Three months at Remuda set me behind the power curve of normal teenage life. Add to the list of my insufficiencies the fact that I celebrated my 16th birthday in a hospital and now I was two months late taking my driver’s test.
Dad had instated a rule long before any of his girls turned 16: No one gets her driver’s license until she learns to drive a standard transmission vehicle.
Months before, in November, I had mastered the clutch, taken driver’s ed and passed the test with flying colors. Dad remained true to his promise and drove me to take the written and practical tests the first weekend after I got home.
“Are you ready?” he asked as we shut the door from the house to the garage.
“I hope so,” I replied. “But I’m happy to let you back out of the garage anyway.” I grinned sheepishly.
My only pre-license driving disaster occurred as I tried to back the truck out of the storage shed. The passenger mirror caught on the garage door frame, bending it backward and leaving a long scar in the paint. The kicker was that Dad had just sold the vehicle and the new owners were on their way to pick it up.
Dad put the white Honda Civic, the truck’s replacement, in gear and released the emergency brake. He backed out, then climbed out into the sunshine to trade me seats. I settled into the driver’s seat and took a deep breath. I don’t think I exhaled, feeling the tension inside me mount like an overfilled balloon.
Our driveway was almost a quarter mile long, gravel, framed by end-to-end railroad ties. A few years earlier, I had helped Daddy lay all those railroad ties. He was a big do-it-yourselfer. His determination and ingenuity employed my sisters and me quite a bit, and served us well.
It was another mile or so down the main dirt road before we came to the first turn onto pavement. Highway 86 was the artery of my family’s social life. It connected our small town of Perry to Stillwater where we went to church, shopped at the nearest Wal-Mart, and where I attended Trinity Christian School.
I pulled into the parking lot at the testing location. It was near the airport and my friend Amy’s house, so I felt comfortable having been there dozens of times before. I parked in front of the nondescript brick building and followed Dad, ducking under his arm as he held the door. Within seconds, I was seated at an old fashioned school desk facing the first test I had seen in months.
“That was easy!” I wiped my sweaty hands on my shorts as soon as I finished. “How long do you think we’ll have to wait to take the driving part?”
“Let’s go, young lady.”
I turned to see a hefty, brusque woman already glaring at me impatiently. She had ridiculously long, artificial nails painted dark blue. A strand of gray, messy hair was caught between her face and glasses.
I tried to be cheery, “Hi.” Wordlessly, she handed me the keys, “Thanks.”
I backed out of the parking lot, drove through Amy’s neighborhood and parallel parked on the side of the road between two trash cans. The woman never said a word, but made a few indecipherable notations on a legal pad. I focused on the road and tried not to look over at her scratchings.
Finally, she pointed in the direction of the testing facility. Relief flooded me. I was almost done. One hundred yards from the entrance, a tiny hill, really a bump, was the only thing between me and my last left turn.
As my front tires crested the bump, I saw a pickup truck coming toward us. Quick calculations ran through my head, The speed limit is only 30 mph, plenty of time. Deftly, I turned the wheel left and coasted into a parking space.
Dad wasn’t waiting outside. He’d found the most recent copy of AOPA (Associate of Private Aviators) among the sparse reading material left for bored parents in the waiting room. Nervously, I unbuckled and stepped from the car.
“Nice job.” The woman still couldn’t smile. “You maintained the correct speed limit and parallel parked beautifully.”
My hopeful smile began to stretch into a sloppy, deliriously happy grin.
“However, you should have waited for that truck to pass before you turned into the testing facility. I’m going to recommend you come back in two weeks and take the test again.”
My heart crashed through my feet and dissolved on the pavement between me and this terribly mean woman. Humiliated, I accepted the piece of paper where she had written her suggestions. Through my swelling tears of disappointment, I saw a paper on which she had scrawled a big, fat “F” across my best efforts.
I hated to go inside the building. I knew Dad would read my face before I had a chance to explain. Fortunately, he noticed us talking and came outside.
“Mr. Blades, your daughter did very well except for one mistake. As I told her, I am going to ask her to come back and test again in two weeks.” With that, she shuffled inside. I noticed the large sweat stain on the back of her shirt as she left. It disgusted me.
Daddy was kind enough to accept the keys and drive home in silence. How I hated to go home and explain to the rest of the family that I had failed.