Harry Reynolds column: The last of my dad’s driving lessons

Dad kicked my foot. “Quit, riding the clutch!” Being 16, with a budding temper, naturally led to an altercation. In close quarters, in the front seat of an automobile, the option of throwing punches was limited. Even a short, hard jab to the face would have required a separation of at least eight inches.

Stepping out of the car in order to exchange blows worthy of the inclination was really not an option. In the intervening seconds, tempers cooled. And this is fortunate for the reader of this fine newspaper, given the impossibility of this column being written from the grave.

A fight might have come out otherwise, and I would be writing from prison, having been sentenced to life without parole. Dad fought as an amateur once, but, having arms longer than most people, I possessed the advantage.

Assuming most of you are cynics and being completely unbiased as to which cable news channel you watch, verification of my claim of having really long arms will be provided by email. My reach will be clearly evident – my knuckles dragging the ground (from a standing position of over six feet).

High school driving classes were not offered then. Most farm boys drove tractors and other farm equipment. And, there were the options of borrowing a parent’s keys surreptitiously, stealing a car (not recommended for obvious reasons), or hot-wiring it.

Dad ranked at the bottom as a driving instructor, due to his temper and impatience. My riding the clutch was more than he could bear given his love of cars. At the time, he was trying to teach me to drive, he owned four cars.

In particular, I remember the big, black, four-door, Capone-era Chevy. My older sister attempted to learn to drive the behemoth, culminating in a trip down a ditch and into a farmer’s fence, which neither made my dad happy, nor the farmer.

Dad went a lot easier on my sister, she being his first child – and a girl. She was defiant, stubborn as a mule, and explosive in temper. Of course, dad loved that, and bragged about it. One of his fondest memories was born of an incident outside the grade school across the street from our house.

She was four years old at the time, and one day, she climbed the fire escape - which extended to the third floor of the building. Dad yelled at her to come down. She refused. True to the long and hallowed tradition of Reynolds males, he feared heights.

My sister, finally, descended. Being his favorite daughter and all, he reprimanded her. When she started crying, he hugged her.

That day when we came near to blows, I was attempting the impossible – parallel parking between two of dad’s cars. The bumpers were so close; a drop of water would not have passed between them. After a couple of dents, orchestrated by profanity, dad moved the cars further apart.

That was the last of my dad’s driving lessons.

Harry Reynolds can be reached at Reynoldsharry1943@gmail.com

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