Letting go of the keys is never easy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

Learning to drive, obtaining that license, is like a golden ticket, a rite of passage most teenagers long for. When you live in a very rural area like our own, it gives you an independence you would never have otherwise.

It was inevitable Mama would be the one who taught me how to drive. By the time I turned 15, my oldest sister, Debbie, was a married lady in Birmingham; my other sister, Sara, was in college (and legally blind as well), and my dad – well, my dad was not cut out to be a driving instructor

Ask anyone who ever worked for him as a farmhand: patience was not Mr. Joe’s long suit. We girls would have been reduced to quivering heaps of stripped nerves, and he would have surely stroked out.

My mother first tackled driver’s education with Debbie. There is the family story passed down through the years of one early lesson. Deb was making a turn off our road onto what is now known as Greenleaf Road, and she just kept on turning, right into the ditch.

There was a pause before Mama mildly remarked, &uot;I think next time you might want to let go of the steering wheel a little bit sooner, honey.&uot;

How would Daddy have handled it?

Like the dad on &uot;A Christmas Story&uot; when the family’s furnace acted up,

Joe would have surely turned the air of greater Honoraville blue that day.

Under Mom’s tutelage, Deb’s driving steadily improved. She went on to conquer the mean streets of Birmingham (though she still occasionally got teased about taking out the back wall of the shelter with Daddy’s Army Jeep one day).

Finally, my turn to learn came about. Mama did a good job, apparently. Coach Butler, my driver’s education teacher in high school, didn’t have to admonish me &uot;not to hang on to that wheel like I was huggin’ my boyfriend,&uot; as he did one of my tense classmates.

I never noticed Coach slamming on his set of brakes when I took the wheel, either.

Still, it took me three tries to actually get my license. The test administrator, who had the demeanor of a bulldog in need of a laxative, made me so nervous I couldn’t seem to do much of anything right – particularly, parallel parking. I was crushed.

Third time proved the charm. The lovely creature giving the test – no more Sergeant Slaughter – relaxed me with her sunny smile and laid-back manner

(&uot;This is a no parking zone? Oh, go ahead and park, dear. After all, I’m with you.&uot;)

Driving has been much on my mind just lately. My mom, my ever-patient driving teacher, has been told by the doctors she can no longer get behind the wheel. Visual field deficits, likely brought on by past strokes, make it an unsafe proposition.

Letting go of the keys isn’t easy. It’s another rite of passage, but not one we look forward to. We work to gain our independence only to have to give it up, bit by bit.

It’s not much fun for my mother, I know.

No running to town to pick up a few groceries or to get her hair done at The Vanity; no driving to church.

She should feel good about her years behind the wheel.

Six decades of driving without a single accident is impressive (OK, she talked herself out of a ticket or two; that’s another column).

Mama also logged in many, many volunteer miles taking people who couldn’t drive to the doctor, dentist, et al.

So, old girl, it’s time to let us all return the favor.

And thanks for not yelling at me when I forgot the turn signal.

Angie Long is Lifestyles reporter for The Greenville Advocate. She can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 132 or via email at angie.long@greenvilleadvocate.com.