Janet Sheridan: Let’s try it again
May 24, 2018
When young, I didn't want acne, bedbugs, a driver's license or my Uncle Gus to teach me. Especially the last two. The idea of operating a deadly machine while watching for loose dogs, traffic signals, errant drivers, jaywalking pedestrians and officers of the law overwhelmed me. And, when I further imagined doing those things as I conversed with passengers, squinted at street numbers and thought, "Where the hell is Belle's Beauty Parlor?" I felt faint.
So, in ninth grade, when my father asked if I wanted to run an errand with him so I could try driving, I said, "No thanks. I'll let you know if I ever feel ready."
"Huh," Dad replied, "That's a strange notion."
I didn't want to learn to drive. Ever. Then, the mandatory Drivers Education program at Spanish Fork High School, taught by my least favorite uncle, caught up with me, and I had no choice.
After a week of memorizing the rules of the road and watching movies about gory wrecks caused by drunken, risk-taking or inattentive teen drivers, I sat in the driver's seat of a white sedan in the football field's empty parking lot, dread gnawing at my innards. Uncle Gus sat next to me, armed with an extra brake pedal and sarcasm. I hadn't liked the man since he interrupted a hopscotch game to ask if my cousins thought my height would ever catch up to my big feet.
The back seat held two farm boys who'd been driving tractors and pickups since they outgrew diapers. They'd also ridiculed the cautionary movies we'd watched, laughing about staged wrecks and ketchup used for blood. Great. Smug boys and a mean-tongued uncle would witness my fearful incompetence.
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As instructed, I adjusted the mirrors and my seat. And, when told to engage the clutch and find all four gears, I did so, despite vigorous grinding, which made the farmhands snort. Next, I had to start the car, put it in first and gently depress the gas pedal while slowly releasing the clutch until the car moved.
Starting the car, I accidentally gunned the engine to a whining pitch that sent the hysterical hayseeds into hoots of laughter. So, hoping to forestall unkind comments from my uncle, I quickly popped the clutch, sending the car into an animated bunny hop and increasing the revelry in the back seat.
"Try again, Janet, but release the clutch more slowly," came from my right. I did, and the car rolled forward, allowing me to sedately complete a series of prescribed circles and turns in the parking lot. When I finished, Uncle Gus silenced my jeering section: "You did those really well, Janet. You have a good sense for handling a car. Now put it in reverse and back up, using the rear-view mirror only, until I tell you to stop."
I found reverse easily and released the clutch smoothly, but, excited by the unexpected praise, I lead-footed the gas. Abruptly, we shot backward, fast and true, a ballistic missile aimed at the chain-link fence surrounding the football field. Body frozen, eyes obediently glued to the rearview mirror, I watched practicing coaches, football players and cheerleaders run for their lives.
A not unpleasant sight.
Bam! Uncle Gus slammed his brake. We stopped in a squeal of tires and the thudding of the country bumpkins' bodies against the front seat. The runners on the field stopped and turned to stare, and Uncle Gus calmly said, "You kept your eyes on the mirror and the wheels straight, but pull up and let's try it one more time, taking it easy on the gas pedal."
While the watchers gawked and the yokels yukked, I re-thought my long-simmered resentment of Uncle Gus. He was a good teacher; with his help, I could overcome my fear and learn to drive.
I turned to my uncle and smiled.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com on the first and 15th of every month.