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!
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.