Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Learning to Drive a Car

The first car that I learned to drive was a 1979 Honda Civic. It was a white, two-door car with an AM radio.

This very compact car somehow fit two adults and three teenagers back in the late 1970s-early 1980s. It was not the most comfortable car, but it certainly was fuel-efficient which was important to my parents.

1979 Honda Civic.

The Civic also was a stick-shift. It was less expensive to get a stick-shift than one with an automatic transmission. So, my parents got the stick-shift. Because my Dad grew up on a farm, he was used to operating stick-shifts. My mom never drove the Civic...she used the green station wagon.

The 1970 Chevrolet Station Wagon.
The station wagon my parents had looked very
similar to this one...except it was green.

I was the first one who learned how to drive the Civic (my brother also learned to drive it, but my sister never did).

When first learning how to drive there was so much information that I was trying to process while simultaneously trying to learn to operate the stick-shift. It was very different - and much more difficult - than sitting in the simulator in driver's education and pretending to drive.

My Dad taught me to drive the car in the parking lot that was about a mile or so down the road. He picked times when there were no cars in the lot and no one was around...thankfully.

Normally a calm and collected man, my Dad was pushed to the brink of frustration with my challenges in learning to drive the Civic. Never moving out of second gear in the parking lot, my speed probably never exceeded 10 miles per hour. That was probably the easiest part for him.

What was significantly more challenging were the rough - and often jerky - shifts between gears. "You need to shift more smoothly," he would tell me.

I would try again. Same result...the car would jerk forward and backwards as it would go between gears. Eventually, I figured out how to drive "normally" and graduated from the parking lot to the city streets and county roads (never the highway).

One afternoon my Dad took me out to practice driving. When I was a teenager, Plymouth was still relatively undeveloped and there weren't a lot of homes or traffic.

Things were going well until I had to make a left-hand turn from a main road to a side road. As I slowed down and stopped to let an oncoming car drive by, I noticed that a lady was waiting for me to turn onto the side road. The pressure was on.

I tried to gently lift my left foot from the clutch. In my nervousness, I did it too fast and the car stalled. I quickly started the car and tried again...a bit more flustered than a minute ago.

Same situation...trying to get out of first was jerky and it stalled. I motioned for the lady to turn while I attempted to get the car started again.

"She has to wait for you to go because you have the right away," he said. I could tell he was beginning to lose his patience (which was very unusual)...or maybe it was embarrassment that his daughter couldn't drive a car.

Finally...on the third try...I was able to get the car started, get it out of first gear smoothly, and make the turn.

It was, by far, the most stressful moment while learning to drive the car. Other than that, I enjoyed learning to drive the car with my Dad.

When I went to college, my parents gave me the Civic so I could have a car to drive to work and home to visit. It was the one that I used for four years until about 1989 when I purchased my first car: a Ford Escort.

1989 Ford Escort. 
I had a car like this one from 1989 until 1996.

Last year, when Sophia was 10 years old she was tall enough to reach the gas and brake pedals on the Jeep. We were harvesting pumpkins, and I asked her if she wanted to drive a load up from the field to the driveway. 

Needless to say, she was thrilled. Since she wasn't going to be driving on the road, it wasn't particularly challenging driving. She got behind the wheel, and I gave her a brief lesson about how to drive the car. It has automatic transmission, so she didn't have the challenges I had when I was learning. Her main goal: drive through the pasture.

Sophia Driving the Car in the Pasture
Sophia's first time driving the Jeep.

Intently...and at about 3 miles per hour...she drove through the pasture. As she neared the barn she slowed down and stopped. "I don't think I should go any further," she said. She was worried about driving through the 8-foot gate opening.

Nearing the Barn
Sophia nearing the barn and shed.

"That's fine. I can take it from here," I told her. So, she parked the Jeep and we traded spots. I drove the rest of the way through the backyard and to the driveway.

She still remembers and talks about that day as if it were yesterday.

It was such a positive memory of learning how to drive...and being trusted to do more challenging tasks on the farm.

Whey Beyond the Naked Truth


Marvis Carswell said...

That was a touching story. :) It’s a good thing that your stressful “event” didn’t stop you from learning to drive. Mistakes like that are VERY common when you’re learning to drive (otherwise it wouldn’t be called learning). Also, I’m happy that Sophia had a positive driving experience. That’ll give her the enthusiasm to learn when she reaches the right age.

Marvis Carswell

Mia Patch said...

Learning to drive, even more so a shift-stick, can be quite overwhelming during the first few tries. I’ve also had problems when my dad tried to give me tips before I enrolled in driving school. Still, it does make for an awesome parent-child bonding experience, yes?