Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Keep it between the lines

He would keep an unseen, steady hand on the steering wheel as the seven-year-old in his lap alternated between touching the pedals and looking out the windshield. The boy would ask to drive wherever they went. He would acquiesce to every third or fourth request. And when he did, the boy was on top of the world.

The rest of the time the boy would sit in the backseat and pretend his father was Mario Andretti, and the other cars his competitors. Every stop for gas or at a store was a pit stop. On his knees in the backseat, looking out the rear window, the boy would announce the race play-by-play, keeping an eye on the second place car.

"Don't let him pass you, Daddy!"

Almost overnight, seven turned fourteen, and one day he let the boy drive his old baby blue Chevrolet truck around their backyard. It was a stick with no power steering and the boy didn't know how to get it out of first gear. The ride was bumpy, but the boy was on top of the world.

Some days he would take the family car out to the new four-lane that was still under construction, and let the boy drive the stretches of blacktop from one barricade to the next. Slowly but surely, he could see the boy improving.

Then came fifteen and it was time. The two of them climbed into the family car. And as the boy cautiously pulled onto the two-lane road in front of their house, he sat in the passenger seat, offering advice. Telling the boy to line up the hood ornament with the edge of the road. Cautioning him if he got across the center line or too close to the mailboxes.

The boy was a bundle of nerves, not wanting to make a mistake, forever seeking his father's approval. His hands were shaking slightly as he concentrated only on keeping it between the lines. It seemed the hardest thing for the boy to learn was to use his right foot for both the gas and brake pedals. That one would take a little while.

Meanwhile, sitting in the passenger's seat, he would press his foot into the floorboard time and again in search of a brake pedal that wasn't there. Somewhere amidst the pride and nervousness he felt, he thought about how they would only go thru this once. This rite of passage.

The boy would learn to drive, and then he'd be one step closer to being a man, to college, to marriage, to moving away, to real life. It took all he had sometimes not to reach over and grab the wheel.

Miles passed and almost without notice, the advice and words of caution grew less frequent. Full of pride, he looked over at the boy, smiled and said, "That's it, son. You're driving!"

Palms drenched with sweat and eyes never leaving the road, I was on top of the world.

"He'd say a little slower son, you're doing just fine. Just a dirt road with trash on each side, but I was Mario Andretti when Daddy let me drive..."

24 comments:

  1. You've captured it.

    Did your father tell you that to stop far enough back that you could still see the tires of the car in front of you, too?

    The learning to drive rite of passage was a big deal to me. I just experienced the passing of the torch to my daughter (well not "just", since she's now 17 1/2), but it is what prompted me to begin writing my novel. The book morphed so it's not just about the driving, but without the driving, the mother/daughter relationship that is the force behind the story would fall apart.

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  2. Awww.

    That's really all I can say right now.

    (Don't worry, I'll be back to leave my normal ridiculously long and drawn out comment.)

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  3. Awww that's so sweet. I really hope that I can do that for DD when the time comes. My own parents didn't have the nerve. I had to take Driver's Ed in school and that was really a joke as there weren't enough cars & instructors to go around. Each week only 1/2 the class actually got to be in a car. One time a girl put a car through the fence of the driving range...not only did she get in trouble, but the other two kids in the car, who were talking instead of paying attention to what she was doing, also got into trouble. fond memories.

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  4. Each passing day is a step toward that transition to adulthood. With my girls, driving is one transition I would love to skip.

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  5. Gay: Thanks. I'm sure he probably told me something similar to that :) What a cool coincidence. I'm curious as to how the mother-daughter dynamic would differ from the father-son?

    Traveling Chica: I'll be back to leave my normal ridiculously long and drawn out comment.

    Looking forward to it :)

    Renee: Yeah, I'm not sure I learned much in driver's ed. Seems like we got to actually drive like one or two days and ride with someone else the rest of the week.

    We had driver's ed in tenth grade, second semester. Half the class was already sixteen and had some idea how to drive. Except for this one poor kid, who only got to drive around an empty parking lot.

    Kontan: I can easily see myself sharing that sentiment some future day :)

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  6. I remember climbing onto my Dad’s lap in our old pickup and begging to drive when I was little. (These were the days when you didn’t have to be in a car seat, I mean, booster seat until you were 5’0”…) And when I wasn’t helping steering, he’d put his hand over mine and “help” me put the truck into gear. And I was on top of the world.

    There must be something magical about Dad’s and driving, because I can think of countless other experiences with my Dad when I was young that make me smile: the semi, the combine, the tractors… sigh. I was such a Daddy’s Girl… but one who always came home filthy, with yet another pink outfit my mom insisted upon close to ruined O:-)

    Almost overnight, seven turned fourteen,

    It’s amazing how that happens. I think we all notice time goes faster as we get older, but when you start watching kids grow up, it REALLY flies.

    The boy was a bundle of nerves, not wanting to make a mistake, forever seeking his father's approval. His hands were shaking slightly as he concentrated only on keeping it between the lines. It seemed the hardest thing for the boy to learn was to use his right foot for both the gas and brake pedals. That one would take a little while.

    I don’t think any of us ever completely stop wanting our parents’ approval, at least to some degree. They raised us to think about whether or not what we were doing would disappoint them, after all, and who wanted to do that? I laughed at the last part though… I know people who still don’t know how to do that ;)

    he thought about how they would only go thru this once. This rite of passage.

    Sometimes it’s amazing that we forget some of the things we aren’t so sure we’re enjoying at the time will only happen once in our lives, so to enjoy every second of them, even the hair-raising ones :-) [NOT that I’m saying riding with you while you were learning to drive was hair-raising or anything…O:-)]

    This is a great post. Really made me remember a lot of happy times spent with my Dad… I hope someday, if you don’t let him read this, you at least sit down and talk to him about those times. Chances are… he sits and thinks about them sometimes too, you being a little boy, instead of a man. And misses them, too.

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  7. Know your father is proud of you the person.

    Great story, and uh you know my driving story--my one driving story

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  8. Forgot to say this is one of your most beautiful stories

    Would love to see them in a book. Yes, I would

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  9. agree with Pia, a book of these from you would be good.

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  10. I argee with shelby and pia, and a digital web book would do fine too.

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  11. This brought tears to my eyes. Evoking emotion is a good thing.

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  12. Nice telling of the story... brought back memories and I can see you in the back seat giving the race's play by play.

    but why Indy cars? Why not a stock car driver?

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  13. Traveling Chica: Oh, the car seat until you're five feet tall rule! Now that's a blog entry in itself.

    Yeah, I used to love changing gears in my aunt's car or my uncle's truck. I'd forgotten about that childhood thrill.

    Thanks. And that was only a little over 400 words. Not bad ;)

    Jen: Thank you.

    Pia: Thanks. Yeah, he seems to be proud of me. Go figure :)

    It seems I have some recollection of some story about you...

    Shelby: Thank you. That's very kind of yall to say.

    GirlFPS: Thanks. I guess the whole blog is sort of a webbook :)

    Marcia: It's always an amazing feeling to know you moved someone. Thanks for letting me know.

    Sage: Oddly enough, I was a big Indy car fan when I was a kid. Andretti, Mears, Unser, Sullivan, Rahal... I sort of migrated to a NASCAR fan sometime in the early 90's.

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  14. My dad taught both me AND my mom to drive, if you can believe it. My mother waited until she was 36 to learn to drive.

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  15. Oh, the car seat until you're five feet tall rule! Now that's a blog entry in itself.

    Agreed. Get on that, would ya? ;)

    that was only a little over 400 words.

    Thanks. Thanks a lot. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. 8-) I'm going to start word counting them before I post them :-P

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  16. (Or not really because that would take away from your fun...)

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  17. I had so many things to say!! Then I got here, for the thirteenth time, finally with enough time to comment . . and what else is left to say???

    Bone, you're so outstanding in your ability to bring us into your past, engross us in your present or just entertain us (and make us feel) with your stories. I need a promise from you that you're going to do more with this ability than be a blogger. NOT that there's anything wrong with being a blogger, it's just that you're destined for so much more.

    Your father can be proud of the man you've become.

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  18. Lovely. You never cease to amaze me with your skills.

    Driving and otherwise.

    I felt like I was there. Even though I'm not a boy. :)

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  19. So sweet! I love glimpses into your life and who you are :-) I also love me some Alan :-)

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  20. Xinher: My Mom's mother never learned to drive, but wow, I would imagine that is rare today.

    TravelingChica: Yeah, no need to cut them short. Gives me something to do.

    Avery: A promise? Hmm, that sort of conflicts with my commitophobia O:) In all seriousness, thank you. I've stated on here a few times that I would love to have a career in writing.

    Blondie: Thank you. I like the new pic!

    Arlene: Thanks, Brizzle. Well, I could never say it as well as Alan :) But the Mario Andretti line fit well.

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  21. What a great experience. I was just remembering the days when you could kneel on the seats rather than having to be strapped into the seatbelt. It's amazing that we managed to survive.

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  22. Lass: Have you heard that country song, "A Different World"? It talks about things like that, how we rode bikes without helmets and such and we managed to survive.

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