Hilltown Postcards

Learning to Drive at 35

Strange but true, I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was in my mid-thirties. Until then, I didn’t need one or I made do without. When we lived in a city such as Boston or Seattle, I used public transportation. It was nothing for me to take four kids, including one in a stroller, on a trolley or bus to go shopping.

But when we moved to the sticks of Western Massachusetts, I realized the gig was up. 

My parents, the children of immigrants, were very old-fashioned when it came to their teenage daughters learning to drive and getting a license when we turned 18. As my father explained, they only had one car and couldn’t afford to have a kid use it or worse crash it. (My father was an autobody repairman.) So, unlike my fellow classmates, my parents drove us wherever we needed to go or we walked or took the bus. Yes, my sisters also were late drivers although they got their licenses years earlier than me. Our baby brother? Oh, he got his when he turned 18.

In college, I depended on hitchhiking and friends who had cars. Afterward I lived in those cities I mentioned, where public transportation was easy. Sometimes Hank and I had a car, sometimes we didn’t. On a couple of occasions I ventured to get a license, but my heart wasn’t in it so I let the learner’s permit expire.

But the reckoning came a few years after we moved to Worthington, which had about 1,200 people and no public transportation. The nearest general store was several miles away from our home in the Ringville section. A few friends kindly offered rides to medical appointments and school events, but I was pretty much homebound, except when my designated driver Hank was available.

One night though I had a dream that I was at the wheel of a car. When I awoke, I was convinced I could do it. 

Hank was my teacher and our marriage survived it. We had a vintage VW bus. Stick. My first few attempts I will admit were pretty lousy. One time a couple of the kids came with us and afterward one of them hugged me and begged me not to drive. A big breakthrough came when we bought a car that was an automatic. The lessons went a lot better.

Yes, I passed the driver’s test, barely, because I went a little fast in a school zone before I corrected it. Fortunately, I didn’t have to parallel park. I still never do.

Yes, getting my license was a game changer. It made things easier for our family. We had five kids then, and being a driver would enable me to work outside the home, which led to my becoming a reporter for a daily newspaper. (More on that in future posts.)

I will admit to being more of a small town driver. It wasn’t until I had to drive highways on a regular basis that I felt comfortable doing that. But I still leave long distance driving with heavy traffic to Hank. 

Our six kids? They’re all great drivers who got their licenses as soon as they were eligible. I made sure of that.

NOTA BENE:  Hilltown Postcards is an occasional series inspired by my life in rural Western Massachusetts, in particular Worthington, where we moved from Boston. Those hilltowns are the inspired setting for many of my books including the Isabel Long Mystery Series. Missing the Deadline, number seven, will be released Dec. 21 on Kindle.


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