First Solo Driving Experience… Not Good.

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I’ve decided to move up to my adolescent years for this post, and tell the story about my first solo driving experience. I was, of course, 16 years of age and had successfully completed my driving test in Vermont at the DMV in Springfield. The vehicle I used was a CJ -5 canvas top Willys Jeep. The color was a kind of emerald green and the windows around the perimeter were canvas framed sheets of plastic. My father had removed them so I could have maximum visibility and add to my chances of passing the road test. Starting and stopping on a hill was one of the most difficult

parts of the test. Using a standard stick shift jeep and a hand emergency brake was a definite disadvantage. Despite that, I didn’t roll back. I did everything right except while taking a left turn, I went slightly left of center, but luckily no one was using the oncoming lane, so the examiner didn’t take any points off. I remember being so glad to get my temporary junior operator’s license. Living miles from a paved road, and what seemed like miles from civilization, a license meant freedom to socialize and participate in school sports.

The next day or so went well and my father was anxious to let me go to “Tony’s Market”, 2 ½ miles away in Cavendish. It would be my first time taking the car out alone. This time I was driving my folks’ pale green 1964 Chevy station wagon. I was pretty confident that all would go well. We lived on a narrow dirt road, but everyone was familiar with moving to the side a little to allow room for passing each other in opposite directions.

Everything went well on the way to the store. I picked up the milk and bread and headed back home. When I got back to the stone underpass there was another car coming in the opposite direction. I met them right in the underpass and pulled way over to be extra polite. I waved and nodded to the other driver, and then suddenly I felt the car bump something. The underpass is on a slight curve and I had over compensated in moving to the right, and hit one of the rocks in the uneven wall. I stopped and got out to look as my heart sank deeply. The right side passenger door had a 5 or 6 foot scratch just below the door handle, and was slightly dented in. My smile turned into an expression of fear, and the anxiety was overwhelming.

As I have previously introduced him, my father had a wild temper, backed by his stature and strength, which was well known. I assumed my father would immediately tear up my license and yell loud enough to echo through the valley like a lion’s roar. I began rehearsing the manner in which I’d tell him, and pray for sympathy.

Driving over the knoll just above our house, I saw the game warden in the driveway. He and my father were friends, and he would often stop by while on duty, and ask Dad to go with him to catch poachers. Besides working as a truck driver at the talc mine, Dad was a constable for the town, and his badge allowed him to help other law enforcement agencies. I didn’t want to suffer further embarrassment by telling my father of the accident in front of his friend, especially this friend. He’d only add to the torture by making sarcastic remarks, and probably encourage my father to teach me a severe lesson. I went in the house, and stood quietly while waiting for him to leave, and before I could say anything, they both went out the door, and left in the police car.

I was punishing myself as I waited for their return. I didn’t mention it to anyone in the house because I didn’t need to get the lecture twice. It got to be late that night and my mother told me to go upstairs to my attic bedroom and get to bed. I almost thankfully went up and fell asleep while imagining my fate. The next morning, my father went to work a bit earlier than normal and took the car. Now I’d have to go through the whole day at school worrying about what would happen when he got home. I had no idea what the teachers were saying as I went through the routine of changing classes. I didn’t talk to anyone about my accident because I’d just embarrass myself. The bus ride home seemed like heading to death row.

Dad usually got home about supper time, and hated anything to disrupt his mood while he was eating or relaxing from the day’s work. I remained quiet and went to my room to sit and wait for his arrival. I heard the Chevy pull into the driveway and got increasingly nervous, so much I think I was actually shaking. I didn’t know if he’d get violent or just yell and throw things. The door of the car slammed and then I heard the living room door slam so hard that it vibrated the whole house. I knew now he’d seen the dented, scratched car. I had tried to tell him the night before but circumstances didn’t allow that opportunity. I was going to tell him before work but he’d gone early. Now he was home and I was nearly throwing up as I began to come down the stairs while he was yelling. My mother asked what was so wrong that he was this upset.

I stood off to the side as Dad yelled, “I don’t know which one of those bastards at work ran into my car but they side swiped the whole passenger side and if I find out which son of a bitch did it I’ll break ‘em right in half!” He continued for a few minutes until he ran out of words for his tirade. I stood there frozen, and he looked at me. “Do you need to go anywhere in the car Ricky?” he asked in a toned down voice.

“No, I don’t need to go anywhere,” I said, shocked. For a moment, I contemplated telling him it was me that did the damage, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought I’d be smart to keep it to myself. He didn’t know it was done the night before, and he didn’t have any one person at work to blame. I thought I’d better leave well enough alone, and consider myself the luckiest new driver on the planet. He and my mother went out to the driveway to examine the car, then came back in for supper. I took my plate into the living room to eat on the couch and started to feel a huge sense of relief. I didn’t have to lie, and I didn’t have to suffer any wrath. I was just very fortunate, and as I took a deep breath, I realized sometimes prayers are answered in unexpected ways.

(c) Rick Wyman

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