Recently I sent a couple of cards to my two great-grand nieces for their 14th birthdays. I kidded them about learning to drive, which made me think about my own experiences when I was 14 and so anxious to get a “learner’s permit.”
It was 1957 and the family car was a pink ’57 Chevy automatic. On Sunday afternoons my dad took me on country roads to practice. I loved it. My dad had more confidence in my ability than he should have when he allowed me to drive into town going north on Hydraulic approaching Kellogg. Back then there was no overpass and George Washington Boulevard ended at that corner coming from the southeast. The five lanes of busy traffic came together in a very convoluted way, which resulted in me bursting into tears and my dad and me switching seats. That never deterred me from driving, just made me more determined.
I e-mailed some of my former high school chums (all girls) who were part of my 1961 graduating class to ask about their driving experiences. Joann learned in her boyfriend’s car, in town, with traffic and him as her teacher. What could go wrong? Soon they heard a siren and got pulled over. After hearing an explanation, the cop told the boyfriend to take her out to the country for the lessons.
Kathy worked hard and saved her money to buy her first car, a red VW bug from Import Motors on West Douglas. With the paperwork all signed, she got in to drive it home with her stepdad in the passenger seat and discovered one big problem. She had learned to drive an automatic, so she had no idea how to shift gears or what to do with a clutch. She got some quick lessons from stepdad, made many false starts before finally jerking her way out of the parking lot and home. Her stepdad never drove with her again.
Elaine learned how to shift when she was five years old. Her dad had a ’37 Dodge Coupe and she sat next to him, shifting gears with the floor shift. She wasn’t tall enough to see out the window but says she could “shift that roadster like a demon.”
Diane’s first car was a very ugly brown used Edsel she bought from her dad for $250. She got rear-ended in it but her heavy tank of a car barely budged and (before seat belts) she was not injured.
My mother and older sister never learned to drive until they were adults. I agree with Elaine that we are lucky to be among the first generation of women for whom it was normal to drive and own their own cars.
I think we’re lucky to have The Active Age newspaper mailed to us every month, too. If you enjoy it, please consider a donation to keep us going—kinda like those cars did back in 1957!
Diana Breit Wolfe is treasurer of The Active Age’s volunteer board of directors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.