Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A to Z April Challenge: D is for Driving

Genealogists and family historians get a lot of satisfaction from chasing their ancestors’ stories. Finding a diary, a message on a postcard, or a photo with a name attached is like the sun coming out after a storm. One day we will be somebody’s ancestor. We need to leave our descendants a little bit of sunshine too. So here is my story told alphabetically, not chronologically: Growing Up in Cradock.

is for Driving.

Getting that driver’s license is a rite of passage that most teenagers anticipate and act on as soon as the law allows. However, that was not always true when I was growing up. I remember my grandmother getting her driver’s license and the little grey Rambler that she purchased not long afterwards. My own mother was late getting her license too, relying on other teachers to pick her up for school.

I suppose she eventually grew tired of the inconvenience of having to rely on others, so she decided to learn to drive. Daddy took her out faithfully to practice driving and parallel parking. When Momma was confident that she had mastered her driving skills, she went to the DMV to take her written test and then road test. We were all set to celebrate when she got home, but the look on her face said there would be no cheers that afternoon. She failed parallel parking.

The main DMV office in Portsmouth had a reputation for being ridiculously strict about that part of the test. Momma’s friends all said, “Go to South Norfolk. You’ll pass.” The word was out: the South Norfolk DMV was soft on the road test.

Wendy Slade and family car 1969 Portsmouth, VA  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Me and the family car 1969
Sure enough, when Momma went to South Norfolk, she returned in no time with a driver’s license in hand. Parallel parking was no problem at all there.

When I was in high school, only a few of my friends drove. No one had a car of their own, so I was in no hurry. Driver’s Education was not a required part of the school curriculum. As I recall, it was taught only in the summer. One summer, I decided to sign up.

Several weeks before class was to begin, it occurred to me that my car mates might already know how to drive. I did not want to be the only one with NO experience behind the wheel. Daddy would be the perfect one to help me learn.

I remember that first lesson.

Momma was at the sewing machine just sewing up a storm. Daddy came in with his favorite tennis shorts in need of repair. Before he could speak, I grabbed the opportunity to ask for a driving lesson. “What do you need a driving lesson for?” he said. “You don’t need a lesson. You just get in the car and drive.” I tried to protest, but he would not listen. He had that darn hole in his favorite shorts on his mind. He asked Momma if she would stitch it up.

My quick-witted mother replied, “Fix it yourself. Sit down here at the sewing machine. You don’t need a lesson. You just sit down and sew.”

With that, Daddy reached into his pocket and tossed me the keys. For several evenings we went for short drives through the narrow streets of Cradock and out to the highway, usually Victory Boulevard which did not have much traffic. I do not recall anything eventful about my lessons except one time pulling into the driveway. I just drew a blank. How do you stop this thing? Where is the brake? From the comfort of the passenger seat, Daddy stretched that left leg over and found the brake just in time to save our garage door (and our car!).

At least I had some experience behind the wheel when Driver’s Ed started that summer. We spent a fair amount of time driving around the school parking lot and parallel parking between cones. When it came time to hit the road, our instructor often had us drive him to various golf courses where he picked up a fresh box of golf balls. Maybe he was even booking a tee time. We went to a lot of golf courses.

When our driving course was over, I did not rush out to South Norfolk to get my license. Why? That classy Chevrolet we drove in Driver’s Ed had power steering. Our family car did not. I suppose I was too afraid that it would be difficult to adjust and I might hit a garage door.

Barry Mathias and the Chevy Nova 1971  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Barry and his Chevy Nova II
It was several years before I tried driving again. I was a sophomore in college taking a psychology course. Yes, psychology. Our instructor assigned us a project: create our own project to expand our horizons; dare to do something we have never done. I decided to get my driver’s license. My then-boyfriend/now-husband was my teacher. He had taught his own mother to drive a few years before.

My lessons were in a little Chevy Nova II. What a great little car. I took my driver’s test and passed with no problem. Lucky for me, by 1971 parallel parking was no longer a part of the test.

The psychology teacher added a twist to the project. We had to present our project to the class AND we had to give ourselves a grade. Was that crazy or what? I remember only two other projects. One guy learned to bake cookies. A girl made her own wedding dress. I am not sure what any of these projects taught us about psychology. As for my grade, I gave myself a “B” justifying that my new driver’s license trumped freshly baked cookies but paled next to a wedding dress.

Discover delightful displays of daydreams and discourse at the A to Z April Challenge.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved. 


  1. Great story Jollett. I'm glad I passed my driving test when I did (my life - it was 30 years ago!)because nowadys over here, there is so much more to it - especially regarding different types of parking. I am rubbish at parking anywhere apart from in our driveway. So much so, I bought a car that practically parks itself :) I just have to brake when the bleep tells me to.

  2. PAssed my driving test twice ;) once back home, @17 years old, second time here, 8 months pregnant with our first baby... ;) some memories there ;)

  3. Great story, and one that we can all relate to!

  4. I've reached an age where driving became a chore; now it's my wife who owns the car and drives me!

  5. Cute story; I like how the assignment turned into your getting your driver's license :) I was like your mom; I still cannot parallel park to this date. I knew I would fail the test based on this alone. However, at the time I got my driver's license, it was in February and at that time the state of California had all their vehicle registrations expire in February (now they do it monthly) so the DMV was packed full of cars with people waiting in line to get their new tags. There was no spot to do parallel parking :) Saved!!


  6. I didn't get my drivers license until I was 29. I did practice driving at one point as a high school student and again in my 20s but it wasn't until I moved out of the city that I felt comfortable enough to go ahead and really learn and take the test. They didn't even have parallel parking in the small town I took my test in. whew!
    Finding Eliza

  7. I was at the DMV when it opened on my 16th birthday - WOO HOO, I passed (parallel parking and all). Unfortunately, we moved to another state when I was 26 and I had to do it all over again.

    I see where you get your wit - good answer, Mom!

  8. Loved that! Very topical here as my 17 year old daughter just passed her driving test three weeks ago. In the UK test the examiner picks one manoeuvre from bay parking, reversing round a corner, turning in the road and parallel parking. Guess which one she got? Yes, parallel parking. I took her out to practice the evening before and the parallel parking went horribly, then she nailed it in the test. She is SO HAPPY to be able to drive herself around and not to have to rely on either buses or other people driving her.

  9. Very well written. I think we all have stories like that. In my case when I wrapped my first car into a utility pole I thought my father was going to have my head. Instead he shrugged and said, "Everyone wraps up their first car. Congratulations, now you're a driver." Your blog is on my bookmarks now.

    In case you're interested, I'm over at www.StumbleStandFly.blogspot.com and my kid's picture book blog is at Ollie-Bug.com.

  10. I remember getting my license when I was 16, having been taught by my dad. Funny thing is I learned on a car without power steering or power brakes. I thought I would want to use it for the test, but my dad convinced me it would be easier to use the one with the power. He was right. :) Enjoyed reading your post!

  11. Oh Wendy you do write a great post. I was laughing out loud throughout all of it and what an ending! So much fun. Love your work.

  12. Great story Wendy. I took driver's ed when I was 16 as my Dad was not a great teacher. I got my license first try. At that time the license covered a car and a motorcycle, but that changed in the 70's. When I moved west and changed my license, the agent said "Oh, you can drive a motorcycle?" (Huh??) "Yes.. I can" I replied. I had forgotten all about that, and had never in my life driven a motorcycle.
    When my kids were coming of age to get their permit it was now mandatory to take driver's ed. So of course the price doubled, then tripled! They had summer jobs so I told them I would pay half if they paid the other half. One of my daughters opted to buy a stereo instead *sigh.

  13. I think we all can remember exchanging lots of anecdotes with friends about our driving lesson experiences. I loved that instance of the interchange between your Mum and Dad on your first driving lesson!

  14. Lovely! I remember the feeling of triumph when I got my driving licence!

  15. I failed my first driving test in the very things I was usually good at....hill starts (manual car) and reverse parking. Heaven knows how many miles/km I've notched up since I got my licence...lots of thousands. I'd find it a huge loss of independence not to have a licence. I was impressed by my mother who got her licence in her 40s and kept it until her 80s....we didn't have a car until I was 19.
    @cassmob from
    Family History Across The Seas

  16. I wish someone took me out driving before I started Driver's Ed. I almost ran into a house when I went out with the teacher. I still received my license anyway. This was back in the 90s. lol