Driving Lessons

My sister Mindy taught me to drive.

My brother Chuck used to send me out to warm up the old truck while he was getting ready for school and he would even let me shift gears -- left handed from the passenger seat -- in his Mercury Bobcat while his hands were full with a milk shake and burger.

Yet it was Mindy that actually taught me to drive.  She taught me the trick to driving is to keep your eyes far down the road.

Then she took me car shopping and helped me buy my first car.

It happened like this. Mindy had just bought a Ford EXP -- which was Ford's attempt in the 1980s to build a sporty two-seater out of the Ford Escort econobox. It is a car justifiably forgotten today. Beige on brown with a tan mouse-fur interior. At the time, however, it my sister's pride and joy.  A new off-the-lot car that was all hers.

It says a lot about Mindy that she would allow her 15 year old brother to drive it at all, let alone teach him how to drive on it. Mindy was like that, she was an instigator -- but in the best way. She was a "C'mon, it will be fun." She was "lets race the horses up from the hidden fields." She was a creator of experiences.

Her experience teaching me to drive was fraught, at first,  since her car was a stick shift, and we lived on back roads full of hill starts and two lane curves. She was as patient and calm with me as with the horses she trained -- even when I almost let her car roll into the guardrail while trying to work the clutch from a stop on a hill.

Maybe she was having second thoughts about using her new car for such duty, because one day she said "let's go car shopping."

Mindy. Always with the smile and the "C'mon, let's go."

AMC Matador: Mine was Maroon 
I had some money saved up working the hay and in my mom's restaurant. So we set off for town one afternoon, visiting the various used car lots, looking at old pickup trucks and thrashed Pintos. Finally we happened upon a 1971 AMC Matador. It was bone-stock with some melted plastic trim inside from sitting in the hot Eastern Oregon sun. It was big, slow and comfortable. She helped me negotiate the deal and arrange to get it home -- since I was still more than a year away from getting my license.

It was not cool. This was the 1980s and irony had yet to be discovered, but it was a good fit for me.

That car was a freedom machine for me during my teenage years. Before I got my license we practiced on the back roads, piloting the big boat around the curves and along the old highway to horse arena, or to my friend Danny's house.

After I got my license, the Matador was the favorite in school for hauling way too many kids down to the store during lunch our, or over to The Dalles on a Friday night. I got in trouble in that car -- it had a habit of backing into things -- parked cars, a restaurant on my first date -- but I had many more good memories.

It was in that car that I discovered a love of driving. Something I thought about often these past few weeks driving up and down the gorge to be at her bedside. Driving is where I did my thinking, my crying and my grieving. Driving through the beautiful hills and stark vistas, through white capped river and broiling clouds, through shafts of light and heart-stopping sunsets.

My sister Mindy taught me to drive, and so much more.



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