I had spent years riding with fear as my mother took the wheel and drove us around while dad was at work. Not that she was a bad driver but she sure wasn't as good of a driver as dad or as I thought I would be. I recall watching her run a stop sign when I was much younger and she was so blind to that stop sign that she will tell you to this day that there was not a stop sign to be run. Trust me. She ran the stop sign.
I was use to dad's overly relaxed ways behind the wheel of a car. He would slouch in the seat and drive with one finger on the steering wheel. He would drive with one hand while holding a hot cup of coffee in the other. The coffee wasn't in a travel mug, just a regular cup from the kitchen. As far as I can remember he never spilled a drop. That was the kind of driver I would be.
After I turned sixteen I went to the license bureau and picked up my learners permit. There wasn't much a kid could do with a learner's permit since you had to have a licensed driver in the car with you whenever you drove. Usually that meant that every time I drove somewhere mom or dad was in the car riding shotgun. It was fun for a couple of days but after that the independent streak in me began to get a little anxious. I knew that I could drive. I had been watching one of the best drivers ever in my dad for years. I knew all the little tricks and the stuff that you can do while driving to make you look cool.
The first time I took the test for the actual license I failed. Everything was going pretty good. I had remembered to fasten my seat belt which was a totally new thing for me. I remembered to adjust the mirrors before putting the car into gear. I even remembered to look behind me before backing out of the parking space. Things were going very well at first.
Even though it was torture driving the course at a terrifying twenty miles per hour, I resisted the urge to drive as I normally would. Then the unthinkable happened. The officer giving the test suddenly asked me to pull over and come to a stop which I did. He then looked me square in the eye and asked me if I had seen that stop sign at the last corner. Stop sign? I most certainly did not see a stop sign, if I had I would have stopped. Sounded like a trick question to me so I answered in the negative. I was sure he wasn't expecting the answer he got and he would allow me to finish the test. It turns out that in the state of Missouri, if you commit a driving violation while taking the test they are obligated to fail you. So I had to drive back and pick up mom and tell her that I had not passed due to running a stop sign. I don't think she laughed out loud but I am sure she was on the inside.
A few weeks later I took the test again and passed with flying colors. Not even the parallel parking would hinder me from finally gaining the freedom I had so much desired. I was at last set loose on the roads of Kansas City and I was eager to go out on my own.
That night we were having a little family get together at mom and dad's. My aunt Sue was there with Grandma and Grandpa and a couple of my uncles. There was an errand that needed running so my aunt Sue and I begged to go get whatever needed getting. Dad was the one who gave in and handed the keys over to me. Shortly Sue and I were on our first adventure together since riding the trains to Springfield when we were little.
As I was driving I guess we got a little silly. I slid down in the seat and slouched and tried to drive looking just over the top of the steering wheel when suddenly the car made a horrible sound and shifted to the left a bit. I rolled the car to a stop and looked in the rear view mirror. There were a few people standing in the street next to a parked car. I had hit a parked car the very first time I was out on my own. I backed the car up and saw that I had put a tiny dent in the fender of my dad's car next to the head light and the tail light of the parked car was shattered. I had no idea what to do. I told the people I would drive home and get my dad and be right back but they threatened to call the police if I left the scene of an accident. They were not very nice people or very understanding.
This being in the days before cell phones I had to beg to use their phone to call home. They finally relented and I called home while crying my eyes out. Dad said that someone would be there shortly and that I should just wait. While Sue and I were waiting these people poured heaps of insults at us and my driving ability. It was not a fun wait.
Suddenly I saw a welcome sight. My Uncle Buster's car was pulling up with my dad in the passenger seat. Dad could be a little forceful but my Uncle Buster was down right intimidating. While he was a caring man who would give the shirt off his back to help anyone, he also did not put up with a lot of stuff. When he got out of the car the people turned their abuse towards Dad and Buster. This was a huge mistake as Buster immediately took over the situation and started to tell the people how this was going to go down. Soon Dad and Buster had the victims calmed down and under control and insurance information and phone numbers being exchanged the way it should be.
After all was said and done Sue rode back with Buster and I rode back with dad driving the car. I was sternly lectured and questioned about the events and soon found out that I would have to be a little more careful in my driving antics in the future. When we arrived home I went through the whole question and lecture thing with mom. The questioning lasted longer with mom than with dad but it eventually ended none too soon.
I was grounded from driving for a while losing my hard fought for freedom with one little mistake. I also learned a valuable lesson from that night in relation as to how important it was to be aware of things going on around you while you are driving. I learned the lesson so well, that in future wrecks I would not be at fault. Well I was at fault in one other wreck after I was well into my forties. I may write about that one day but suffice it to say that the second wreck that was my fault was really the cars fault. The old Chevette that I would get from my dad some twenty five years later was a wreck waiting to happen.