MY FIRST AND ONLY DRIVING LESSON WITH DAD

My brothers were all taught to drive as a matter of course – and well before the legal age for a learner driver! This was easy enough to accomplish on the farm roads. Somehow, I slipped through the net.

It must have been a holiday spent at home during my first year of university when Dad surprised me with an invitation to “drive my truck.” His truck was a GMC pick-up with a powerful throaty engine. To my eye it both looked and felt enormous for I couldn’t really see over the long, broad bonnet very well.

How exciting, I thought, as we walked towards the GMC parked under the shade of the large white mulberry tree growing next to the farmhouse veranda. I got in behind the steering wheel and waited for Dad to settle on the passenger seat – an unusual position for him for Mom couldn’t yet drive. It is significant to mention at this point that seat belts hadn’t yet made their obligatory appearance in vehicles.

Dad sat back with his elbow resting on the open window. I turned the key with the confidence of the ignorant and listened to the roar of the engine under the bonnet. So far, so good.

“Change into first gear, release the clutch and we’ll get going.”

‘Get going’ were the operative words here. I don’t think either of us was prepared for what happened next. I changed from neutral into first gear, let down the hand brake, released the clutch and pressed the accelerator.

No-one had ever shown me how to use an accelerator. It isn’t a pedal easily observed by a passenger either. All I knew was that one pressed one’s foot on the accelerator to get a vehicle moving. And ‘press’ I did – my foot pushed the accelerator to the floor; the engine roared; the truck took off at full speed – doubtless leaping into the air as it did so. Okay, the latter might be a bit of an exaggeration – it certainly felt like it – but I was in no position to tell for I had a major problem to contend with.

Instead of me being able to steer around the curve of the driveway towards the farm road, the powerful take-off I had initiated with my heavy-footedness sent the truck charging ahead at speed – heading straight towards the bulk fuel storage tanks and the engine room of our lighting plant!

The bulk storage tanks are in the background, behind my mother watering the vegetable garden.

You have heard the expression ‘slamming on anchors’. Well, that’s exactly what I did: still gripping the steering wheel with white-knuckled hands, I pushed my left foot down hard on the brake pedal. We lurched to a halt as the engine cut out. Dad almost went through the windscreen, so great was the jolt.

I turned to look at him. My heart seemed to be pumping audibly. His face was ashen. He opened the passenger door and got out in silence – he had not uttered a word. I too got out and surrendered the truck keys in silence as we walked towards the kitchen door together. “I thought you could drive,” he managed in a shaky voice before turning to my mother with “I need a strong cup of tea.”

She put the water on to boil while I washed my face and wondered if my legs would ever stop shaking. “I thought she could drive,” I heard Dad saying. He had sat down heavily on a chair in the dining room, probably unable to make it as far as the front veranda where we usually had tea. His legs might have felt as wobbly as mine did. He went on to explain to Mom that because my brothers could all drive, I would ‘somehow’ have learned too.

The truck remained where it was for several hours before Dad parked it properly. He never offered me another driving lesson.

49 thoughts on “MY FIRST AND ONLY DRIVING LESSON WITH DAD

  1. Anne what a precious memory! As we were two girls Dad was keen for us to learn to drive early on. As soon as I could engage the handbrake on the Vaaljapie (little grey Ferguson tractor), my lessons began… I was 11 years old.

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  2. Wonderful story Anne! I laughed, although I know it wasn’t funny at the time. I can picture your Dad repeating to himself “I thought she could drive”. The image is clear.
    We lived outside the city limits so driving was a necessity, although it didn’t happen until we reached the age of 16. My Dad did not have the patience, so it was my Mom who would accompany us on practice drives before the driving test. Fortunately, I learned to drive an automatic and only tackled a standard many years later.
    Loved reading this piece.

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  3. It made me laugh. “His face was ashen. He opened the passenger door and got out in silence – he had not uttered a word.” I could see it. Wonderful writing, I was right there with you. Thank you!

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  4. A wonderful story, Anne! I can picture it from your words. My dad tried to teach me how to drive the little tractor, which involved a clutch and shifting gears, but I could not master it, so he gave up after one lesson. When I did learn to drive a car , it was through driving lessons at drivers school, and practicing with my mother on a quiet sideroad, but it was on an automatic car, not a stick shift.

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  5. Kostelik! My dad would gladly have died before handing over his kar keys to any of his children and we all had to arrange professional driving lessons after leaving home. My husband tried to teach me, but on our first try I got out of the car five miles from home and caught a bus back 🤣

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  6. I couldn’t stop laughing. I am sure it was traumatic but so typical of “Dad” thinking you could learn by osmosis.
    Still giggling.

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  7. Great story. My middle child also gave me a small heart attack. I taught my children too, but she was a wild and reckless soul. Nearly took out the washing pole. Memories 😂😂🤗

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  8. Wow – I can imagine this from how you’ve written it. We lost our school millage and had to pay for driver’s training … my father said “we’ll practice in the high school parking lot on a Sunday so you are a step ahead of the others.” He had a temper, so I really wasn’t keen on going and besides … driver’s ed cars are automatic, not stick shifts and he had a Volkswagon Fastback. Why confuse me? But I didn’t understand the shifting/clutch, etc. and he screamed at me to “stop stripping the gears.” I stopped the car and hopped out and that was it for lessons. I had a Volkwagon Beetle, but no clutch; you just shifted into second gear when you went over 55 mph.

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      • You’re welcome Anne. After I took driver’s training, there was the necessary hours you needed to practice once you got “learner’s permit” before you could drive alone. My father had a “Sunday car” – he bought it then he started working near a cement factory and the cement dust spewed out constantly, so he got a used VW Fastback just for work. The other car stayed in the garage and was his “baby” and when he went out with me in the big car to practice, he’d be screeching at me to NOT dirty the whitewall tires. He even bought “curb feelers” so I would not park too close to the curb. I went to take my driver’s test and purposely made wide turns to avoid hitting those stupid whitewalls … the man giving me the test did not pass me as he said “why on earth do you drive down the middle of the road?” I explained. He said “come back another time!” So a friend of the family took me to practice a few times in her car and I passed no problem. My father had no patience … not with learning to ride a two-wheeler either. I had to learn from a friend’s father who had more patience and allowed me to ride on the grass so if I fell, it would be soft.

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  9. My daughter regularly keeps sending cartoon clips of father-daughter driving lessons to me, so the post had a personal appeal to me. I am glad your brain was still in possession of its bearings to have prompted slamming in of the brake pedal. That was hilariously described, but what I enjoyed most was the psychological after effects you have brought in subtly into the narration.

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