Learning to Drive

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This is NOT Sheila's car from when she learned how to drive!

Learning to Drive

As a senior in high school, I came late to the art of driving. I was the third youngest in my class, so still relatively young: graduating at 17. My dad took on the task of teaching me, even though he was the type of driver Defensive Driving courses taught us to look out for. I didn't care; at least he was willing.

Our first lesson was on a weekend day when the local mill was closed. We went to one of the empty, company-owned parking lots behind the mill. I think he took me there for safety's sake. But since the lot was on a road not well traveled, it could have been so no one would see us. The lot was surrounded by a chain link fence, which was used more to delineate the area than for protection, since there were no gates at the entrances. The surface was covered with old, cracked asphalt, with grass poking through the wider openings. It seemed very large until he put me in the driver's seat and told me to take hold of the wheel and drive.

It sounds like a simple direction: But I had to steer the car and shift the gears as well. Oh, yes, I had to learn on a stick shift, where the car needed to roll in order to shift the gears. Oh, my God! I had no idea how hard it would be to step on the clutch, let up on the gas, and shift from first to second with one hand while trying to keep the other on the steering wheel—NOT hitting the fence in the process! Once in second, I had to do it all over again to get to third. We spent over an hour just circling the lot with the car stalling out, or sputt-sputt-sputtering along at maybe five miles an hour until I finally got the hang of it...kind of.

Once my dad felt confident in my gear shifting, he took me on the road. The area of Massachusetts in which we lived had lots of two-lane, tree lined back roads, and we covered most of them. When I first started driving, I kept the hood ornament in sight, which experienced drivers know is a "no-no." During this phase, there were a few times that I scared the st out of my dad. I remember once, when a car was coming toward us, I pulled over too far and almost went onto the dirt shoulder, which caused my dad to jump and then cringe. I finally got it: If I looked beyond the hood, I could steer the car more smoothly.

One of the hardest things to learn was starting up after stopping on a hill. My dad’s method was: step on the clutch and the brake, then quickly, yet smoothly, let the clutch in and ease up on the brake until the engine "catches," then take off. Of course, I first had to learn that stepping on the clutch pedal was "letting the clutch out" and letting up on the clutch pedal was "letting the clutch in." Once I got the concept regarding the clutch, we went to one of the steepest hills in town. At the stop sign, I tried to do what my dad had instructed. It didn't work, and I rolled back a few feet until I stepped on the brake but forgot to step on the c1utch—stalling the car. By then another car was behind me. I tried again. Didn't work...again...a few more feet backward. We waved the car around us. After several times, I finally got things right, and we took off. Eventually, I became quite expert at the technique.

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