My latest book, HALLEY, has just been released by NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley
I didn’t learn to drive as a teenager, as normal people do. I wouldn’t ask Daddy’s permission to use his car (the answer would have been NO), and I sure didn’t want him as a driving instructor. Besides, I knew I couldn’t risk damaging a vehicle he drove. Even though at this time he had owned few cars that anybody besides Daddy would notice a new scratch or dent on, his eagle eye caught any new irregularity. And woe be to the person responsible!
So when I graduated from Berry College in 1961 with plans to teach, I had no car and no driving skills. Furthermore, since my monthly take-home pay was to be about $235, I didn’t see how I could afford a car. Uncle William came to the rescue. He worked at the Hub Ford Service Department in Atlanta, and he offered to get me a new Ford Falcon “at cost.” The total price–I think this included tax–was a little over $1900. The monthly payment was $71 per month. Since I had no income until my first paycheck in September, I could not get the car until the week before school started.
Of course, I must somehow learn to drive in the meantime. My first choice teacher was Mama. She had learned several years before, though she still had to take her bottle of Miles Nervine along for when she got nervous. I begged, pleaded, and even tried to make her feel guilty. Nothing worked. In the meantime Daddy was eagerly volunteering for the job. Why, I have no idea. Much later, I taught two sons to drive while going through menopausal mood swings, and, if I’d had it, I would have needed several quarts of Miles Nervine to survive the first few drives. Luckily, the patent medicine was no longer on the market. As Daddy kept volunteering, and I kept answering, “No!” He began demanding, “Why not?
“You’d be cursing every two minutes, and I can’t stand that,” I finally told him.
Daddy seemed genuinely astonished. “Me? No way. I learned your Mama how to drive, and I didn’t cuss her.”
“Huh!” Mama said, but Daddy ignored the comment.
At last, when I had despaired of finding anyone else, I accepted Daddy’s offer. Each afternoon for a week, he took me to a rough, narrow road winding across a field, and turned the wheel of his precious car over to me. The experience was just as bad as I had anticipated. At the least little mistake–like running off the road into the grass, or going into a ditch, or driving over a little-bitty pine sapling–he would swear a blue streak, and then say, “Can’t you just do what I’m telling you?”
Apparently not, but we both survived. At the end of the week, I was driving–sort of. To stay in my proper lane, I was sighting by the hood ornament and the right fender. The first few weeks of driving the Falcon, I probably clutched dents into the steering wheel while navigating the 14 miles between our house to North Whitfield High School. By Christmas, I felt like a good driver. I guess I overestimated my skills, however. Decades later, when I met a former NWH basketball player who used to hitch a ride home with me on practice days, he confessed that he never asked me for a ride until all other possibilities had failed.
“Man, you were dangerous,” he said. “Who taught you to drive?”
“I owe it all to Daddy,” I confessed.