Stuck in Stick Shift

I have a book full of writing prompts I like to look at. Today, I saw a page that had a picture of an old VW. It reminded me of a piece I wrote in 2010 for a memoir class I took in Carmel.

Dear Nieces and Nephews,

Now that you are all fiftyish (give or take), I thought it was time for me to explain all those odd changes you are experiencing. I know you think this is a normal result of aging, but there is more to it.

Long ago, when you were all babies and toddlers, I bought a car I couldn’t drive. Of course your dad (my brother) Roger thought I was insane, but he knew I was determined. I’d waited a year, saved my first year teacher earnings and bought the “cool” car for singles- a green Volkswagen beetle.  What did he know about the yearning of tooling around in a stick shift of one’s own?

Yep. It started as green and went to orange later.

Roger got the car home for me and Mom started teaching me to drive all over again. We practiced on the asphalt drive about 10 yards long. Not enough to really try anything except to turn on the key. If you let out the clutch too quickly you’d end up in the middle of Storer Avenue with a squished kid under your wheel or an elm on your bumper.

Somewhere along the line your mother volunteered to help me. Bless her soul. She really had nerves of steel. She probably wanted me to be competent enough to help with errands and I must have guilted her about all the babysitting I had done. At any rate, the adventure began.

She piled two of you in the VW backseat. I honestly don’t remember which two. Maybe you tow headed tots all looked alike- well at least in my memory. This was in the pre seat belt days so I know you were probably standing up.

“Now, turn on the car.” Done. “Put in the clutch” Done. “Put the gear in reverse” This was a little more challenging requiring some “feel” for when the gears engaged.  Grrrriiiind. I probably put more English into it than necessary. Done.
“Now SLOWLY let out the clutch.” Dreadful. Nerves atwitter, sweat beginning to trickle then pour, heart thumping, and mouth already dry, I started to let the clutch out oooooh so slowly. Lurch. Stalled. Start over.

This time I let the clutch out too fast and shot out to the apron of the driveway. Luckily I hadn’t smushed anyone on the side walk.

Somehow we got out onto the street and started through the elm covered tunnel. You kids were ok with the jerkiness the first 50 feet or so. It wasn’t until we collected some speed that the problems began. I needed to shift from first to second and so forth.  I got it up to third gear and was rolling along nicely when…. Drat- a stop sign. Start the damn process all over again. Then it was time to turn at a corner without a stop. “Downshift!” Martha called. “What the h…. What is downshift?” More yelled directions and grinding. On the long block from Copley Rd to Stadelman, there were more trials and errors that meant there was some swerving into the oncoming lane. Now I’m sure Martha saw the imperilment she had put her little babies in. You were doomed! This would end like a chapter out of a John Irving book with someone being impaled and disfigured!

Now heads were rolling. Your heads. Murmurs became howls growing louder and louder. With no restraints, you were bouncing around like bowling pins. You poor little rag dolls were roaring at decibels not heard in this quiet neighborhood. You were really in high gear and I was only jerking from second to third.

I’m not sure how long it took us to round that big block but it felt like a lifetime to me. I was sure one or both of you were brain damaged. I was a failure at driving. How did anyone learn to do this? Would I be sitting with a new car forever fearful of driving it?

Eventually we pulled back in the driveway. Everyone, especially me, was crying. Finally, you all calmed down.  I, however, remained tormented for days.

I’m pretty sure that was Martha’s last driving lesson with me. I wonder what hell she must have put Roger through for asking her to help. Actually, she probably did it of her own free will.

Did she teach all of you to drive? Hopefully on automatics.

The irony is that my first ‘accident” was when Roger backed into my “cool” car while in the driveway. Maybe justice was served.


In the meantime, remember that your kids and grandkids will not inherit all those odd twitches, tics, and neck aches. They don’t have an oddly inept auntie learning to drive while they are in the back seat.

As Ever -Your Loving,

Auntie K