I learned to drive in Momma’s Ford Gran Torino. That car had a V8 engine and too much horsepower for a barely five-foot-tall teenage girl. But, my desire for freedom spurred me on and I aced the driving exam in Guntersville on my 16th birthday.

I had worked part-time after school that year and saved my earnings, because Daddy told me if I wanted a car that I had to get a job and pay for it.  

I had accumulated real close to $1,000, and an uncle down in south Alabama who owned a car dealership just happened to have a little jewel he would sell me for that exact amount. He even offered to have it delivered to our house for my birthday gift. 

When that 1976 Honda Civic pulled in our driveway that day, I couldn’t keep from squealing. I had asked for a cute, small car and this was exactly what I had envisioned. Two doors and a hatchback … sunset orange … and it was all mine!  

My ear-to-ear grin, however, disappeared when I opened the driver’s door. There was no gear shifter on the steering column, just a stick in the floorboard with a wooden knob on top.

I started bawling, but Daddy said “Get in” as he lowered himself into the driver’s seat. I settled in beside him and asked if we were taking it back down south to exchange it for a “regular car.”

Without a word he cranked her up, pressed his left foot down on the far pedal, moved the stick in the floor and then used his right foot to push the pedal on the right. Before I knew it, we were on the road heading out of town … but going north not south!  

Daddy started explaining what he was doing … how to use the clutch and the shifter and how to listen to the rev of the motor. Then without looking my way, he informed me this was my car and I’d better pay attention and learn to drive it. I pouted, but I watched.  

The following morning after breakfast, he told me to hurry and get ready. When I walked outside, he was waiting in the passenger seat.

I slid beneath the wheel all the while telling him I couldn’t do it. He started the lesson for the day and I finally cranked her up after a few unsuccessful attempts. We pulled onto the blacktop, sputtering and jerking. I kept grinding gears, pressing the gas either too hard or too soft and mistaking the brake for the clutch. 

With each passing hour, my determination grew and Daddy’s patience never faltered. We drove the back roads of Albertville all weekend, and by Sunday afternoon that little Honda and I were cruising along nice and smooth. My first taste of freedom came on Monday morning when I drove it alone to school. 

I still carry those lessons from Daddy with me today. Work hard for what you want, never give up, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and most importantly, use patience … even if you sputter every now and then. 

Sandy Holsonback is a guest columnist for The Reporter. She can be reached at swholsonback4966@hotmail.com.

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