Ethel Cole was driving a Jeep for the first time, and she had no idea where the brake was. Or the clutch. Or the key.
It was her first day as a mail girl at the engineering depot in Pasco, Wash., during World War II. Cole's duties included not only typing and picking up mail, but also driving from warehouse to warehouse to deliver it -- all without having taken a single driving lesson in her life.
It was one of her scariest days, said Cole, especially when she almost ran over a colonel in the process.
"My heart was pounding the entire time as I tried to control the Jeep," she said. "I thought I was going to pass out at the wheel."
Miraculously, Cole managed to maneuver the Jeep and crash into bales of hay. Nobody was hurt.
A permanent fixture
She met me at the corner, her tiny frame dwarfed by the one-story houses that lined the two-lane street.
"You must be that gal from the paper," she greeted me, her wide smile outlined with frosty pink lipstick. "I hope you didn't get lost on your way over!"
She led me down the quiet Marcellus main street to a blue house and pushed open the wooden door. Framed photographs, in both color and black and white, lined the walls and propped up on tables. Slim novels piled up on the side table in the living room and the vintage fireplace looked as if it could spring to life. The place was spotless.
Now 81, Cole has since gotten her driver's license, but no longer drives jeeps for a living. She enjoys a quiet life in Marcellus with her husband, Pete. Between her volunteer work at the Marcellus Free Library and the nursery school at Grange Hall, Cole has dedicated her life to her community. As a permanent fixture of Marcellus, Cole's love for her town and its people drives her to give back, over and over again. The volunteering keeps her occupied.