I’m certain I am not the only one who learned to drive in her daddy’s lap. And I’m certain I am not the only one who began driving long before a driver’s license was issued. Many of us grew up in towns with only a part-time sheriff who didn’t waste his time with underage drivers.
Daddy set my limits: I could drive as far as Farindale or out to the “Y” but I was not to get on the state highway or venture to one of the towns 15-20 miles away. These places had full time police who would not be as understanding as Mr. Lamb. Therefore, I stayed within my bounds…most of the time.
During tenth grade, our school provided a manual to prepare us for the driver’s test written exam. Daddy began coaching me in parallel parking. The latter was the part of the test I dreaded most.
I read the manual a couple of times and tried to memorize a few of the answers, but I spent most of my time on the parking. I’d never had trouble with written tests.
The big day arrived and ‘legitimate’ driver, Suzanne, drove me to the county courthouse. Well… I never made it to the parallel parking part because I didn’t get to the driving test. For the first time in my life, I failed a written exam.
I only remember a few things not mentioned in my diary. One question on the test related to signaling. If you recall, hand signals were used back then. The driver had to extend his left arm up, down, or straight out to signal his intentions. My problem is I have trouble with left and right when a quick decision is called for. The other big question was how long it would take to go from 50 MPH to a complete stop. I marked the box that read “five seconds.”
After checking my test, the state trooper looked at me in awe after reading this last answer and asked, “What kind of car do you drive, Missy?”
I told him a 1958 DeSoto with fluid drive. I wanted to impress him with my knowledge of the car. He looked at me stone-faced and replied, “Well, I would really like to drive that car!”
I was sent home immediately without a road test OR a license and a “Better luck next time.”
He gave me a new manual and advised me to study it “hard” before I came back the following month. I was deflated. I’d never flunked a test before and this was the big one.
Next, I had to deliver the bad news to my parents. Daddy responded, “I knew you weren’t studying the book enough–I told you that. This time you really apply yourself and limit your driving between here and town.” Admonition from my daddy always cut right to the bone. I tearfully agreed.
So, I guess you think I didn’t place a foot on the pedal until I got that license. Wrong. You see, there came that fateful Sunday afternoon…Suzanne, “Other Brenda,” and I were dying to go to Fordyce. We all three had crushes on boys who lived there and we knew they’d be found at one of the popular drive-ins. We made our covert plans between Sunday School and church.
Daddy always took his Sunday afternoon nap after lunch and was usually asleep for 3-4 hours. Perfect timing for us to “slip out” in the DeSoto. My two friends arrived just minutes after 1:00. Daddy was in bed and snoring. Perfect!
The Desoto was in our detached garage. I got behind the wheel, put the car in neutral, and Suzanne and Brenda pushed me out slowly on the pea gravel drive that ran by the window where Daddy was sleeping. Slowly, slowly, we got it to the street. We were off!
We took the old Bunn road which was the back way, not getting on Hwy. 167.
We followed the road into the back of Fordyce to the ‘other’ drive-in. We didn’t dare go to the Dixie Dog. Someone from home might be there and recognize the car.
Sure enough, our beaus found us around 3:00. We sat in the DeSoto drinking vanilla malts and having the greatest time. Other Brenda got a date.
I noted the time and said we had to get back. Brenda and Suzanne again helped me “ease” the car into the driveway and toward the garage.
There stood Daddy in the back yard with his arms crossed (a bad sign.) He had risen early for a church meeting.
“Now don’t tell me you’ve just been to the drug store because I’ve already called Wesley. Where have you been?”
“Fordyce.” I whispered.
“Had you gotten a ticket–who would have to pay it?”
“You.” My whisper was almost silent.
“So, can I now trust you not to take this car out again without a license or my permission…?”
“Yes Sir.” Suzanne and Other Brenda hurriedly skedaddled for home. Daddy left for his church meeting and I left for my room, embarrassed and regretful. The Desoto remained in the garage until I got my license.
I practically memorized the manual and passed the test the following month. I learned two lessons the hard way. Rules are made for a reason. The DeSoto or no other car would literally stop on a dime!
Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author living in Hot Springs Village. She responds to all e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org