Drivers Ed in the Thirties

1935 that is.   We were picking peas, beans, and okra on a hot day in August.  Watermelon and cantaloupe were growing in the furrowed dark brown loam, waiting to be thumped for ripeness, ready to harvest and place in the bed of the wagon.  The wagon was pulled by our two horses,  old Maude and Shorty.   The setting was our family farm south of Ralls, TX, east of Lubbock.  This lush green garden in the lower edge of the cotton field was called “The Truck Patch.” Mother, Daddy, and I were picking the produce, including a big green, striped watermelon.  That watermelon would be placed in the cool water of the hog trough and we would have a feast later that day.  My little brother, Don was not yet two years old and needed his diaper freshened, so my Mother had walked with him to the yellow farm house.  That left the Model A Ford and the wagon with its team of horses still in the truck patch.  My Daddy and I were the only two humans and we were at least a mile or more from the house.

I heard my Daddy say, “Honey, get over here and steer this car to the house.  I will be along with the wagon and stop the car when you get there.”  I, being trained in obedience, dutifully climbed into the drivers seat, getting on my knees and clutching the black steering wheel in both hands.  Daddy pushed in the clutch with his left hand and moved the gear shift to first gear, at which point the car began to move.  He slammed the door shut and I was off, driving solo.  I managed to keep the car on the “turn-row” in big broad ssses,  leaving a swerving trail in the dust from the edge of the bar ditch to the first row of cotton and swerving to the other side until the long mile journey was finished at the back porch of the yellow house.

Daddy jumped down from the wagon, having raced the two horses ahead of the car and arriving a few seconds before I brought the Ford into the yard.  He, running alongside the car, reached in, turned the ignition off and the car stopped.  Everything beyond that moment is lost to me.   If you asked what I was feeling, I would have to say that I was utterly numb to any sensation.   

I realized many things later.  Some of these realizations came from various psychotherapy sessions.   First, I didn’t consider saying no to the request.  Second, I can do something without thinking or feeling, like an automaton.  And third, if my Daddy told me to do something, I simply did it.  Without question.  Without asking why.  And without knowing how I would do that thing.

This story is about my first driver education course.   I drove thousands of miles on those dirt, unpaved country roads.   Some twenty years later, I took the required driving test at the courthouse in Kingsville, Texas.  And yes, I passed the test, qualifying for my first Texas Drivers License.

2 thoughts on “Drivers Ed in the Thirties

  1. Judith Ruth says:

    My father taught me to drive in an old Model T Ford that used to belong to my grandfather. My Dad taught me what he called “defensive driving” which he explained as never assumed the other driver was going to obey the rules. Drive like every one else was crazy and keep out of their way. It has served me well. I am 82 and have never had a wreck in all these years.

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