Living in the suburbs and going to high school in the nearest city with friends and activities spread around the area, I really needed a driver’s license. Of course, limited access to a car meant limited benefit, but step by step.
Driver’s ed brought a break on insurance rates but was not mandatory. Since my high school was in Rhode Island while my home was barely over the state line in Massachusetts, taking driver’s ed at school would do me no good and taking it in Massachusetts was not feasible because (duh) I didn’t have a license.
My father taught me to drive. The car was a Ford, specifically a 1965 Ford Fairlane that he bought when he discovered it had manual choke as an option. It goes without saying that it also had a manual transmission. He was an engineer who wanted to have complete control of his machines. If they had anything automated that must have an override.
Step 1 was to pass the written test to get a learner’s permit, which meant studying the state issued manual and memorizing all specific numbers and dates. No problem.
Then we were off in the car to an empty parking lot to practice the basic moves. Brakes on and off – check. Start the car in neutral – check. Shift into first – check. Start actually moving – pretty rough, stalled at least once, but got going. Shift into second – oops.
Me: when do I shift?
Dad: when the engine revs (makes revving sound)
Me: what speed do I shift at
Dad: no, go by the sound not the speed
Me: what speed do I shift at?
… (repeat last two lines several times)
Finally he realized that I couldn’t hear the engine. Double oops.
Reluctantly, he gave a speed range for shifting to second, while I imagine he was trying to think of all the other car and traffic noises I couldn’t hear. We made it into second and by similar steps into third. Fortunately, those cars only had three gears. Unfortunately, they did not show rpms or any other useful information. I could feel the car’s vibrations if my shifting was too far off so I got a little smoother as we went. Several more lessons followed that pattern and I slowly improved.
Then my driving lessons were interrupted while I had and recuperated from surgery on one ear to replace the stapes with a metal prothesis. After the packing came out of my ear I heard sounds from every direction that I never knew existed, the crackle of food I was chewing, the hum of kitchen appliances, the sound of a train several miles away on a quiet night, the voices of people talking in the next room. When we resumed driving lessons I heard that car making noises even when it did not have a broken muffler. Amazing!
My driving lessons proceeded at a faster pace after that and I passed the road test for the license on the first try.
The first weekend after I received my license my father noted that we did not need to go out for a driving lesson. I replied that there was one more lesson I wanted —show me how to change a tire. A flat tire was the one potential problem I knew of that I thought I should be able to handle myself. After I had succeeded in changing a tire, he asked my sister who had had a license for several years if she wanted the same lesson. She replied, “No, if I get a flat I’ll wait for some cute boy to come along and fix it for me.” My response was, “If some cute boy does offer, I want to be able to say, ‘Thanks, but I can do it’ if that seems best.”
In the years that followed I was a student in high school, college, and grad school with little money. I did not own a car or drive much for almost ten years. When I finally did have a flat, it was a very different car, a VW bug. I got out the manual, the tools, and the spare. My first revelation was that you jacked up one whole side of the car instead of just the end of one side. I got that done. Then I started on the lugs as a cute young man (not boy) stopped and came over to my car. He looked at me and the car and tire and manual in my hand and said, “Would you be insulted if I offered to change the tire?” My reply was, “Please do and thank you.” One small step forward in male and female assumptions about tasks and being helpful. Step by step.
Great story, Jean! I’m with you on being able to change your own tire – but also on accepting help if it’s offered in the right spirit. If this were a movie script, you would have ended up romantically involved with that cute young man. I won’t pry, but if you want to write that story too, I’d love to read it.
Welcome to Retrospect! I’m looking forward to reading more of your stories, and hope you will read and comment on those posted by others. Sorry this prompt is no longer the current one, so your story will only randomly appear on the home page under Stories from the Previous Prompt.
Jean, loved this story, especially the flat tire situation. I tried to fix a flat once and couldn’t get the nuts off with the lug wrench, even when I jumped up and down on on the wrench with all my weight. The second time, I was in a white skirt and spike heels, called AAA. Ah, well … Welcome to Retrospect!
If the nuts were last tightened by machine it was hopeless. Any recent times I have called roadside assistance but I still think it is important to be able to do it yourself.
Really enjoyed the story, Jean, and welcome to Retro. And, like others, I particularly enjoyed the change-the-tire story at the end. a pre-post-feminist angle to it or something like that. Anyhow, I assume the guy was able to change the tire, even if you didn’t end up marrying him and having his children.
It was a difficult era to navigate for both men and women, post 1950s roles and pre even quasi-equality. Respect and tact generally worked.
The guy did change the tire efficiently and much faster than I could have which was good because I was on the shoulder but still on a pretty busy road. I was already married so no further story but I do have a cousin who met her husband in a similar story. Two lovely children later …
This was such an interesting story on so many levels. I love how your father really taught you the mechanics of driving. Also, the way you could hear the car sounds after your ear surgery. Great description of how that felt. I loved how you wanted to be able to tell that cute guy who might offer help that you could do it yourself. And your willingness to take help when needed. Welcome to Retrospect!