Thursday, December 15, 2011

Middle Aged Women Don't Bounce: Part Deux

For those of you who have read Part One, yes, you're right.  I did fall and injure my pride and my coccyx.  (Who ever dreamed up that word for the humble tailbone must have had a weird sense of humor, by the way, but I can assure you, it's no laughing matter.)    

We were at Sharon and Duke's home, like I said before, and we were all happily engaged in a rousing game of Sheepshead this past Sunday night.  The way the mishap occurred I'll get to at a later date.  And the way I met Sharon will also be forthcoming.  But you all know me, I have to digress. But this time, there's a good reason for it.  Trust me.  There is. 

So back to the saga and 1976.  Think of this as a slightly warped 'It's a Wonderful Life' if you will. 

I finally hung up the droning phone and went and sat down at the kitchen table.  Now what?  I knew I was supposed to be elated, but elation was far from my first reaction to this turn of events.  I sat there for a bit and then, remembered what my mother always said, "When you don't know what to do next, just do the first thing in front of you."  I looked at the clock and realized I was going to be late for school since the bus was long gone.

I made a mad dash for the barn and got my father's attention from the other end of the alley.  They had finished up with the milking and were feeding the calves when I ran in the feedroom door.

"What's up with you?  Did you miss the bus?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied rather shakily, "I got a phone call from the insurance company this morning.  I'm hired."

My father was a very stern man and not given to sappy, emotional outbursts of any kind, but I could tell my announcement had stunned him as much as it had me.

"When do you start?" he asked, gruffly.

"Next week Tuesday."

"Well, get outta the barn, you don't want to stink the school up when you get there.  I've got the truck keys in my pocket.  C'mon, I'll drop you off."  He set about cleaning his shoes on the lawn as we exited the barn.

I clambered into the Ford F-150 pickup next to him and we headed off on our three mile drive to the high school.  He didn't say a word for the first half-mile of our side road.  We met a few neighbors on the highway in their trucks, coming home from the sale barn.  Monday was the weekly cattle auction in our little town and most farmers wanted to get their cattle to the yard early in the morning.   My father gave them the standard two finger salute, which can be given without raising one's hand from the steering wheel.  They returned the greeting in kind.

Then he startled me by saying, "What are you going to do about a car?"

I drew a blank.  Yeah, what was I going to do about a car?  The job I had just accepted was a stunning twenty-two miles from home, a distance we only traveled when visiting my father's sister once or twice a year.  And even at that, my Aunt Dorothy lived on the outskirts of the big city, not in the very heart (or bowels) of it where my skyscraper office was located.

We weren't well-to-do farmers by any stretch of the imagination and our little farm was prosperous, but well, it was little, so there were no huge profits being made every year.  My folks owned two vehicles in 1976, the 'new' 1968 Ford truck and a 1964 Buick Special which both had standard transmissions.  Learning to drive both of them was no problem for me, since I was driving tractors by the time I was seven.   I loved the pickup.  I was driving a truck when girls driving trucks was decidedly Not Cool.  My dad didn't think it was proper however, and said I should always drive the car on the few occasions I had call to be out and about in public.   Of course, I did not drive either the car or truck to school, the bus went by our door and since it did, I was to be on it.  Except for when I missed it.

When I took Driver's Ed in high school, we were provided with a brand-new 1974 Buick Century with, an automatic transmission.  Oh, dear.  This was a dilemma for me.  I had been driving standards for better than half my life, and now what?  I told my mom about it the night before behind the wheel instruction started.  She didn't know how to drive one either.

When I was plunked behind the wheel with the semi-bored, oft terrified seen-it-all-before Driving Instructor, he gave me the standard instructions.  I tried to interrupt him to tell him I had no knowledge of the new-fangled automatic tranny, but he cut me off in mid-stammer.

"This is the steering wheel.  Adjust your seat and your mirrors.  Look before you move and then look again.  Check your blind spots.  Now proceed," he sighed, long-sufferingly, and was gazing at his checklist. 

My driving partner was a very popular city girl cheerleader who was nice enough, but let's face it, we didn't move in the same circles.  She was also named Karen, in fact, there were five of us in the same grade, so we'd both respond whenever the instructor said our name.  Long ago, in elementary school, the teachers had used a complex code to differentiate between all of us.  There was Karen G, Karen K, Karen T, Karen W and finally, me---Karen V.  Throughout my entire time in school, I was Karen V, which was fine by me, because no teacher could ever pronounce my maiden name correctly.  It was sort of a standing joke for the entire class to shout the correct pronunciation of my last name whenever a new teacher got it wrong.  I was too shy to do it.  I had one English teacher insist my name really wasn't pronounced the way I was taught, she insisted she knew how to pronounce it the 'correct' way.  I wasn't very fond of her. 

But anyway, back to the Driver's Ed car.  I backed up and my left foot automatically went for the clutch.  Oh, my, no clutch; my foot hit the floor with a thud.  I quickly corrected and stomped down on the brakes (which of course, were Power Brakes, yet another new development for ol' country gal me) and we screeched to a very abrupt stop.  The instructor had been wearing sunglasses, and I looked over to see him carefully readjust them back to the bridge of his nose from the top of his lip where they had landed. 

"What in the world are you doing?!  You do NOT use your left foot to drive a car!  You use your RIGHT foot to brake and accelerate.  I thought you knew that!"

I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw Cheerleader Karen nervously readjusting her seat-belt to a more snug position.  Both of my passengers were ghastly white and clearly terrified.  I received another lecture about my seeming lack of respect for the usage of the correct limbs in the safe operation of a motor vehicle, and somehow, I made it through my first experience driving an automatic.  I wasn't so sure the automatic transmission was an improvement. 

I longed for my Dad's trusty Ford pickup and any and all of our farm tractors.  They were dependable and made sense. 

I did not like our family car, though it was my mother's pride and joy; the first Buick they had ever owned. It may have borne the prestigious 'Buick' nameplate, but I swear it had a lot more in common with Stephen King's famous Plymouth Fury, Christine.  The Buick Special was just as cantankerous.  My dad had bought it from an insurance salesman and often said he thought the odometer had been turned back, because that car had issues.  The chief issue was it's tendency to become stuck in third gear.   If you've never driven a standard, this will be a 'huh?' moment, but if you have, you'll understand the implications of having to pull out from a stop sign in high gear. 

To get a car to move without stalling starting out from a dead standstill in high gear is a talent all it's own.  You have to ride the clutch and step on the gas all at the same time, lurching ahead ever so slowly with the car's engine running at high rpm's until the vehicle gains enough momentum to smoothly hit it's stride. No matter how many times Mom or I drove the car, at some point in our little outing to town three miles away, it always managed to get itself stuck in third gear.  Dad taught me what to do to fix it, we merely had to pull over to the side of the road, raise the hood and jiggle the linkage until it was aligned properly.  Then, with any luck at all, we could proceed until maybe the fifth or sixth time downshifting from third to second was required.  Simply, park, jiggle and return to the driver's seat.  Good to go.

The Buick also had an air cleaner problem for awhile too, which entailed two people's assistance.  After church on Sunday or after grocery shopping (the only times we ever went anywhere) I would go around to the front of the car in the parking lot and Mom would climb behind the wheel.  She would then reach down and pop the hood and I would raise it and place my hand over the end of the air cleaner while Mom turned the key.  Then the engine would fire and I would bid her to rev it a few times and we'd be ready to roll---after I checked to make sure the linkage for the transmission was properly seated.

I remembered the sleepless night before I took my driver's test two years before.  I had politely asked (you didn't beg my father, or wheedle, wail or complain to him, as he would brook no such nonsense) if I could take the Ford truck to the police department for my behind-the-wheel test, but he would hear none of it.

"There's nothing wrong with the Buick.  You just don't know how to drive it!  I never have a problem shifting it.   No daughter of mine is going to be seen driving a cop around town in a pickup truck.  Both of you women shift too fast, that's the problem.  Just go slow and it will work.  And for cryin' out loud, don't try to force the shifting lever inside the car, one of you two idiots are going to break it clean off and then what will we have?  A car without a shifting lever, that's what."

Ahem.  Ok, so I had to take the Buick to our local police department in the end, anyway.  Luckily, the examiner was an older gentleman who appeared to be on his last legs.  I don't know if he was dying from tuberculosis or was a ten pack a day smoker, but the poor man would give me a direction and then break out in the most horrendous coughing fit I had ever heard.

"At the corner, turn right, hack, hack, hack, ahargh, arrgh, aaaack...." and as he coughed and spluttered, he turned his head to direct his spasm out the open passenger window.  Which, turned out to be a mercy for me in more ways than one.  One of the rules of the DMV is that the car you appear with to take the test be in 'Good Operating Condition'.  Well, I knew I was going to flunk if the car wouldn't shift.  I had gone to the police station with the full expectation of being sent home a failure.  The official DMV examiners were only in our little town the first Wednesday of the month, since they came from bigger cities and traveled to and from the outlying areas as a courtesy to those of us who didn't venture so far from home.   

The examiner had me drive through a few residential streets in our little town of no stop lights and watched as carefully as he could, between coughing attacks, my form behind the wheel.  He had me stop on a hill and park and all was well, because I never had to put the car in third.  For the back streets we were on, the speed limit was just about right for first and second gear.  With any luck, I might pull this driver's test off without a hitch.  But then came the clincher.  I had to drive down Main Street and that entailed shifting up to third whether I wanted to or not.  So, here goes, we're in third gear and we're cruising back down to the police station.  Maybe he'll just have me park the car and that will be it!   I won't have to shift again if I do this just right and no traffic gets in my way.   We were within a block of the station when my hopes were dashed.

"At the next corner, please make a right-hand turn," my spasm-ridden examiner requested. 

Great.  Now I was going to have to shift from third into second.  I nodded imperceptibly and held my breath, signaled my intention, stepped in the clutch and raised the stick on the column from third up into second.  To my utter amazement, all the gears meshed correctly and we were now blissfully in second gear.  I could have kissed the car then and there.  But we weren't home free yet.  Looming ahead was the last stop sign of the trip.  The examiner told me to turn right again at the corner; I was going to have to go for low gear from second.  This shouldn't be a problem, low gear had never been an issue before.  And that's when it happened.  The Buick was stuck in second gear.  I knew it just by the way the gear shift felt in my hands.  Luckily, there was some traffic coming and I had to wait.  But how was I going to explain the fact we were going to be pulling out into traffic in second gear? 

I thought it was all over, time to 'fess up and admit the car is not roadworthy and neither am I.  But as fate would have it, at the very same moment I was debating whether to cry or break the gear shift off in a fit of despair, the examiner sailed off into a fit of coughing the likes of which has had no equal in my life ever since.  He was in agony.

And so was I.  While he was hacking out my passenger window, gasping for air and spluttering, I was wiggling that gearshift like a maniac, willing it to shift, just SHIFT one more time, you can do this!! and though I had felt the shifter bend in the middle, miraculously, it finally settled into low gear.  I was so stunned you could have knocked me over with a feather. Luckily, at the same time my transmission recovered, so did the examiner.  I was seriously worried about the good fellow.  Finally the traffic cleared,  I smoothly negotiated the turn and we pulled up to a triumphant stop back at the police station.

"I was going to ask you to parallel park," he said, 'But since you can handle a standard tranny, I don't think it's necessary.  You passed with flying colors.  Congratulations."  Before he could hear my profuse thank yous, he was off on another coughing fit and merely waved his clipboard at me to follow him into the building where I would pick up my license and my anxiously waiting mother.

And wouldn't you know it, on the way home, I had to stop just before the stop sign on Main Street to adjust the linkage before we could go home.  Just like Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey kissing that old loose knob on his staircase, I felt like smooching the old Buick right on Main Street.

Part Three when I can sit for awhile longer.


Anonymous said...

I read part one and two and it is like settling down with a good novel. Awaiting the next chapter. You need to put these in audio books. Love your tales, Karen.

Alison said...

Oh No, a bruised coccyx! Ouch! What a great tale of your driving test. I didn't learn on a standard, but I used to drive one, actually we had a couple over the years. When I first met my husband, he had an old standard Chevy Nova that was a PITA to drive. It always stalled when you stopped. So in order to prevent it from stalling at every single stop sign or stop light, you had to put your left foot on the clutch, and your right kind of sideways on both the brake and the gas (to keep the gas revving so it wouldn't stall -- really, you needed three feet). A total horror show.

You know what Nova means in Spanish, right? Hehe -- "Doesn't go." Which describes it perfectly.

OK, now that I know you didn't break a hip or anything, I think I can wait patiently for Part Three.

Cathy W said...

So sorry to hear about your haven't really told us, yet. I'm waiting in suspense with everyone else. You should seriously write a book. Btw, we must have had different DMV people. Mine flunked me before it was half over. :)

Anonymous said...

Hope your feeling a little better today Hun.
Sueb x

Toni - Signature Gardens said...

Oh, my goodness, Karen, you had me laughing out loud!!! You had me in suspense, then relieved, then laughing!! This has the makings of a great book...or movie :-) I flunked my first driving test because I could not parallel park, and you got out of it, you lucky dog (well, I also flunked because I did not treat the parking lot as an intersection -- didn't look enough as I was driving in the parking lot) Picky, picky! I cared, but not a lot because we could not use our parents' vehicle anyway, and I did not have one of my own at the time. Finally got it on the second try a year or so later, and then got my own car. A 1977 Cutlass that had a carburetor problem, and I'd have to pop the hood and stick something in the carburetor to hold the it open, then it would crank. Remove the thingy, close the hood, and drive off. Good as new :-) And I learned to drive a standard on the hills of the streets of Denver, no less! It was awful!! Talk about clutch and gas at the same time :-) We also had an old farm truck that stuck in 3rd gear! How funny!! Anyway, love reading your tales of farm girl goes city :-) I can so relate! Like listening to Paul Harvey, I cannot wait to hear....THE REST OF THE STORY!!! I'm so sorry to hear about your bottom end. Yeeeouch!

El Gaucho said...

I was going to wait to comment until the final installment of the story, lest I make some snarky comment only to discover in the next part that you're seriously hurt. Bummer to hear about the bruised coccyx, but very glad that it isn't something more serious. Hopefully you heal up quickly.

Your story on the old family vehicles just makes me laugh. I think it's an American rite of passage to have an emotionally traumatizing story of learning to drive or getting your license for the first time. Can't wait for the next installment.