Life provided unique circumstances for learning to drive
When can a car be classified as vintage? I ponder this question while driving my 2002 VW Jetta that I've had since August 2001. A man would have traded it in long ago for a newer model; but now, as an 88-year-old woman, the thought of learning all the new car tech frightens me. And how much longer will I be driving? However, here at Mary's Woods Retirement Community, people older than I are still driving ... and possibly buying new vehicles.
It's been 72 years since I became a licensed driver so my personal odometer has pretty high mileage. And that's not including the tractor miles which, as an Iowa farm girl, I drove before a car. Looking back, it was a good way to get the basics of shifting gears and steering as I traversed the alfalfa and oat fields towing a hayrack that hired neighborhood boys slung bales of hay or straw onto. Fun days!
I was 15 in 1946, when my father backed out the behemoth DeSoto from the garage, invited me into the driver's seat and guided me down the lane to those same hay and oat fields and the Summer of Learning to Drive began.
Driving a car then was the ultimate in multitasking. Gear shifting required engaging the clutch, plus remembering the hand signals since this was before turn signals. A straight-out arm meant you were turning left, or pulling out to pass a car on a two-way road. Arm up was a right turn and down was for stopping. This was tricky because first the window had to be rolled down. You had to plan ahead as it took time to crank down the window (before push buttons) to get your arm out. Doing this in rain or snow meant getting your whole left side wet as it all blew in through the open window. I discovered this later, as it was summertime when doing our after-supper classes in the fields with windows already down — no AC in cars then.
We didn't just drive willy-nilly across the fields as there were obstacles like ruts and an occasional large rock to avoid hitting. Startled gophers popped up from their holes to see who was invading their territory, and steering clear of a skunk was an absolute must.
After I'd proved proficient in the basic skills, we ventured onto the country roads where I learned to slow down when meeting cars leaving clouds of dust in their wake and obscuring visibility.
From the country roads we moved on to the airport runways — yes, that's correct. The City of Waterloo was building an airport just a few miles away. Farms had been purchased, land cleared and concrete runways were in place. It was a good way to practice driving on pavement, though there were no center lines to define lanes. We steered clear of the young guys racing their cars at high speeds, without fear of being ticketed, and rolled along behind others just out for an evening spin on the new runways. I practiced speeding up to pass cars and leaving enough room before pulling ahead and we'd wave and toot our horns, all having a fun evening.
Then we concentrated on parallel parking between two sawhorses set up beside the barn, placed a few feet wider than the length of the DeSoto. By now fall was approaching, as was my 16th birthday, and Daddy proclaimed I was ready to take the driving test. He proved to be a good teacher as I passed easily.
Since then, I have driven many kinds and sizes of vehicles. Being a one-car family, I didn't have a car of my own until I was 37. In the 1960s a Volkswagen dealership opened in Waterloo and, perhaps because of his German heritage, my dad was intrigued with the VW Beetle. He thought it would be a great car for me and so I became the proud owner of a red "bug."
Other than the "bug" I never got too attached to cars as for me they were merely a way to get from point A to point B. We owned several makes and models through the years, including a couple vans during the era of our antique business and transporting furniture to our kids' apartments in St. Paul and Minneapolis. And it was a Jeep that blazed our trail from Iowa to Oregon in 1992.
The 2002 Jetta was the first model with a hatchback which I needed to accommodate the dog crate and hauling various and sundry finds from garage and estate sales. Maybe that, and its low mileage, will make it more collectable as a vintage auto. In retrospect, I should have kept the Beetle as it's no longer being made.
For now, I appreciate that I am still driving and thankful for those long ago summer evening driving lessons with Daddy and the Desoto.
Jo Ann Parson is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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