Learning To Drive

Family Stories

A short time after the driving lesson

Dad would sometimes react the exact opposite of what anyone would expect. Part of it had to do with his laid back style, but I think for the most part he had the capacity of coping with serious situations much better than petty ones. Like during the period when I anxiously wanted to learn to drive. I turned 16 while we were in Puerto Rico.

Finally one day, he succumbed to my nagging and decided, like his father before him, he would teach me how to drive himself. We went through all the basics. He would ride with me as I steered the car around the block every day after school, with extended journeys around the base on weekends. I don’t know who was more nervous: him riding with me or me riding with him.

He loved that car. It was a ’54 Ford, standard transmission.

The worst part of the lesson came at the end of each trip when I had to pull the car into our carport. Our house sat on a hill and the driveway into the carport was on a steep incline, necessitating accelerating the car up the incline as you eased up on the clutch, over a ridge and braking to prevent smashing into the wall of the house in the rear of the carport. Making a left hand turn into the carport wasn’t too difficult and I eventually mastered it. But having to make a right hand turn, which was a sharper turn while maneuvering your left foot off the clutch with the right foot on the gas, terrified me and I would always refuse to try, turning the wheel over to him.

One Saturday he insisted it was time I learned how to make that right hand turn. He refused to take the wheel, telling me to put the car in first gear, give the accelerator gas over the ridge while releasing the clutch, then hit the brake when we got over the top. I didn’t want to do it. He said if I ever wanted to drive the car again, I would park the thing and be done with it.

I took a deep breath, gave the car some gas, eased up on the clutch and turned into the driveway. At the bottom of the incline the car began to stall.

He shouted “Give ‘er some gas, give ‘er some gas!”

I slammed on the accelerator to prevent the car from stalling out and the car bolted forward. I lost control, overcompensating the steering wheel.

“Brake, brake damnit!” he began to shout. “Stop, stop!”

In my panic I hit the gas harder and we plowed into the carport’s concrete support brace, ripping the entire right front fender off the car. With my foot still on the accelerator, the car continued to scrape against the stanchion all along the right side of Dad’s pride and joy.

He dove for the floorboard trying to push the brake with his hand, striking his head against the dashboard. I stomped on his knuckles. In all the confusion I completely forgot about the clutch, and the car stalled. We both had to climb out the driver’s door. He walked around to survey the damage.

“Shit,” he muttered. “Well, at least you stopped the damn thing.”

All my blood rushed to my head. I was dizzy and felt like I was going to faint.

“I told you I didn’t want to do it.”

Mother came running out the front door. “What happened?”

“Oh, nothing,” Dad answered, “he just learned how not to park a car.”