McCallum: Driving School

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Commentator’s Brunch Sampler

(HOST) VPR commentators took on the theme, "Picture This" for the annual
brunch this spring, and we’re featuring a recorded sampler of some of
their thoughts this week. In this excerpt, commentator Mary McCallum
recalled a truly memorable scene from her childhood.

(MCCALLUM) My name is Mary McCallum and this is called "Driving School."

1954 my mother Dot decided it was time she learned to drive. We lived
in a farmhouse on a small plot of land with a weathered barn. With
housework and five kids, Mom let Dad do the driving.

My father
was a practical man with a thin wallet. He taught himself the skills
required to jack up a foundation, install plumbing and mix cement. He
would in fact have made a good schoolteacher if he’d been able to get an
education. Instead, he taught us kids. From him we learned how to work
hard, be self sufficient and save for tomorrow .

When Mom
decided to learn to drive Dad became her instructor and turned the barn
into his driving school. Filled with junk and dust motes, it smelled of
wooden beams roasted by a hundred summers.

Dad transformed a cow
stall into his classroom, and he and Mom disappeared there summer
evenings after supper while it was still light. We kids ran around the
lumpy yard catching lightning bugs, shrieking and hitting things with
sticks, oblivious to what we called Car School.

At the end
of summer Dad called us into the barn to witness Mom’s driving skill. In
my childish imagination I expected to see the barn transformed into a
racetrack with Mom zooming in circles, downshifting and having a grand

Alas, picture this : my mother on a dilapidated car seat
from the dump bolted to the barn floor, gripping a worn steering wheel
nailed to the wall – another dump cast-off. At her feet were recycled
brake, gas and clutch pedals. In the tricked-out cow stall Mom rolled
her eyes at us, awaiting my father’s commands.

"Okay kids, watch
your mother," he announced. He turned to Mom. "Now Dot, you’re heading
down the road, another car behind you, and you need to turn left. What
do you do?" Mom, bless her heart, pretended to drive, stomped on the
brake pedal and extended her left arm straight out to indicate a turn

"Watch out!" yelled Dad. "Clutch to downshift into first or you’ll grind up the gears!"

earsplitting sound effects, we kids covered our ears. There was however
a horn, and Dot leaned on it hard, signaling her exasperation and the
end of the ride for us all.

That fall she took her driver’s test
and failed. In 1956 she tried again and passed, in time to take the
wheel of Dad’s new red Nash Rambler Super Sedan, with whitewall tires
and automatic transmission – the latest in clutchless driving.

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