Learning to Drive

My father with car and dog


I am learning to ride in a car with a sixteen year old driver.  I am learning to quietly cringe and hold my tongue.  I am learning to resist slamming my leg down on the break that isn’t there.  I am learning to look out the window and observe things by the side of the road I have never had a chance to enjoy before.  I am learning to trust.  And to quietly guide.  And sometimes to shout out in a panic.  But not too often.

He is actually pretty good.  Baby steps.  He has time to learn.  And I have a built in designated driver!  There is always an up side!

I have been re-reading my father’s memoir and came across the following passage that seemed kind of relevant.  My father grew up on a farm in southern Iowa, the youngest of seven children.

“When I was about 7, I started driving teams of horses for some field work.  Dad, or someone, would harness and hitch up the horses to a wagon or a machine since I was not big enough to put on a horse’s harness.  Another of my chores in my early years was to walk to the pasture to herd the milk cows to the barn at milking time.  No one in our family drank much milk but we made our own butter and cottage cheese.  The only time I really remember drinking milk was on Sunday evenings.   I would fill a glass with popcorn and then pour in some milk.

When I was 11 or 12 (1931-32) the country went into the Great Depression.  Many neighbors gave up and sold out or were forced out because they had defaulted on their loans.  Livestock prices were very low and grain prices were the lowest on record. 

One of the things that helped my family survive the Depression was my parents started a small dairy and my brothers Bob and Floyd did the milking and delivered the milk door to door and to stores in town before school.  By the time they had finished high school, dad had purchased a heard of very good dairy cows.  I was the only boy left at home and had to take on this job.  My sister Margaret had recently been married and her new husband, Lee, helped with the chores and milking.  It was Lee’s and my responsibility to milk the cows twice each day by hand and to take care of the cows and the milk.  After Lee left, it became just my responsibility.  When I was 14, I was able to get a driver’s license and began to deliver the milk in bottles door to door in Shenandoah each morning as well as to two grocery stores before school.  Floyd had taught me to drive our Model T Ford when I was about 10 years old, so I had no trouble getting a driver’s license.  The dairy really saved us during the Depression.  When I left home to go to college, dad sold the dairy cows since it was too much for him and at that time larger dairy farms started up in our area, forcing out the small producers like us.”

When I was 16 I was in boarding school.  No driving there.

Between high school and college, I spent the summer with my parents in Ibadan, Nigeria.  Driving in Nigeria was kind of like playing Russian Roulette.  You never knew when somebody would come barreling around a blind corner straight at you.  I was not yet 18 so technically I couldn’t get a license anyway (although I doubt they checked).  An American guy I knew, Tim, turned 18 that summer and decided to get his license.  He went down to the Motor Vehicle department and an official actually got in the car with him:

Official:  Drive forward!

Tim drives

Official:  Stop!

Tim stops

Official:  Drive backwards!

Tim drives in reverse

Official:  Stop!

Tim stops

Official:  Would you be interested in a German Shepard puppy?

Tim pays his fee and gets his driver’s license and a dog.  Such a deal!

The following summer I went to live with my brother in Minneapolis, and his wife taught me to drive.  At 19, a college sophomore, I was a licensed driver!



  1. Its funny you wrote about this today, as we were just discussing my son getting his license last night. Here in Norway, he will have to take 30 hours of mandatory driving lessons from a driving school. In which his parents will have to pay for!

    Times change.

    Your Dad’s life seems very interesting, was his memoir ever published?

  2. Driving lessons in Norway sounds expensive! Although learning to drive is just the beginning!

    My dad self published a limited edition for family and friends.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. In Zimababwe at the time you were allowed to get your driving license at 16 years of age. I did my driving test in Mutare, it was quite a small town with near to no traffic lights. I was determined not to pay a bribe, and somehow I failed the test 4 times!!! The 5th time at 17 years of age I made it. You had to drive with hand signals, can you imagine that. It must have looked quite funny.

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