I was excited and intimidated about getting my permit when I turned sixteen. I had taken driver's ed, the book work at school, played on the simulator, watched all the movies with wrecks and passed the test. Dad drove me over to Mercer shortly after my birthday. I had the little piece of cardboard paper allowing me behind the wheel of our Nova with a licensed driver next to me.
My mom continued to renew her driver's license, but she never drove. She became much too anxious. She drove the year before, on our trip to Wyoming, at fifty five miles an hour with her head and neck so stiff with fear that my dad really didn't get the rest he needed from driving. That was the last time she ever drove, ever. So Mom would not be the one in the passenger seat while I learned.
I didn't drive home from Mercer, like some of my friends were allowed to do. Dad, though, did have me drive to the school to practice. I turned the right corners fine, but pulling into School Street as a left hand turn proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. I managed somehow to get that little blue Nova up over an eight inch curb, bending the no parking sign. The funny thing is that sign is still there and still bent. Now the world can know.
My dad remained calm. I guess as a practiced instructor of three other teens, he took it all in stride. In the school parking lot, after we somehow got off the curb- I really don't remember how we did disengage the car-I plowed into the fence at the foot ball field. Again, Dad didn't get rattled, quietly instructed me to back up and try again.
We then gave the lessons a break for about a month. Then we drove over to Mercer, going down the big hill on 318 by the Wilson farm. He guided me into gears and we made it down. I went off the road once, just one tire, but I gently returned to the highway. Summer time driving in the country filled me with freedom after my initial nervousness. Dad comfortably relaxed in the seat next to me or so he appeared.
I looked back and wondered how Dad remained peacefully calm, after I rode with my daughters learning to drive. I felt chest pain, imaging that heart attack from anxiety. I reminded myself, if I'm relaxed (or limp) I won't get hurt as much in a collision. I knew though I couldn't close my eyes. I had many sharp intakes of air like my mother used to do.
One day after weeks of practicing driving, three point turns at Farrell High School and parallel parking, I drove over to Mercer to have a state trooper get into the passenger side. I felt confident, but still the officers are stern, not chattering. I listened to his directions with no mishaps. I passed, obtaining another paper with my information on it, that I could drive by myself.
In August after my Vo-Tech stint, I took a week of in car driver's ed with Mr. V. We drove to New Castle, Youngstown, Mercer on the interstate. We went in circles practicing the clover leaf, entering and exiting the interstate. Every once in a while, the brakes left our control, as Mr. V. pushed his bar to brake us. Usually three students shared this driving experience, two learning in the back as we waited our rotation to drive. We couldn't listen to the cool FM stations, because Mr. V. insisted on "live radio." We couldn't explain to him that the live radio played records, too. No it was WFMJ or WKBN AM only that got air play in the driver's ed car. We ate lunch at McDonald's. We took all day to get our driving time in.
Like my sisters and brother before me, I crashed into our wooden garage door backing out. When we first moved there, Mr. Boal rented a side of the old stone garage. I believe by mutual agreement, he decided it was safer to park on Haywood Street or the church parking lot behind his house. We needed two cars with teen aged drivers.
That first summer of driving I cherish a freedom limited by the eleven o'clock curfew and if we were allowed to have the car. All our parents seemed generous lending us a vehicle, as we drove to the Mall, the park, McDonald's on State Street, where everyone hung out. My husband, not growing up in this area, still does not understand the driving around Buhl Park. I can't explain the right of passage, the element of growing up, finding dates and friends, the freedom of rolled down windows on a clear summer evening and blaring your music, singing with your friends in the car. The car equaled freedom, when you could fill up for a dollar- yes, a dollar.