Learning to Drive

at 10:43 PM

I was seven or eight when my father taught me to drive.  We had just bought eight acres on Navarro Ridge, by Mendocino, so many summers were spent on the land.  Turning off Highway 1 onto that lazy country road, I climbed over the bench seat and slipped into Dad's lap to steer our '52 Ford Woodie station wagon.  I even shifted gears, working the jerky three-on-the-tree lever as Dad managed the clutch.  

By 13, I could reach the pedals, so Dad gave me driving lessons in the vast Golden Gate Fields parking lot, the old woodie lurching forward and back like a mythic monster, coughing to an abrupt stop as I let out the clutch.  "Gentle," he said.  "You have to feel it engage."

My father is a great driver.  Whenever we were in the car, Dad never missed a chance to impart his wisdom as we rambled down some remote bumpy road.  He taught me to straighten-out curves, to downshift, rather than rely on the brakes, and to accelerate out of corners.  "Use the engine to control the vehicle," he said.  Dad stressed defensive driving - anticipating obstacles suddenly appearing: a deer streaking out from the brush, an obtuse driver lane-changing without looking, an oncoming car veering erratically into my lane.  "Don't be nervous," he said.  "But always pay attention. "

Now, when we visit my aging parents, driving that lonely and beautiful road to the home we built from our redwood forest, I think of those days learning to drive.  I hear Dad's voice as I cross the yellow line to straighten out the road, careful to provide my passengers with safe and smooth passage.  I look ahead, aware of what's coming my way, but I remain calm, my focus steady.  And I wonder how many more years I will travel these roads.

With a Perspective, I'm Pete Gavin.

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Pete Gavin is an eighth-grade English teacher at Kent Middle School in Kentfield.

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