How I Learned to Drive a Standard Shift, Without Tears
by Lynne Viti

— Let out the clutch! Let out the clutch!

We were sitting at the top of the hill on the street where I grew up, suitably named Hilltop Avenue. My grandmother sold me her old Opel Kadett station wagon for a hundred and fifty bucks, and Dad appointed himself my driving instructor.

Dad’s instructional method was to yell when my response had to be quick. Though I was twenty-three, with years of driving experience, I felt like a clueless adolescent. No matter how carefully I released the clutch with my left foot and depressed the gas pedal with my right, I couldn’t get a feel for how quickly to release and how fast to depress.

I stalled again.

I could feel my frustration mounting, as the volume of Dad’s voice rose. I tried not to cry or holler back at him.

I stalled over and over, before I gave up.

I had two choices now. I could practice on my own, or fire Dad and ask my mother to help me.

I asked my mom.

Mom, a teacher since she was twenty, taught me many important things — how to read, how to hand-wash lingerie, how to repair a skirt hem, how to polish furniture, how to write a bread-and-butter note.

I was nervous when we returned to the top of Hilltop Avenue the next morning.

Mom said, Do you want to do it with the handbrake?

Huh? I was confused.

It’s kind of a crutch, she said. Don’t worry if the engine races. Release the handbrake slowly so you don’t make a jackrabbit start.

It worked.

I practiced all day Saturday. I got really good at it.

When we returned from my successful lesson, Dad asked how we’d made out, and Mom said, Fine, she’s using the handbrake.

This time, there was no yelling.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: My younger sister Anne (left, age 23) and I (at right, age 27) stand next to the successor to the Opel Kadett, my saphirblau Super Beetle, on a sunny day in Brookline, Massachusetts, about three years after my mother taught me to drive a standard shift.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I saw this prompt, I immediately thought of that day when my father attempted to teach me how drive a standard shift. It was so frustrating for both of us. That was the point at which I realized that I should’ve asked my mother from the get-go, because if she knew how to do something, she could teach you to do it, too, and she taught with such patience and clarity.

Lynne Viti headshot1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lynne Viti teaches in the Writing Program at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in Right Hand Pointing, Blognostics, These Fragile Lilacs, Topology Magazine, Callinectes Sapidus, The Wire: Urban Decay and American TelevisionDrunk Monkeys, WILLA, Silver Birch Press, Connections Magazine, Sojourner News, Drunk Monkeys,  Damfino Journal, The Lost Country, Irish Literary ReviewThe Song Is, Poetry Pacific, Yoga Magazine, Grey Sparrow ReviewThe Baltimore Sun, and in a curated exhibit at Boston City Hall. She blogs at