Learning to Drive—Eventually
by Joan Leotta

In 1958, Ford’s designers
made my father smile
His favorite, auto, the T-Bird,
grew from two doors to four-
My mother argued against
such a pricey showy car, but
in 1961, a dove-white
Thunderbird nested
in our drive. Power windows,
sleek design. My father’s pride.
January 10, 1964 on my sweet
snowy 16
Daddy marched me
to the driveway.
He reversed our seating for this
occasion, my first driving lesson.
He talked me through
shifts, dials, horn
brakes, gas and mirrors.
Under his tutelage, my hands,
inserted key.
Following my father’s
calm, loving voice,
his pride and joy sprang to life.
Snow drifted through the air
as I backed out
onto the street.
I sat at the wheel,
my father gently
issuing commands.
January’s snows had slicked
streets so we proceeded …
slowly. So far, so good
until we reached a narrow
side street. Snow-covered lumps
of parked cars
festooned each side.
My father directed me to turn
down the road. I stuck to the ruts
where other brave drivers
had blazed a path.
Half-way down,
a car approached from the other
“Go right!” my father barked.
My father, barking?
I hit the gas.
“No NO!”
T-Bird became a hawk
swerving oh so close to
those snowy side
lumps of car.
Take your foot off…”
I hit the brake. Car fishtailed,
narrowly avoiding those parked
Side sentinels. Approaching
car slowed, then stopped as well.
I leaned onto the steering wheel—
began to sob, “I don’t know what to do.”
My father was silent for a moment, then,
he opened his door, walked around
to driver’s side and motioned
for me to take passenger seat.
He expertly extricated us
from that snowy hell. I don’t remember how
but do recall there was no contact with
approaching or parked vehicles.
Five years later,
on a mid-summer day, I finally
took my driver’s license test.
Passed on first try—but not in my father’s car.

IMAGE: Detail from ad for 1961 Ford Thunderbird.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My dear Daddy had one passion outside of his love of family—his cars. Over the years he treasured several vehicles, his Audi, his gleaming two-tone Oldsmobile, but the vehicle of his dreams, the favorite of favorites was that Thunderbird. I can only say it was a mark of his even greater love for me, his little princess, that he even considered teaching me how to drive in that car. It did not end well, the lesson that is, but years later we both… well at least I was able to laugh about it.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: My dad and me, with me dressed as a princess.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Leotta lives in Calabash, North Carolina. She grew up in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, where she learned to play with words on the page and onstage from an early age. Her first picture book WHOOSH! is also a snapshot of an afternoon with her father, but since no cars are involved, the tone of the day is much different! You can follow her blog on Birth of a Book at www.joanleotta.wordpress.com.