Rides of Passage

My Dad taught all of us how to drive. We had a camel colored Chevy Nova that had seen far better days by the time it was my turn to go behind the wheel. Michelle, Frank and I were all two years apart, so my sister already went through the driving wringer when it was my turn in the fall of 1987. I passed my written test on the first try and I was raring to go, but first, you had to pass a series of Dad created gauntlets before you were given the okay to try for your practical driving test.

First up – parallel parking. I know it sounds weird to learn how to park before you learned how to drive, but you had to live on our street to understand how important this skill was. It took time, patience, and practice practice practice. Oh yeah, and everyone would sit on their porches to watch the fun. Up and down the street we got comments because it was a spectator sport. Everyone had advice, but only Stanley’s really counted.

Once you mastered that, it was on to changing a tire. Sure we had AAA like every other family in town, but we also were being raised to be stubbornly self-reliant. (So I got that going for me. Which is nice.) Seriously – over the years I’ve changed more tires on other cars because someone else needed assistance than I did on my own. Finally, the battery test. Positive to Positive, Negative to Ground. That’s a whole other metaphor in itself. And when it doubt – the driver’s manual is always in the glove compartment along with the tire gauge, pack of tissues, insurance/registration, and a map of Pennsylvania.

Then came the MAJOR rites of passage. If you can pass all three of these tests successfully, then Dad deemed you ready to drive to the testing site in Exeter where they had a neat little compact course laid out in the back of the State Police barracks.

You had to prove yourself behind the wheel in three different adventures. Adventure One – Wilkes-Barre Public Square. It was the one and only time he was ok with breaking the “No Cruising” rule. Adventure Two – drive the family to get the Christmas Tree. When it was time, the five of us – six if you count Moe the Daschund – hunted it ourselves, strapped it to the top of the Chevy, and you had to drive the newly laden truckster home. The final feat was conquering State Route 29 from West Nanticoke to Moon Lake Park. If you’re not familiar with the road, it’s tall, windy, and skinny. Imagine a spaghetti noodle of a road lined with rock ledges and swimming holes. It’s a fun road to drive.  Every trip became a new story; a memory told and retold around the dinner table for years until time made the details fray.

I wish I could tell you that my driving experiences were like something out of a Norman Rockwell picture, but I would not be truthful. Dad was pretty deaf so there was a lot of yelling. If he got nervous he would try to take the wheel, which would, in turn, get me in a panic which would snowball from there.  He wasn’t with me when I failed my test the first time I took it, and I was more upset that I was disappointing him than anything else. (Stupid hitting the stupid snowy curb on the stupid K turn…) However, he wasn’t raising a quitter, and within about two weeks I had my license.

Dad got a two-year rest between my sister and me, then between me and my brother. We tried to drive carefully and keep my mom from crushing her invisible brake in the floor of the passenger side or clutching at the “Oh S&%t” handles above the door. He laughed at me when I had a nervous meltdown over mashing a bird in the radiator grill on the way to school and just shrugged when Michelle ran over a snake in the road. Someone lost the muffler too but I don’t remember who that was now.

Once he passed on his skills to his own little birds – he let us fly. I’ve since taught my two nieces to drive and my own Logan is taking his test in June. It’s funny how cyclical some family experiences are. Logan is going to be a good driver with his own application of time, patience, and practice. I sit on my hands and try not to Mom-Out and let him make his own decisions and mistakes.

It makes me wonder what kind of stories he’s going to tell when it’s his turn to teach someone how to drive. As I’m putting him through the paces of his driving rite of passage, it seems that he’s putting me through the paces of my own. I hope I pass.


Karen Padden

Karen, Queen of the Paddens and first of her name. Teacher, Baker, Petter of Cats, Multiple Sneezer and Crocheter of Wubbies. Believes in kindness, always.

Leave a Reply