When we baby boomers were younger, OH, so much younger, we couldn’t wait to get old enough to sign up for driver’s ed. At that time, it was a free class and you received a ½ credit for it (at least where we went to school).
At our school, our high school guidance counselor, Mr. Babler, was the brave soul who taught the class as well as being the driving instructor. Mr. Babler was the kind of counselor that the girls all had “impure thoughts” about. My best friend at the time would have signed up for a trip to the moon if he had suggested it to her for a credit, so you can imagine how thrilled she was when it came time to take our driver’s ed classes and driving classes.
Our class time consisted of movies about accidents, lots of reading and lots of tests. It seems we had 30 hours class instruction and 6 hours driving time. I know it wasn’t much time behind the wheel.
After you had completed the class and driving time, you were issued your learner’s permit. This meant that you could drive WITH YOUR PARENTS. And that you needed to get in 10 of hours of driving before you could go take your written test and driving test at the County Sheriff’s department.
Of course, during our driving time in class, we were taught the 10 and 2 hand position and we were taught hand over hand when you make a turn in either direction. We were taught to slow down for curves and how to pass an Amish buggy without getting horse doo-doo on the tires or side swiping the buggy. There wasn’t road rage at that time, but I do recall when my friend was driving the driver’s ed car and had to pass a buggy, she got so close that the Amish man shook his fist in the air at her. It also caused Mr. Babler to ask for a break (or maybe it was a brake??). The two of us in the backseat tried not to pass out from fear.
I don’t remember the first time I finally got behind the wheel of the family car with one of my parents. But of course, we were both nervous, I’m sure. I do remember one trip coming back from Sturgis, Mi heading home. There are a couple of long, stretched out curves along the way. I remembered how we were trained to slow down for curves, so I did. And I kept slowing. Assuming if I DID NOT, MOM (who was with me on this trip) would count it against me.
Finally, Mom said, ‘WHAT ARE YOU SLOWING DOWN FOR?” I said “The curve”. She told me on a curve such as that, it wasn’t necessary. Just up ahead in the road on our side was two bales of hay and just beyond that was an Amish buggy in the road. It was a double yellow line, but there wasn’t a car in sight.
Once again, I thought I better play it safe. You don’t pass on a double yellow line, right? Even if you are going at a snail’s pace?? Mom spoke up and said “Now what? Here’s your chance to pass”. I said “Even on a double yellow line??” Truth be known, when you are in Michigan or Indiana, if you are behind an Amish buggy and you wait for a single yellow line, you would spend a good portion of your life staring at the backside of an Amish buggy.
Then there came the hand over hand turning situation. You can imagine if you use hand over hand and your hands never leave the wheel or let it slide back through your hands to straighten out, you are making a lot of work for yourself as well as not always ending up where you want to end up.
We had a large circular drive at home. It connected with the road in two different places. Mom and I got in her beautiful metallic blue Catalina and round and around the drives we went. Practicing NOT using hand over hand. To me it seemed like we did this forever. I swear there was a parade of cars going by the whole time (and then coming BACK the other way). I finally got the idea and passed her class.
There was another time that Dad was with me, trying to help me practice parallel parking. We had a Pontiac Lemans station wagon which was Dad’s vehicle (more or less). A big, embarrassing, uncool boat.
We ended up on Main Street in Colon, almost in front of the M&M Grill. There happened to be one spot left to parallel park in. Again, I swear everyone in St. Joseph County was there, which is odd because Colon is like a graveyard with a stop light….at least until something entertaining comes along (like watching the dairy truck unload on Friday night at the local IGA, or watching the barber pole stripes go around and around, or waiting for a dog to bark).
I got all lined up and ready to back the boat into the slot (which seemed pretty small to me!). I was almost backed up far enough to where I should shift into drive and go forward a bit. So, instead of stepping on the brake, I HIT THE GAS!!! It didn’t take me but a nanosecond to realize it so there was no damage. I figured Dad would unleash the dogs of hell on me but he calmly said “Now, pull ahead.”
Eventually I turned 16 and it was time to take my written test and driving test. Dad and I got in the big yellow boat and headed to Centreville. Dad knew the deputy that was going to take me out for my driving test (I didn’t find this part out till later) and told him I needed a bit of “leeway” on my parallel parking. The test was going well, and we finally got to the parking part. The deputy picked out a spot that you could have parked a semi and trailer in…and I got in with no problem!!
We returned to the Sheriff’s department, parked the car and went in to get my picture taken and get my temporary paper license. I WAS LEGAL!!! I COULD DRIVE ALONE NOW!!!
Or so I thought.
Weeks went by and it seemed no one had to go anyplace so I wasn’t even driving WITH someone. I dropped hints, I even broke eggs and threw them out and poured milk down the drain. Then I would tell Mom we were out of eggs and low on milk. I’d be happy to go to the store. THAT didn’t work.
Christmas time rolled around…and I still don’t remember driving anyplace alone by this time…two whole months later!!
But then!!! I opened one of my presents in a little box and it was a bright orange colored key! Dad said “That is the key to the station wagon” (They couldn’t find a yellow key so hence orange!). Then I opened up another little box and there was a red colored key. This was the key to Mom’s car which now was a maroon colored Pontiac…I can’t remember if it was another Catalina or not.
I thought FINALLY!!! THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM!!! I get to drive alone!
Yeah, right…by now it was winter and I had to have practice driving on winter roads before I’d be turned out by myself.
I don’t remember when the first time was that I FINALLY got to drive someplace by myself. You would think that I would remember that event as much as I had anticipated doing it!
Then I grew up, had kids of my own…and had to go through that with them. But that’s a story for another time.
Do you have memories of your first days of driving??
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