At the age of sixteen one of the most important things in life was learning to drive. My early driving experience was in an old 50’s Chevrolet that belonged to my family. It was black and looked a lot like a bug – not the Volkswagen Beetle variety, but more like a large black roach.
What it lacked in appearance, however, it made up for just by being a set of wheels.
The old Chevy had a clutch and standard transmission. The clutch pedal was next to the brake and every time you stopped, you had to step on the clutch to disengage the transmission or the motor would die. You shifted gears a lot with a standard transmission, from low, to second, to high with each stop, while slowly letting out the clutch after each shift and giving the motor gas. I did a lot of jerking and killing the motor until I learn how to make it all work together.
Daddy didn’t much want to let me borrow the car keys, but he didn’t want to say no either, so he devised various ways to discourage me. I had to be able to back it out of the driveway myself if I wanted to drive the car. That seems easy enough until you find out that the driveway was two narrow strips of concrete about a foot wide and only about 6 inches from the side of the house. I knew that if I scrapped the house and wrecked the car that was the end of my driving forever.
Daddy never had the motivation or patience to teach me to drive. I received my driver’s license in summer school. My friend Kathy and I got up at 6 AM and stood in line at the front door of the high school to register for the drivers’ education class. Demand exceeded availability.
In the class a group of four of us were in the car at the same time, Pat, Bugsy, Kathy and me. If Daddy thought I was an irresponsible driver, he should have seen Bugsy. We sat in the back seat and covered our eyes when Bugsy took the wheel. Our instructor, Mr. Dumont, had a lot of patience, fortunately, and an emergency brake on his side of the car.
It was Mr. Dumont who suggested that we would earn trust and use of the car keys easier if we would show interest in the family car at times other than when we wanted to use it, such as, by offering to wash it. However, Daddy became wise to that and soon wanted me to wash it first before I could use it to go anywhere. The old Chevy took me to many a school function and football game in high school and was the cleanest roach in town.
Being the piece of junk that it was, the car had a few unusual mechanical problems. It would occasionally lock up and refuse to go. I had to learn to wiggle the part under the hood that would make it unlock. Eventually, Daddy ingeniously wired the choke to the offending part so it could be wiggled without even getting out of the car.
Driving in those days was much more of a challenge than it is now with automatic transmissions and complex computers that prevent imaginative do-it-yourself fixes. Cars were a very big part of life in the time of drive-in restaurants, drive-in movies, family road trips, and cruising.
Somehow I drove through my teens without accident or incident and earned my access to wheels. Becoming independent and being able to go places on my own was part of becoming an adult and learning responsibility.
And as an added bonus, driving just about anything else in the world seemed easy after learning to drive in the old 50’s Chevrolet.