Mark Ballard

Driving through life — hurricanes included


My birthday fell on a Sunday the year I turned 16. I thought I would just about die before the DMV reopened the following Tuesday. I had dreamed of driving since I was a preteen. I didn’t understand why I had to wait to get my license.

For the next few months, I volunteered to run errands for just about anyone so I could get behind the wheel of a car and drive. As the newness wore off, I realized I didn’t like driving quite as much as I thought. Now that 40 years have passed, I really prefer not to drive.

The people closest to me know that any time my wife Debra is around, I ride shotgun. It really doesn’t matter to me and, besides that, Debra actually drives well from any seat in the car. It simplifies things for her to be behind the wheel. That way I can talk and enjoy the passing scenery without having to “drive” her crazy!

However, for more than six weeks now, I’ve had no choice when it comes to driving. Debra’s recent knee replacement surgery made the decision for me. Being a caregiver definitely has its challenges, but the part I dislike most is having to drive with Debra sitting next to me observing my every flaw from a mistaken route to not going fast enough or too fast.

I’m just as nervous driving with Debra sitting beside me today as I was riding with the person from the DMV office all those years ago. If truth be told, Debra makes me even more nervous — and rightly so. She is a much better driver than me and both of us know it.

When you’re a teenager, you are not yet fully aware of the responsibilities and dangers of driving. It makes you feel like you are grown and invincible and you don’t give it a second thought. But in my early 20s, I certainly found out how dangerous driving really is.

As I’ve written about many times in my column, my mother was involved in a horrific and life-changing car wreck in Atlanta when I was 22 years old. It was a stormy afternoon and her wreck was the result of an 18-wheel truck going too fast and forcing her off the interstate into a construction ravine. As a result, Mother was never physically the same. Because of this, I hate driving in rainy weather.

On the very first day of my new “Driving Miss Debra” job, a tropical system stalled right over the three states in which we were traveling, dropping buckets of rain for hours on end. For someone who hates to drive and especially in bad weather, I found myself in a situation where I had to drive.

I had to take a deep breath and drive into the storm. Debra was making me a nervous wreck sitting beside me. I saw her head shake in disapproval as I slowed down to a creeping speed. “Give it some gas!” she said itching to change places but knowing she couldn’t. There was so much tension in the front seat you could cut it with a knife.

I drove for hours on end with the rain so heavy that visibility was nonexistent. My sweaty palms gripped the steering wheel as traffic flew by me as if nothing was wrong. “Put on the hazard lights!” I yelled to Debra. “You just look where you are going!” she replied. I needed a Xanax but there was not one to be had!

Every one of us has situations in which we don’t feel comfortable. This is one of mine. For days it rained without showing any mercy or offering relief. “You asked me to drive you around and I reluctantly agreed,” I said to Debra. “But you never said it would be for hundreds of miles through a hurricane.”

Just when I thought I couldn’t stand it anymore, the skies turned brilliant blue and the clouds became fluffy and white.

What a contrast, I thought to myself. Life works the same way. Sometimes when we are in our darkest days, everything seems hopeless and bleak. We have to be strong and patient. Blue skies are right around the corner. We just have to carefully drive through the storm.

Debra’s getting stronger every day and not a minute too soon for me. Before long, she’ll be back behind the wheel. It took me driving through a horrible storm to realize just what a good driver Debra is!

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.