In 1952, when I was 12, my mother sat down with my older brother, Curtis,16, our step-father and me to discuss a little inheritance we got from the death of our father. He died a few months before I was born. Curtis wanted a clarinet and I wanted a motorcycle. Mother gladly agreed to use Curtis’ portion on the musical instrument, but she said, “Danny, a motorcycle is too dangerous. Loy (my stepfather) and I want you to get a car.”
“But, Mother, I don’t know how to drive and I do know how to ride a motorcycle. I have ridden one.” This revelation was a real shock to mother, and she questioned me with some alarm about whose motorcycle it was, where I rode it and she admonished me not to get on the evil machine again.
“Curtis can teach you to drive. He’s a good driver. And you can lend him the car sometimes in repayment,” Mother countered.
I saw that the plan was all laid out. I feel pretty sure Mother and Pop had already bought the car, because the next day they drove home a 1939 Chevy and said, “Here’s your car, boy.”
Curtis immediately began his insane tutorials. He would drive the car out to some of the scarcely used logging and oil well roads and put me behind the wheel. He would say, “Drive.” So, I would struggle to get the floor shift into the low position on the “H” and give all my effort to matching pressure on the accelerator with release of the clutch to take off. It was a ragged start, but in a day or two of whizzing down two-rutted roads and across two-plank bridges with Curtis yelling, “Faster, Danny, faster,” I got the hang of it. I would still forget to press the clutch in when I stopped from time to time, but I was getting there.
Final exam time was about one-week after I got the car. Curtis, Mother and Pop got in, and, following their instructions, I drove to the First National Bank, downtown, where Mother worked, made a block, and returned home. Every time I stopped, Curtis would yell, “Clutch, Danny, clutch!” Overall, I drove pretty well for my final exam.
The next morning, Pop took me down to the courthouse. He told the man at the counter (who lived across the ditch from us), “This boy needs a driver’s license. He has to take his mother to work every day.” The man asked, “Can he drive?” Pop said, “He does pretty well.” So our neighbor wrote out what he described as a hardship driver’s license for a 12-year-old car owner. Their logic, as I understood it, was that I could drive legally because it was a hardship on my mother if I couldn’t drive her to work.
I always got my mother to work on time, and then drove the car on to school. Curtis drove the car a lot on dates and to go out with the guys but I never played his clarinet.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.