Reading the news this morning I saw an article about a woman who now has two broken legs after trying to teach her daughter how to drive. The 16 year-old girl mistakenly hit the gas instead of the break and now mom’s on crutches for the long haul. I immediately flashed back to my own experience of learning how to drive.
My grandfather had a refurbished 1963 VW Bug, orange. It was a stick shift with vinyl seats, a dial AM radio, and little windows that flipped open and close like a kitchen door. It was awesome. We started in a field of Walnut trees where I slowly, but surely learned the mechanics of manual driving. The trees were like cones in an obstacle course (very big cones) and as I got better driving, my grandfather’s instruction got harder. Amazingly, no matter what happened in those trees (let’s just say I got very close to quite a few) he never raised his voice and never broke a sweat. He just sat there, chewing on his cigar, reminding kindly to push in the clutch.
Eventually I graduated to the real world, but before I was allowed to be let loose on my own, I had to master ‘the hill’ <duh-duh-duh>. If you drive stick, you know that one of the hardest balancing acts is starting up your car on a hill. The car wants to roll back, back, back, but you have to shove it into first, simultaneously floor it, and ease up on the clutch in order to make the darn thing go forward. It makes me sweat just thinking about it.
The hill was a tiny stretch of road out in the country that connected an upper road and a lower road that ran next to small river. The river had a steep, steep decline and the road, which twisted around with it, followed suit. My grandfather instructed me to park the car in the middle of the hill. We sat there for a minute in silence before he told me to start it up again. I looked down behind me at the river. I looked up above me at the top of the hill. I began sweating profusely. He told me I could do it in that soft way of his. I looked at him like he was crazy. Didn’t he know I was about to drown his car and maybe kill us both. He told me I could always pull on the emergency brake if I needed to.
I look back on that day and I wonder what my grandfather was thinking. I did eventually make it up that hill, but it wasn’t easy. He must have been as scared as I was and yet once I did it, he made me do it again, and again, and again until stopping and starting on that hill wasn’t so hard. Maybe that’s what his dad did to teach him how to drive. Or maybe it just seemed like a safe thing to do; if I could handle ‘the hill’ I could handle anything. And he was right, but it must have taken a lot of love for him to get through those months of teaching me how to do it. As a side note, he never once raised his voice or scolded me. Not once.