August 9th…“WERE YOU EXCITED OR NERVOUS WHEN YOU WENT TO TEST FOR YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE AT 16 YEARS OF AGE?”
When we’re young we want to be old, and when we’re old we want to be young. Although that may not make much sense to a person at the young end of life’s spectrum right now, it sure came into play with THIS kid, in that being older sooner was especially true when it came to the desire for me to be old enough to drive anything with wheels and a motor. Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I wanted to be placed on the seat of a farm tractor and hear it’s powerful engine roar. I was hooked….when can I drive one??!! Since it took a truck or tractor to do many of the chores on our farm, I was one blessed boy to be able to learn to drive them long before my “city slicker” friends and family did . The day of “old enough” finally came, and, if I had been a mouse in the corner of that pickup truck cab, I would have howled with little mouse laughter as our father had me climb onto the bench seat of our 1950 Ford pickup to begin learning how to drive it.
Even though I sat on the very edge of that truck’s bench seat, my little legs could barely reach the clutch, brake and gas pedals. But, with practice, I done “dooood” it!
Like any little wannabe farmer, the adventure of tractor driving was a fun thrill for me! Our International Farmall Model “B” was the smallest tractor our Daddy owned, but with our father’s teaching, I was able to master that little red workhorse. In time, I was able to spin 360 degree “cookies” in the muddy manure of our cow-yard and explore our beautiful 120 acres of land with that mini farmer’s friend.
My many driving adventures during our farm years had to be put on hold when our family moved to Battle Ground, Washington in 1967. We no longer had 120 acres of land of our own for me to drive on, so I had to relinquish those joys and relegate myself to being a ride along person and let our licensed parents do the driving. When I reached the age of 15 1/2 years, I signed up for a Driver’s Permit and enrolled in the “Driver’s Education Course” at Battle Ground High School. Mr. Newton, our instructor, chose me, one day, to be the driver in our training car. Three fellow classmates sat in the back seat, with Mr. Newton up front with me as he sat in the passenger seat. As I got the car up to speed on the highway, heading west, I was being “tail-gated” (driver behind you and too close to you) by an impatient driver. I checked my speedometer and saw that I was doing 48 miles per hour. Two miles below the posted speed of 50 miles per hour. Just then, the cantankerous driver behind us blasted his horn and passed our training car in burst of speed and shot on down the highway. I was flabbergasted when Mr. Newton chided me by saying, “If you had been doing 50 miles per hour, he wouldn’t have passed you!” To myself I thought, “Ya RIGHT, Mr. Newton, another two measly little miles per hour would have kept that crazy driver behind me!!! GEEESH!!”
“Driver’s Education Class” was finally behind me and I was now ready for the real deal of taking my official driver’s test to achieve my full driver’s license. I was a nervous wreck that day. A real “Nervous Ned!”. Our father, Russell, rode along with me as I drove us into Vancouver, Washington to the Licensing Bureau. I was SO stressed out that day, that when we’d come to an intersection, I’d make the car come to a stop, but everything in my scope of vision continued to move away from me. Hallucinations from the stress, I guess. Kinda like a vehicle vertigo 😉
First came the written driver’s test and, BOY, did I ever bungle that one. One of the questions stated, “If you come to a sign that says SPEED ZONE AHEAD, what do you do?” Well, I figured speed is speed, right? So my answer was ….SPEED UP. When I turned in my test to the Motor Vehicles Officer at the counter, he began grading it in front of Dad and I. All of a sudden, the Officer busts out laughing! Dad asked him what was the matter? When the Officer told Dad about my SPEED UP answer, then they both started to howl with laughter. Heck, how did I know you were supposed SLOW DOWN in a SPEED ZONE????!!!! 😉
Now came the real nail-biter!!! A very serious-looking Department of Motor Vehicles Examiner meets me at our family car and climbs into the passenger seat while Dad waits for us on the sidewalk. It’s time for the DRIVE TEST! As the first few minutes of the test roll by, I’m not doing tooo bad…..until…..the examiner commands me to complete a parallel parking exercise along a rather busy city street there in downtown Vancouver. Even now, after a half century has gone by, I still HATE to parallel park. I thought to myself, that day, “Well, here goes!” Upon my completion of an ATTEMPT at a parallel park, my fears of colliding with the other parked cars had me so far out from the curb, that the Examiner actually got OUT of my car and walked over to the curb, bent down and said, “I THINK you’re a little too far away from the curb!!” Like duhhhhhhh!!!! I was slain by utter embarrassment!!!
That Motor Vehicles Department Examiner showered pure mercy upon me that day, because even with that horrible excuse for parallel parking, he still passed me and I received my official Washington State Driver’s License!!! Overall, even with the stress, it was a super happy moment for this 16 year old Norwegian Farmer’s Son!!