway — and I really really hated sweeping that driveway. Once, I had to sweep it every day for three weeks in a row. I have never fully recovered from the injustice of that punishment — and the driveway was so big that sweeping it took at least 90 minutes. So, I had plenty of time to contemplate that unfairness!
When I turned 15, my dad and I drove to another town, and he bought me a blue Toyota Corolla with a standard transmission. I drove the car home from the dealership on my own, but it was really in that driveway that he taught me how to change gears.
We did not live in a fancy house. We did not take big trips to see the world. What we had was a driveway. Now I realize that somewhere along the way, my father figured out how to make the most of what we had. My dad and that driveway shaped so much my life and perspective.
Happy Father’s Day to my dad and all the other fathers out there — whatever style driveway you have, may you take the energy to make the most of it.