When I turned 15, I begged to learn to drive, since I could get a provisional license at 15 ½. My first teacher was my mother, who it turned out, didn’t have the nerves for it. I remember only one lesson.
As I was backing out of our driveway, my mother said, “Carol, watch the car.” She repeated the phrase several times, each time with more urgency. I assured her I saw the car coming from my left. What I DIDN’T see was the neighbor’s car across the street. At least not until I heard the crunch when I backed into it. That was the end of my driving instruction from my mother.
Enter my wonderful, CALM brother-in-law, Joe. It seems that Joe had never learned to dance, not even dancing with my sister at their prom. Suddenly he’d decided, as an old man of 26, it was time to add dancing to his skill set. We struck a deal. I’d teach him to dance, if he’d teach me to drive. After every Sunday dinner, Joe and I made a beeline to my room, slapped a 45 rpm record on the spindle and danced. He picked it up faster than gnats find fruit and in no time, we looked like Ginger and Fred.
Then he became the teacher and was a natural—the patience of Job with nerves of steel. He showed me how to work the clutch and parallel park, never yelling once. He also made me learn esoteric things like hand signals for turning, since some cars didn’t have turn signals back then.
When I turned 16, my dad bought me a used car, which I drove to school and everywhere else I could think of. As another parent complained about his son to my mother, “Hellfire! When that boy has to go to the bathroom, he doesn’t walk. He takes the car!” At a cost of $250, my chariot was an old Plymouth, which was ventilated through several floorboard holes. I named her Smoke, because on our maiden voyage together, I forgot to take off the emergency brake and she belched enough smog to keep firefighters busy for a week.
Smoke carried my friends and me everywhere we wanted to go and used very little gas—a good thing since it cost a whopping 25 cents per gallon. I still have fond memories of bombing around town in that Old School car, thinking I had the world by the tailpipe!