I walked into the driver’s education classroom and immediately noticed the closed window curtains and the projector sitting on a desk in the middle of the room. Sighing with resignation I found a desk and sat down. Everyone in high school knew about “The Movie”. It featured a likeable, totally relatable group of teenagers who go to their high school prom.
Stress-inducing, tear-jerking films always made me feel ill. Feeling squirmy and nervous, I wondered if there was any way I could get out of watching it. Viewing “The Movie” was a rite of passage for all adolescents hoping to get their driver’s licenses though, so I knew escaping this ordeal was unlikely.
After drinking alcohol, the teenagers all pile into the car. Then, because the driver was impaired, their car crashes into another vehicle. The camera was not turned politely away from the gory, horrifying accident.
My behind-the-wheel-time with the teacher began in January when there was a new layer of snow on the ground and the parking lot was coated with ice. One of the first things the teacher had me do, was slowly drive through the empty parking lot. He said, “OK, now step on the brakes.”
Despite how slow I was going, the car slid and turned. The experience made me realize more fully that I was driving a machine that weighed more than a ton and it was easy to lose control.
After school let out in June, I still needed more hours of practice before I could take my test. My family’s car was a black Ford Fairlane 500 with a standard stick-shift transmission on the column, with a clutch and manual choke.
A brother-in-law and my oldest brother each took a turn driving with me. When Casper got into the car, he sternly warned me to not drive around corners at 30 miles-per-hour like my big sister did, when she was learning to drive.
When I asked Daddy to go driving with me, he declined by simply explaining, “I got my driver’s license in 1928 by sending a quarter to the Department of Transportation. The first time I drove to Marshfield, all the other cars in the city made me nervous, so I parked on the outskirts and walked in to where I needed to go.”
I turned to look at him in surprise. He taught himself how to drive and had never had to take a test!
Daddy suggested, “You need practice though, so just take the car out by yourself for drives on all the side-roads in the area. Just don’t go on any of the highways.”
I was stunned. Then I made plans. I had a couple friends that lived within five miles of my home. I wondered, “Am I obeying Daddy’s rule if I cross county road M, to visit one of them?” I got a lot of practice stepping on the clutch to shift into first, second and third gear. Reverse was used only for pulling out of the garage and once in a while practicing parallel parking.
I tested for my driver’s license later that summer. When I returned to the station, the tester proceeded to tell Daddy all the things I did wrong. Daddy questioned, “When can I bring her back to test again?”
The tester said, “You don’t have to bring her back. She passed.”
My sister Mary, who was seven years older than me, didn’t have her driver’s license yet, so one day shortly after I passed the test, I took her out for a drive. I pulled up to a stop sign and forgot to shift from third gear into first.
I waited until there was a nice opening in the traffic for me to pull out. The car just didn’t seem to want to go though. I pushed in the clutch and carefully pressed on the gas pedal. After faltering, the car slowly, slowly picked up speed. A gravel truck barreled up behind me. Then I realized the car was still in third gear! It was a miracle I hadn’t stalled it in the middle of the highway.
Obviously frightened, my sister Mary snapped, “And, you have a license?”
My heart was pounding, but I managed to ruefully answer, “I had better check my wallet. It might be a fishing license.”