We’ve all been there. The big day when you legally take the wheel of a car, driver’s license in hand, and your life of driving begins. I vividly remember learning how to drive. I still experience a tinge of PTSD when I recall my sister screaming at me, using words like ‘stupid idiot’ and phrases like, ‘you will never learn’ until she had me in full out red-eyed bawling mode, and in no condition to operate a motor vehicle. That was long ago, as I lived in a state where, at that time, you could get your license at 14. And, my 15-year-old “expert” sister assumed her role as the driving pro and put herself in charge of taking me driving on the rural back roads. Fast forward to today. Miss P. has reached the inevitable, and we have now begun the harrowing art of learning how to drive.

I think back to my learning days. Anything I say will make me sound old, and I guess I have to live with that. I grew up in a rural area. We had a “recreational farm” in that my mom and dad both worked outside the home, but we had a small herd of beef cattle and three or four hay fields that my dad harvested every summer. I learned to drive our tractor and an old truck in the field before ever taking the wheel of a car. I guess that gave me and my sister an advantage when we transitioned to the automobile.

I took driver’s training at 14, the summer between my 8th grade and freshman year. We took driver’s training through the school so it was like going to a summer school class with the curriculum focused on learning how to drive. Along with classroom instruction, you received eight hours of “drive time.” I was paired up with Brenda and Jodie. Mr. Steele (name changed for his own protection) was the man behind the passenger wheel. Well, there was no second wheel, but he did have to reach for the real wheel a couple of times over the course of our driving summer. Brenda was erratic, even on a good day.

rural america driving

I proved my adeptness and managed to make it through the eight hours without any wheel grabs, curb crashes or pedestrian plow downs. But Brenda’s wheel time was a little more colorful. We scraped a few curbs, cuddled up with a ditch or two and nearly drove through J.C. Penney which was located right smack within driving distance of the circular drive, meaning if you didn’t follow the circle and instead went straight, your car might be saddling right up to a pair of 36” inseam jeans in menswear. One day I smelled those Levi’s, but Mr. Steele’s wheel grab saved us from our retail destiny.

At the end of my 8th-grade summer, I became a 14-year-old licensed driver, free to cruise behind the wheel of the car my sister and I shared a red, 68’ Mustang. I think back now to that fact, and it’s alarming. I was a kid, with pimpled skin and insecurities bigger than the trunk of our car. To this day, I’ve never been in an accident. I consider myself a great driver, but I really have no idea how I made it through those early years. Maybe I should thank Mr. Steele for his patience and my sister for screaming profanities at me during my early driving days.

Now it’s my 15-year-old daughter’s turn. Miss P. and I have been getting intimate with nearby parking lots. The bigger, and less inhabited by humans, the better. Recently, we’ve ventured to side streets in our quiet neighborhood. Weirdly, we were passed yesterday just after pulling out of our driveway before we’d even picked up momentum to reach the posted 25 MPH speed. It was a jacked-up pickup that many would quickly report on the Nextdoor blog (You can read my rant about that blog here.)

As I settled into the passenger seat with Miss P. in the driver’s seat, my sister’s screaming resonated in my ear along with Mr. Steele’s advice. I’m trying hard to remain calm while ensuring we have no J.C. Penney’s encounters. After all, the art of learning how to drive is a necessary, but somewhat harrowing experience.

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