The office I work in is next door to our local DMV, giving me a direct view of government business as waves of people deal with their licensing issues, title transfers, and best of all, their driving tests. Looking out of the large picture window, I can usually tell quite quickly if Tiffany passed her birthday driving test or if Bradley is going to be able to use the family car for tonight’s big date. I’ve seen smiles, happy dances, disbelief, and even the occasional teary wail, “I’m NEVER going to get my license, EVER!” (Trust me, Tiffy, it ain’t that big a deal.)
Many (oh so many) years ago, when it was my turn to learn to drive, Dad fired up the tractor, drove it out into the orchard, and I excitedly donned the coveted John Deere baseball cap that each kid got for tractor graduation, ready for my first official lesson. (Dad wisely determined early on that he wasn’t putting half a dozen teenagers behind the wheel of the family car each year as we hit 15, one right after the other like falling dominoes. Learning mistakes were going to be made on a virtually indestructible John Deere, to a tree, not another car or an unsuspecting pedestrian.)
My dad came from a long line of hunters, and he also trained each new generation of hunting dogs. Darling little German Shorthair Pointers that he’d spend hours and hours with, teaching the pups to point out birds in the brush, then gently fetch the fallen and bring them in. When I turned driving-lesson age, Dad had a beautiful little guy named Bailey that followed him around with a wagging tail and adoring eyes. Bailey was as excited about his lessons as I was about mine.
So with Dad and his ever-present Bailey standing beside me, I fired up the tractor, stepped hard on the clutch, ground it into first gear with a loud crunch, and shot forward, throwing me backward and promptly running over Bailey’s leg. OMG. Poor Bailey was yelping, Dad was yelling “Drive forward! FORWARD!! “Put in the CLUTCH!!” while I dissolved into complete novice-driver panic, screaming, “How do I do that?? WHAT DO I DO??” Dad grabbed me off the tractor, jumped up and drove it off little guy’s foot. We scooped him up and raced to the vet, who pronounced Bailey miraculously okay. With lots of “I’m so sorry’s” and doggie treats, Bailey’s tail was wagging again by nightfall and all was well.
Until the next day…
Dad took Bailey out for a pointing lesson, and when he tossed the bird into the air, Bailey’s nose went straight forward (beautiful), his tail went straight up (good boy), and his right leg shot straight OUT at a 45 degree angle. WTH? Dad gently pushed Bailey’s paw back so the leg pointed straight forward, let go, and TWANG, it bounced back to a perfect, and apparently permanent, 45 degrees to the right. Uh-oh. For an award-winning Pointer to be, well…award winning, all three of his pointing parts need to point in the same direction.
“Well, if it helps,” I suggested, “at least it’s a perfect angle. It’s actually quite impressive.” The expression on Dad’s face told me it didn’t help, and I determined now would be a good time to stop talking. I heard later that Bailey’s first group hunting trip didn’t go well and the poor guy was the laughingstock of all his little pointer friends. Eventually he learned to point just using his nose and tail, keeping all four paws firmly on the ground, salvaging his reputation by establishing himself as a rebel.
To this day, I’ve never mastered the stick shift and the John Deere cap hangs in our entry way, silently mocking me. I recently saw an ad for an adult driving class that promises to teach stick driving. I signed up for spring. Maybe you can teach an old human new tricks.