Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Daddy, may I take the wheel?

Sunday afternoon, my parents and sister visited me in Winona. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, they pulled into town with a pickup truck full of furniture and other odds and ends to finish furnishing my home. I miss seeing my family every day, so a visit for any reason is perfectly fine with me.

According to my sister, Deana, the trip was long. Traveling in Daddy’s truck is only comfortable if you ride in the front seat, but Deana did convince Momma to ride in the backseat. She also managed to convince Daddy to take us to dinner.

We decided to take a little tour of the area – especially the antebellum homes in Winona and Carrollton, and then head over to Greenwood to eat. I drove. Daddy sat in the passenger seat – gripping the legs of his pants with white-knuckled fists.

“Watch the road,” he shouted. “Watch the road.”

He complained about me getting to close to the ditch (I was simply driving the left lane). He complained about me handing Deana my cell phone (most people can do more than one thing at a time). He complained about my speed.

“Watch those people on the bikes.” I thought I needed to watch the road.

Funny thing, Daddy taught me to drive. At 15, I got my driver’s permit but still had never been behind the wheel of a car. I had 30 days to learn to drive before I got my license.

One Saturday, Daddy informed me that he would give me a driving lesson. I climbed into the driver’s seat of his 1985 Lincoln Town Car – all 25 feet of it. The car was so big, eight adults could ride comfortably on two seats and four others could sit in the truck.

My lesson lasted about three minutes. While backing out of the driveway, I ran off the pavement and into the drainage culvert at the street. Defeated, I trudged back into the house – leaving Daddy screaming and hollering in the front yard.

Two weeks later, we started out again – from the street this time. Daddy directed me down winding, country roads. I managed to keep it on the pavement, but I did have issues with a one lane railroad trestle. We switched seats while Daddy passed under it.

I practiced for about an hour before we headed home. Daddy didn’t holler at me during the lesson, but he did make a smart comment about me scaring him to death as he went into the house.

A week later, I managed to pass my driving test. Personally, I think the nice lady with the DMV felt sorry for me.

At 15 and one month, I was a licensed driver who still did not know how to drive. I could keep the car in the right lane, but I had issues with turning, parking, and reversing. Despite all of this, I convinced my parents to let me “cruise” Stateline Road in Southaven that Friday night. My sister, Stephanie, even let me use her new car.

Mind you, I have never driven anywhere but country roads, but I was certain I could make it on Stateline Road on the busiest night of the week. I was wrong.

I had not been out for more than an hour before I ran Stephanie’s new car under the rear end of a Dooley truck. When my parents arrived on the scene, they were eerily calm.

“She’s the youngest of my three girls,” Daddy told the police officer.

The officer nodded with a smile that said, “Oh, okay. You must be a pro at this.”

In fact, Daddy was a pro at this. By that time, I had already been in three fender-benders with my two older sisters, and each had been in separate accidents without me in the car. Daddy had even suggested he replace the passenger door to the car with something Velcro so it would be less expensive to replace. Stephanie and Deana always managed to take out that same door.

I wish I could say that was my one and only accident. Well, involving another car, it was. I managed to hit the big green dumpster behind my school, run through the garage wall, take out more mail boxes than I can count, hit a light pole, and run through a neighbors retaining wall.

Once in college, while on a 2 a.m. frozen yogurt run to Chevron in Oxford, a monster truck ran over my car in the parking lot. When I say ran over, I mean ran over my car while I watched in horror from inside the store. (I was in a marked parking space). As he bounced over the hood of my car, his trailer hitch wedged into my car’s engine. Two tow trucks were dispatched to rip our cars apart.

In my own defense, not all of these mishaps were my fault. In fact, I blame Daddy for the garage wall because his car was not entirely on its side of the garage. And the light pole – my car went completely out of control by itself like it was possessed.

Because of my spotty driving record, my first car was our 1984 Ford F150 farm truck. It was brown, and it always had grass clippings, mulch, or dead leaves in the back. I named the truck Loretta.

Loretta had seen better days when I got her. Both sisters broke her in, and she was just a fraction of her original self when I got her. She had no tape deck, and the radio would switch from FM to AM on its own. It required a forceful bang on the dashboard with my fist to flip it back to FM.

Remarkably, I was the only one of the three girls that did not get Loretta into an accident – every other car we owned, but not Loretta.

Over the past decade, my driving record has remarkably improved. I haven’t hit one inanimate object since college, and I can’t even recall my last fender bender – knock wood.

Looking for a lesson in my tale, I have thought long and hard. First, I don’t think it is I that needs to learn the lesson. Daddy taught me to drive, so therefore, his instruction is somehow flawed. If the driving instructor is screaming with fright every time you round a curve, it tends to do something to your psyche.

Second, in examining the driving histories of my grandfather, Daddy, and two sisters, I am beginning to believe our difficulties behind the wheel run in the family.

Third, when as an adult, you are required to fork out money for car insurance, to repair the car, and to settle up any tickets collected from your fender-bender, one tends to be much more careful. Ten and two, people. Times are tough.


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