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.
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