Behind the Wheel
by Tina Groumoutis
Growing up in rural Southwest Iowa, most people can’t remember learning to drive. They just always knew in the same way a person can’t remember learning to walk or talk. Maybe they sat up in the cab of John Deere from the seedlings of their lives. But I was a Greek and we owned a restaurant, not a farm, so I had to learn to drive.
A surrogate aunt took my siblings and me out on a county road off Highway 25, somewhere between the knee-high cornstalks of Greenfield and Creston, and we took turns behind a stick shift. I jerked and lurched and killed the engine a thousand times before I finally got it, burning down the sweet freedom of a setting sun and an unpaved road, twelve years old. Learning to drive a stick would come in handy the year my dad bought a Fiat. When other kids were driving their parents’ “grocery-getters” through the Dairy Queen drive-thru, I was occasionally allowed to drive my dad’s car, cruising through, cool-like, but then grinding gears and stalling if I was forced to wait too long at the window for my waxy, cherry Dilly Bar. Mostly I drove the family van.
I learned on an automatic the same way other people did–whipping kitties in the community college parking lot in thick cold of late January– maybe in my brother’s ‘82 Camaro. I was around 15 and hadn’t yet been gifted my baby blue Chevette, the one I eventually sold for $50 when I was ready to drive farther than that old car, hole in the floorboard, could ever take me. That’s the thing I remember most about life after getting behind the wheel; from the time I learned to drive, I learned to drive away.
PHOTO: “Country Road” by Maciej Maksymowicz, used by permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Taking a whirl back through my youth to write this for Silver Birch Press was as exhilarating as when I finally got the hang of driving and I flew down that county road. Writing this piece also reminded me how learning to drive has afforded me the opportunity to move thousands of miles in the direction of where I should be, and conversely, thousands of miles away from where I ought not be.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tina Groumoutis is a feisty Greek girl; a mother, a writer, and an educator. She is currently working on her MFA in Fiction at the University of Arkansas-Monticello. Tina is also on the editorial staff for the literary journal Gravel. She is a high school English teacher and was previously a staff writer for Warpaint Illustrated Magazine. Her work can also be seen in Rat’s Ass Review, and in the forthcoming anthology Silver Lining.