1950 Memories of Suburban Adventures

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Parking Perfection

Apparently there’s more to driving a car than just getting behind the wheel and stepping on the gas. I had to learn all kinds of extras that weren’t optional, like changing tires, executing three point turns, and perfecting parallel parking.

Groups of three or four eligible students took our school’s driver education course during study hall. Mr. Soldwedel sat in the passenger seat beside each driver while the remaining junior operators sat in the back.

Ruth was the first student in the driver’s seat. I joined Dave and John-Paul in the backseat. Earlier that semester, in a hushed tone, our driver revealed to a group of us that Ruth was her middle name. She used Ruth because she hated her first name. After much prodding to tell what the hideous first name was, she looked straight at me and said, “Mary.”

It's me, Mary Barbara, possessor of the dreaded first name.

It’s me, Mary Barbara, possessor of the dreaded first name.

Mary Ruth drove from Hartford Central School to our town’s new bypass parking area, where I took over command of our car. I’d show her how an expert driver drove. I carefully looked both ways before slowly pulling onto the main road.

“What country is your family originally from?” asked Mr. Soldwedel.

I didn’t want to make small talk while concentrating on driving, but politely answered, “My father’s side is from England and my mother’s side is Polish and Russian.”

“Ah, that explains it,” he said. “Is that why you’re driving on the left side of the road?”

Stop the presses. Doesn’t left side equate with wrong side? Holy Crap!

I let out a screech and veered quickly to the right. Overcorrecting, I drove onto the shoulder. Before plummeting into the ditch, I skillfully turned to the left and straightened out.

Unfazed, my instructor chuckled. He’d been teaching for several years and took it all in stride. I think he was shell shocked.

Mary Ruth could stop shrieking any time now; my minor foible was over.

www.drivingschool.ca I could do this blindfolded!

http://www.drivingschool.ca
I could do this blindfolded!

Dave and John-Paul continued teasing me until we learned how to parallel park. I outdid them all.

Mr. Soldwedel was amazed in a tactless ‘I can’t believe she can do this’ manner as he announced, “You’re one of the best parallel parkers I’ve ever seen.”

I’m sure I was.

I got my operator’s license and continued astounding bystanders with my parallel parking ability. With a minimum of moves, I once squeezed an ugly station wagon into a space with less than three extra feet. Several men up on ladders, trimming apple trees along the park, applauded. I got out and dorkily curtsied, accepting their compliment as my due. It was not the first or last time my parking met with admiration from strangers.

Unfortunately, the same did not hold for my driving skills.

Lesson learned: Leave a wide berth between you and a driver education vehicle. And stay on the right side of the road.

Now it’s your turn: What’s your strongest or weakest driving skill?

Related posts: Chapter Thirteen: Road Warrior

© Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures, 2012 forward. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


28 Comments

  1. valleygrail says:

    I have not parallel parked since I took my driver test. That was an experience I swore I never would repeat. So far so good!

  2. Ralph says:

    Other than the police picture of 5 cars stacked on top of one another I am impressed with your parking abilities Mary. I gave up driving due to my health and Spain let out a sigh of relief. 😉 ❤

  3. Elle Knowles says:

    I don’t remember learning to parallel park. I do remember drivers ed and sharing the driving time with two other classmates. No catastrophes – or maybe my mind just blacked it out! 🙂

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Elle, it was fun just getting outside during school hours. My husband’s instructor fell asleep, so the kids drove across the nearby state line into Vermont. He freaked when he woke up in another state. Definitely against the rules.

  4. TheLastWord says:

    I started driving at 14 and I remember going to get my licence the day before my 18th birthday. I was turned away and had to go back the next day. They made me do a test, which consisted of starting out with the examiner and driving around a big park with a pond in the middle. No one asked me how I drove myself to the exam…..

    So it was out of the examination lot, turn right then left, left left, left showing hand signals for turns and slow downs (for Indian cars in those days didn’t have indicators that actually worked). Back to the exam lot. Done!

    My greatest driving strength, the ability to use my middle finger and my voice when confronted by erratic Corollas and women drivers in SUVs who seem to think they’re in the bathroom at home.

    My greatest weakness? I can’t drink coffee and drive….

  5. e m bahnsen says:

    Oh, my! I still can not parallel park a car properly. I stick out too far into the street; or, I scrape the tire wheels against the curb; or I bump the other cars. I can drive in NYC as if I’m a native (of which I am not!), but please don’t ask me to parallel park….. Ellen

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Ellen, we all have our strengths. I panic in city driving. Parallel parking is more like a math equation, so I can do it.
      I have driven in Chicago and Milwaukee, though not always successfully.

  6. I think I may have mentioned that I instructed driving for a lot of years. The best parking memory I have was provided by a lady who was your exact opposite – she couldn’t park to save her life. After countless attempts we finally got it right and she went for her test, declaring: “After this, I’m never going to do a parking manoeuvre again.”

    Many years later I met her on a visit to a new town where she owned a small art gallery. She pointed proudly to the car neatly parked outside and told me she had been true to her word. She had gone through all the years without doing a reverse park. Whenever one was needed she would swap seats with her husband, even if it meant getting out of the car in heavy traffic. She may have been lacking, but his parking was superb.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Great story, Fred. I always looked at parallel parking as a math problem, which I enjoy. Unfortunately, driving proficiency is a more desired trait than parking!

  7. C. Suresh says:

    Hahaha! Mary! NOW we drive on the left side of the road. THAT ‘we’ of course does not include me. I like sitting beside or behind the driver and cheering or shrieking as the situation warrants 🙂

  8. Aunt Beulah says:

    I’m so glad I found your blog. I’ve spent so much time browsing on it that I must hurry off to a grandchild’s soccer game—groups of confused toddlers running here and there in brief spurts and picking dandelions — and cannot leave a driving story, but I’ll be back.

  9. suzjones says:

    My worst skill is parallel parking. I do it even worse when the owner of the vehicles in front and behind me are watching. Particularly if one of them is a Harley rider 😉

  10. kriskkaria says:

    I’d love to narrate this for my podcast!

  11. Val Mills says:

    Ha, ha, driving on the left is the right side here in New Zealand 🙂

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