My Dad and the Driving Lesson
Sometimes, when I'm trying to back into a parking space with difficulty (which is,
incidentally, the only way I can back into a parking space), I like to comfort myself with the
thought that my driving lessons never extended to learning how to back up. I guess the
instructor had such a chore teaching me how to go forward, he ran out of time before he got
to the backing up lesson.
Of course, how I came to have a driving instructor in the first place is one of those family
tales that's become folklore. It all started with my mother's happy anticipation of the time
when I could obtain my driver's license.
You see, my mother never learned to drive and I think she began looking forward to my
sixteenth birthday, and the license that would come with it, on the day I was born (giving
her, not only a means of transportation, but one - unlike my father's chauffering - which
was under her direct authority :-). Suffice it to say, when the day was in sight, she was
even happier about it than I was. A few weeks beforehand, she'd broken open all the piggy
banks and managed to find enough money to purchase a used car for "us" (it was, in fact,
very, very used, but it looked like a dream car to me, and I promptly named it "Nellie,"
though I can't think why). My father wasn't nearly as happy with the idea of my learning to
drive - in fact, he was deadset against it. But it was impossible to contain my mom's tidal
wave of enthusiasm.
Finally, the day of the first driving lesson arrived. I should've known there might be a
problem. My father had attempted to teach my mother to drive when they were first
married. It didn't go well. He accused her of almost killing them both by plowing headlong
into a moving train and refused to ever let her behind the wheel again.
I made a mental note to avoid train tracks and we got into the car, which was parked on
the street in front of the house. With me at the wheel and my father in the front
passenger seat, we started on our big adventure. We didn't get far.
After the car was in gear, I gently placed my foot on the accelerator and began to move
forward, at which point my father screamed "STOP!!!" in such a fevered pitch that I
immediately slammed my foot on the brake, sure that I was about to run over a small child
or, at the very least, a neighborhood cat.
The sudden jolt catapulted us both forward and, unfortunately, sent the lit end of my
father's cigarette directly into his forehead with great force, nearly catching his hair on
fire. Much cussing ensued.
Between the aforementioned expletives-deleted, I was able to gather that the "STOP!!!"
was because he thought I was about to hit a neighbor's trash can (which was actually yards
away and not even in my line of movement). Somewhere between the car and the house, he
decided that I wasn't mature enough to take driving lessons. My mother and I were of the
opinion that it was more likely that he wasn't mature enough to teach me, but, discretion
being the better part of valor, we both thought it best not to say so at the time.
After his burn was cleaned and medicated, it was clear that he was in no mood to continue
with the lesson. My mother suspected - and I'm sure she was right - that this was simply
an attempt at postponing the inevitable: me, with wheels. (After all, in my father's mind,
I was still 5 years old, and the dangers of a 5-year-old cut loose on her own with wheels
would be an uncomfortable thing to contemplate.)
But, he hadn't postponed it for long. The next morning, my mother took matters into her
own hands - she'd waited 16 years for a chauffeur and, by golly, she was not going to be
denied. A quick call to Victor Manning School of Driving saved the day.
When he found out, my father was not, by any means, a happy camper. But, surprisingly,
he allowed the lessons to go on. (However, for the rest of his life, whenever he was riding
and I was driving, he held onto the dashboard with both hands and kept his foot slammed on
the imaginary brake at all times.)
As far as I know, Victor Manning School of Driving is still in business in New Orleans.
Unfortunately, the man who gave me instructions didn't last as long as the company. He quit
the day after he finished my lessons. I didn't take it personally - I'm sure he had already
planned on a career change anyway.
Don't you think?