Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Childhood Fear #487: Driving

While driving to work the other day, I realized how completely normal and mundane it is for me to drive a vehicle that weighs several hundred pounds and could potentially be a deadly weapon. I get behind the steering wheel, maneuver through traffic, and drive down the city streets with nary an effort.

It wasn't always this way.

Unlike other kids, I was terrified of my fourteenth birthday, the time when I could get a school permit and  drive the ten miles to school every day.

Why would a kid not want to drive?

It all started one day in our pasture about a mile from home. I was in the fifth or sixth grade, if I recall correctly, and our entire family - my parents and my two brothers - were out working cattle (for all you non-farmers, "working cattle" means you bring them in to get vaccinated, branded, or some other form of care).

When we finished, I jokingly told my dad, "I'll drive us home!"

He didn't flinch when he said, "Okay. Get in."

Panic filled my stomach. "No, I was just kidding. Really. I don't really want to drive home, Dad. Please."

"It's time you learned."

I pleaded. I begged. (My brothers undoubtedly laughed). But Dad didn't give in.

Now if you're a farm kid, learning to drive in fifth or sixth grade is not uncommon, and many learn much younger than that. But so far, I'd managed to avoid it.

There was only one problem: we had the pick-up, and it had a manual transmission.

I climbed in, my mom and two brothers got into the truck box, and my Dad was in the passenger seat. He instructed me on how to start the vehicle.

"Use your left foot to push in the clutch. Put your right foot on the brake. Then turn the key."

I managed to accomplish this fairly easily. Then Dad said, "Now slowly let out the clutch and put your foot on the gas."

Ahem. Apparently my version of "slowly" and his were different because my foot moved at the speed of frozen syrup. When I gave it some gas, the pick-up jerked forward so violently that my mom and two brothers were thrown against the truck box. (My mom still likes to tell me about the astronomically big bruise she suffered as a result of me "popping" the clutch).

I cried. I am pretty sure I pleaded with my Dad to let me try this whole driving thing later as I was only 11 years old and I didn't need to know how to drive yet. He refused.

After everyone sat back down, I tried again. And again. And again. Dad was unfailingly patient. And finally, finally, I got it into gear and we started making the trek home.

But I was still stuck on this "slow" part. I think I managed about five miles an hour or maybe even less. Whatever it was, we were crawling down the dirt road (thank goodness it was our own road and not on the highway!). I think that was the longest drive of my life. What should have taken five minutes took closer to forty.

By the time we finally made it home, I felt such intense relief that if I had been the fainting type, I would have expired right there on the front lawn. But I didn't. Dad and Mom told me I'd done a good job and my brothers made fun of me as only brothers can do.

In the years after that, I was terrified to get behind the wheel again. I resisted all efforts and never again volunteered to drive us all home.

When I finally did drive,  it was in a car with automatic transmission, and I learned how easy and enjoyable driving could be.

Still, I remained incredibly wary of manual transmissions. I would literally get sick to my stomach at the thought of driving one.

Want to know a secret?

I still get nauseated when I think of driving a stick-shift.

Oh, people have tried to teach me over the years, from my sister-in-law to my mom to my husband. I've practiced a few times and could probably drive one to save my life, but that's about it. Suffice to say that when I go car shopping, I have to buy a car with an automatic transmission, and there are some cars (like my Dad's 1966 Chevelle) that I can't drive because it's a manual transmission.

And you know what?

I'm okay with that.


  1. Wow, fifth or sixth grade? I'm pretty sure I would have cried, too!
    To be honest, driving is something I STILL don't enjoy...I was never one of those can't-wait-to-drive teenagers, and I'd just rather be a passenger! Just too much stress, and I prefer to let my eyes and mind wander from the road...I'll drive when I need to, but you'll never see me begging to take the wheel.
    And I don't like driving sticks either. My husband taught me on our first (that is, HIS) car, but it always seemed like a lot of work.

    1. It IS too much work to drive a stick shift! I've never seen the appeal of it. And yeah, they start you out young on the farm. :)

  2. I hate manual transmissions too! Several past boyfriends tried to teach me over the years, to no avail. I don't see the appeal of it, either. Otherwise, I find driving enjoyable and when gas prices aren't so high I'll go wandering around the countryside for hours. :)

    1. Wandering around the countryside is a terrific pastime. I've seen so many beautiful spots that I never would have seen if I hadn't taken the time.

  3. Wow, that would be rather scarring at such an early age. I didn't start learning how to drive until I was 18. My family only had manual transmissions, so that's what I learned to drive. I soooo remember trying to figure out how you let the clutch out slowly while you push the gas in, how easy it was to stall the car. My mom, who taught me, was extremely patient.

    However, I ended up the opposite from you. I loathe automatic cars and will never ever own one. I hate that they shift when they want to shift, LOL!, not when I want them too, and going up a big hill in an automatic makes me want to pull out my hair.

    Driving stick shift, however, for me (and my sister) is just so much fun. You're much more a part of the car. Like the actual driving is the cool part of going somewhere? Not just the destination? If that makes sense. Even the whole one mile to the grocery store today is fun for me to drive. Manual keeps driving non-boring, and it makes curvy mountain driving (which I do a lot) so much easier. Of course, since I've been driving stick for 25+ years, it's also second nature. But you should hear me complain and moan when I have to travel for work and get stuck in an automatic and it won't do what I want! ROFL!

    1. LOL! Y'know, my mom also loves to drive stick shift, too! I can see how it would be fun if you knew what you're doing. I wish I could be more proficient at it. Maybe I'll take another whack at it someday. =D

    2. Yes, if you're uncomfortable and not smooth with it, then stick would probably be frustrating. I know just switching cars can have this learning curve. Driving my sister's stick is way different from driving mine, and hers tends to frustrate me. That level of comfort isn't there.

      I also think it depends on your car. I drive a VW Jetta wagon, and while it doesn't sound like it, it handles like a sports car. Going around a corner, the suspension is tight, and it hugs the corner, so when add in shifting as you turn, it just makes the corner... really fun. You know, that's just really hard to explain! LOL! But I've driven pickups and things that aren't nearly so fun to drive stick in. They don't corner or accelerate with grace, speed, and agility.

  4. Driving is also an anxiety causing thing for me. The drivers in South Africa (especially where I live are terrible) driving to work each day is a nightmare, with taxings weaving in and out of traffic, people jumping red robots (traffic lights) etc. We also grow up on a farm and I remember my younger sister driving us around in my moms bakkie (truck) - it was fun, until she landed us in a big donga (hole). In SA most people drive a stick, automatic cars are rare - only the more larny (smart / expensive) cars are automatic. And 14 - in SA the it 18 before you get your license - although I think it should be 30!

    1. I loved reading your comment, Clare, and learning a little bit about South Africa. I love that traffic lights are called "read robots"! So cool.

  5. Kids on farms start young here too - in paddocks anyway. But I've always lived in the town and didn't start driving until I was mid-twenties. I was just too nervous. And I only drive automatics. I had way too many scares driving a stick shift!

    1. Luckily, I was able to learn how to drive in the country and in a very small town (we only have 1,200 people in my hometown) so it was fairly easy. Not one single traffic light!

  6. The first time I drove was helping my dad feed the cows in winter; he had the truck already in first gear, just told me not to drive over the hay once he dropped it. I was probably eight or nine.

    I didn't learn on a stick, but after getting my license, drove a Chevy truck with a three-speed on the column. I prefer automatics, but my youngest is like her dad and myself; her first two cars were manuals. My eldest does have a license, never uses it, and my middle son hopes to never drive. I think the youngest got all their vehicle genes. :)))

    1. You were pretty young! I think that's why farm kids grow up to be pretty independent adults. We learn to be at a young age!

  7. Melissa, I can't drive a manual transmission either-(though I'm so ashamed to admit that the first time I tried I was very young and very wild and had a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other!) I know, I know! So, so stupid! It was on a back country road, and I was trying to drive my boyfriend at the times car, and went off the road and got all hung up on a tree stump! For all of my stupidity, I was fortunate to come out of the experience unscathed-and now that I have a daughter of my own, I'd have a heart attack if she ever did something like that-but she won't:)

    I live by the straight and narrow now, and only go near automatics:)

    1. LOL, Valerie! That is a funny story. I think you should use it in one of your short stories that you right - just change it to 1941 and a Studebaker. ;-)

    2. I mean "write." Sheesh!


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