Driving Lessons

I wrecked the family car when I was 16 years old, just a few months after getting my first driver’s license.

It was a 1960’s version of the “Woodie”, a beautiful and massive Ford station wagon with wood panel trim, the Country Squire.

It was the car on which I was trained.

My father’s strategy was to navigate the winding, hilly country roads outside of town.

There was no parking lot practice, we went straight to the paved roller-coaster streets of rural Pennsylvania. Road regulations, city traffic, even the dreaded parallel parking presented no issues for me. I was ready.

I proudly passed the first license exam, was quickly entrusted to handle all family driving challenges. My older sister was away at school, my mother never drove, the 4 younger siblings were depending on me.

My dad was able to walk to work, so he left the wagon at home for us.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, I sat in the local police station while my parents were contacted. The brakes had failed, I started a four car chain reaction at a stop light.

I couldn’t have been going more than 20 mph, but the car was totaled.

I remember every detail of that day. I was alone, driving to my weekly piano lesson that was 2 miles from home, not the first time I’d made the trip.

When they collected me from the police station, I was sure I wanted to tear up my driver’s license, never drive again. There was clearly a mechanical failure at fault, but I blamed myself, for a very long time.

My parents understood, and were very supportive. I was told that the younger kids were warned not to tease me, or make me feel bad about the accident.

That was my job, and I was good at it.

They quickly replaced the car, with a huge Dodge sedan that would accommodate our family of 8. I resumed chauffeur duties for the rest of my high school years and went on to be a confident driver.


Post inspired by a recent car show of American “muscle cars”, which included the V8 Country Squire wagon.

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74 Responses to Driving Lessons

  1. George says:

    That looks like the size of car I learned how to drive on also and it was not automatic. My father felt if I leaned on a stick I’d always know how to drive one so I leaned and took my driving test on one. Those were huge vehicles. The fact that you totaled it meant there were other huge vehicles on the road..:)
    Glad it all ended well for everyone.

    • No injuries…a blessing, George. When I got my own first car, by comparison…we called it my “little car”..it was a Ford Galaxy. After years of Japanese imports, I saw one at a car lot, and it seemed huge !! I learned to drive stick on a 2000 mile move to Utah in a VW bus…another story.

  2. Sue Vincent says:

    I’ve been in a good many accidents but only one that was ‘my’ fault. My brakes also failed at low speed, approaching a roundabout…and I totalled three cars.

  3. In my girlhood our neighbours had a car just like this…I always thought it was like a little house on wheels…and I also did my driving exam in my father’s Dodge Monaco 🤓😀 such a fond memory of those cars with back seats like sofas 🤗 smiles Van!

  4. I think sometimes that those early accidents make better lifetime drivers. The silver lining to a distressing situation. My daughter had a similar experience as a teen. She’s been a careful and safe driver ever since. 🙂

  5. I got to learn on a couple of different vehicles. A smaller sedan, a 3/4 ton truck, and the car I got to drive around in once I got fully licenced: a 1967 Cadillac Sedan DeVille.

    THAT thing was a boat. Huge front end…equally huge trunk. I dinged it up here and there, bumping into things like light posts, but never full-on totaled it out.

    Being the daughter of an ex-cop had its advantages in learning to drive – my Dad told me once: “You’ll have a couple of different driving instructors, but I’ll be the hardest one, because I’ll teach you to drive like a cop.”

    So far, I’ve never been on the ‘at fault’ end of a vehicle accident, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve received damage to one of my cars through another driver’s failure.

  6. Erika Kind says:

    Poor 16-year-old Van. I can imagine how terrible you must have felt and of course so insecure although it was not your fault. I am glad you got so much encouragement and support. What a cool car that was btw.
    Van, I saw you have signed up for the blogger meeting in Chicago. I am so excited to meet you there!!!

    • I was crushed, Erika. It was a financial burden to replace that car at the time, thankful that I was not reminded of that. I was one of those kids who didn’t want to make waves, and this was a big one.
      Happy to see you are crossing the pond for Chicago, looking forward to seeing you in person, feel like I know you so well already.

      • Erika Kind says:

        I can relate to it very well. Trying to help and support and not wanting to draw the attention … and then that!
        Oh, my, same over here! It is so thrilling to meet you and the others after we know so much from each other and get along so very well. This is amazing 😄

  7. J.D. Riso says:

    Aw, I can imagine the shame of having an accident so young. I miss Wood-paneled station wagons. They just scream “road trip!” 😎

    • They were special, Julie. It’s surprising they have never come back in style…replaced by the mini-van and SUV. And, they do scream road trip, and for us, more like those “Sunday drives.”

  8. C.E.Robinson says:

    My grandma had a “woodie’ station wagon. Fond memories as a kid passenger! Only had minor car mishaps as a driver. Learning to drive, my Dad would yell, “slow down, you’ve got a lead foot.” Had to heed the warning, or I didn’t get to drive. Can imagine the anxiety you felt when the brakes failed. Scary! Good, no serious injuries! 🌺 Christine

    • With more experience, I might have tried to pump those brakes. I did not, my foot just sank to the floor as I sat in panic. My lead foot came much later, C. Thanks.

  9. joey says:

    I was watching Parenthood the other night and one of the kids had crashed into a trash bin and loosened the side mirror, and the mother went home all, “We’re lucky to be alive!” I have completely different feelings on the matter, and think these kind of things are par-for-the-course in parenting. Brake failures would be MUCH worse. It must have been scary for you, that lack of control and all the crashing.
    I am fearful of teaching Sassy to drive. I remember her wrecking a lot on the mini jeep toy and you should see her play MarioKart, OY!

    • Ha ha…MarioKart. Could be worse…could be Grand Theft Auto ??? I was also thinking about bumper cars, I remember driving defensively. Teen driving has new dangers now…we didn’t have texting/cell phones. Somehow, they all get through the training process, we just take deep breaths.

      • joey says:

        OMG, The Boy One played Grand Theft Auto and he’s not had an accident yet! Maybe there is hope!!! 😀
        I do worry about the texting. We’re good role models on that, and we sure do go on about it, so hopefully it sticks.

  10. That was a tough start to driving. I am glad you got back behind the steering wheel. Where would we be without transport?

    • My mother was a city girl with public transportation. She was nervous about driving, never did get a license and was dependent on others to get around in suburbia. Our dad was determined that we would have the freedom that comes with driving. He made it tough on us, with good reason. But, we prevailed. I’m grateful for that.

  11. Val Boyko says:

    Not an easy start to driving … and taking on new responsibiities in the family! Thats a lot on young shoulders Van. 💕

  12. Van
    Don’t feel bad….I totaled my dad’s best friends car at 12 years old!!!! More father had a repeat of voice words.
    Have a great weekend.

    • Ouch. At 12 ? That must have been quite a friend. I think I feel better now. Thanks, M.

      • The words my father was yelling was much worst. I actually asked first. I waited till he was on phone, he said no. I waited maybe ten minutes grabbed the keys and only drove to end of block, around circle and back. No problems. I’m parking the car and think it’s not close enough, he’ll know. I was driving a V8 and a water hydrate was on the other side of driveway. I went back and forth until getting frustrated. I knew the minute the car jumped over curb in to hydrant I was in big trouble. I must have floored it. My dad heard from inside and the words were already flying. He had to say it was him driving and his insurance rates went up. I got reminded often.

      • You were a bold one, M. I can only imagine. And, I was not aware of the insurance issue at the time, I’m sure it made a difference. Sorry you were reminded so often. Thanks for sharing your “adventure”.

      • My nick name Miss Trouble started at 6 yrs old. Both the truth is I was born trouble. I have a curious mind and when hot on the thought trail I don’t worry about the after problems. Nothing has changed. Only now I fall more often when curious.
        What do you think of the header photo on my page? I’m still unsure if it’s to dark. It truly gets the message on the name of blog but a couple of people said it’s a bit dark for my personality. I didn’t think I had one any more. My site is no longer any fun and I’m pulled in two directs. I love my advocacy work. On Twitter, I follow 38 people and have 1,100 followers in less than 2 months. 30 or so come read blog.
        I guess it’s the divide in the road. I thought of just quitting. I’m not sure the point.
        Thanks for letting me dump on you. You have yet to dump on me!!!!! You’re mysterious. 🙂
        Have a great weekend.

      • No worries on the “dumping”, M. Feel free to be as candid as you wish. I was a curious child as well, but with caution, not wanting to add to the drama that surrounded us. I built a protective wall around me, just to survive. Much of that wall…still intact. It’s a process, I guess. Congrats on the Twitter success, maybe it should be your focus for a while. I’ve taken breaks from WP often. But, I do like your header. What I see there is a ray of light in the darkness. You should too.

      • That’s what attracted me to the header, it fits perfect with the name. We are alike in the wall, I must have been a hard birth with all those bricks around me. I knew if playing with my brother chances are I wouldn’t get the screaming or ass kicking. The other was pure kid being a kid, I had many troubles over that. When about 4-5 yrs old at daycare I thought naps where for babies. I quietly got up and found an unlocked door, it was a storage room mostly of paint. I opened at big tub and it looked totally crusted, curious mind how crusted down is it. I hit it hard, found out only a inch or two and my are went in all the way to shoulder. How does daycare explain this kid, trouble! No need to tell my mother, think the dress was even ruined. Needless to say I went to bed hungry and very sore.
        I know you played it cool a lot after watching your older sister.
        Looking back maybe I was a budding Scientist! Who knows where my mind would have taken my had it not been knocked out of me. I’m going thru a depressive state and I far enough down I can’t put on my mask and convince myself my blog is worth a shit anymore. I’m not a story writer, no poetry, no great photographer and right now unsure of many aspects of my life. My health is taken a back slide and it’s so frustrating. I reached the decision yesterday I’m not telling my husband anything unless he ask with concern not auto pilot. I mention three times yesterday I had fallen in backyard and hurt myself. Not once did he acknowledge or ask about. Being sick is so hard on caregivers. I guessed God blessed me to want to be at my grandparents side every minute they had left.
        I’m crying, haven’t in a while. Indication of where my head is. I love my advocacy work but haven’t found a way to keep my blog interesting to me. Followers going up but that isn’t what drives me. I want to feel worthy and the type of writing I do isn’t exciting anymore. I can’t break, that’s a failure in my mixed up mind. I’ve failed enough. Survivors Blog Here site celebrates three yrs in Sept., that would be a huge failure to walk away. For whatever reason walking away is associated with never going back. It’s worse now part of my brain function is missing. It’s crazy, I’m so excited to write for a men”s organization, it’s because I’m learning, that is what keeps me engaged.
        There’s a big load. Thank you for sharing. Since the day we met you have supported me like a mother, sister and good friend. Thank you.

  13. amommasview says:

    That brought back memories of me in my parents car with some of my friends driving back from school on a terribly snowy (the wet, soapy, slushy kind of snow) day and feeling the car just go under me… and hitting a truck… car was gone. Nobody injured.

  14. Pingback: My Picks Of The Week 2017 – #30 | A Momma's View

  15. So it wasn’t you who wrecked it

  16. It’s a hard message to internalize accident at any age. I didn’t have any accidents in my teen years but only a couple of years (4 years) I had one and it was fatal – the gentleman my car hit died.

  17. writerinsoul says:

    Very glad the brakes didn’t fail on one of those rural rolling hills! Yeesh! You know I always felt safer driving big, hulking station wagons (we had one that was a foot longer than regulation; we called it “The Queen Mary”) than I have since in the little econo-cars.

    • There is safety and a bit more security in those larger vehicles…until you see what a semi can do to one on the highway ?? Love the Queen Mary, those wagons were as wide as a boat.

  18. That must have been scary Van to have brakes fail. You were Lucky . And what a car.. Huge compared to our little old cars way back when. 🙂 I didn’t learn to drive until I was 25, was a nervous driver for years, then we had a couple of years without a car as it was parked up and one snowy night someone came around the bend and skidded right into it. That was wrote off and we could not afford another with what was offered.. It was an old Hillman Avenger. .. We had Ford Anglia’s before that 😀 You just brought back those old cars.. Sending lots of love your way xxx ❤

    • Not familiar with the Hillman. One of my early cars was an Austin, small box, bit like a mini Cooper. Besides an Oldsmobile family sedan, all of our vehicles have been Japanese imports. That was a real issue when we moved to Michigan, home of the auto industry in the US…we got lots of nasty looks and comments about not buying “American”.
      I couldn’t wait to drive (legally), there was much freedom that came with that responsibility. Thanks, Sue.

  19. My God those wagons were land barges. Hard to stop all that metal. We had one for our family of eight also, lucky for me by the time I was driving we had a 69 Impala, one of my favorite cars. Unfortunately my brother ran into a car load of teens that ran a red light, and it was totaled and the teen driver was killed. It was terrible. My brother has never really gotten over it, even though he was certainly not at fault. So sad how split second bad decisions can impact so many lives.

  20. Ali Isaac says:

    Poor you! What a horrid thing to happen at such a young age! You must have been in shock. Such a beautiful old car, too, but soooo big! I’d struggle driving that around our Irish country lanes! 😆

  21. lbeth1950 says:

    I wished our family had had a great car like that. Our good car was a ’64 VW Beetle that was sometimes stuffed with th seven of us. Our bad car was ’56 chevy that started a good bit of the time. I dreaded piling out of that VW at church with everybody looking!

  22. dgkaye says:

    Oh, you know how to make us dredge up old memories Van. Lol. I remember the first time my dad took me out driving. I knew nothing, not even how to start a car. I knew from what I saw watching TV, 2 hands on the wheel and turn it back and forth. The lesson lasted 3 minutes. Dad sent me to driving school. LOL 🙂 xx

  23. Lisa A. says:

    Ohh no Van! I’m glad everything turned out alright. I was scared to drive at first. I was 18 when I got my license. I walked everywhere or got rides. I finally had to just drive.

    • Today, it seems like kids are waiting a bit longer…doesn’t seem to be the same priority as it once was, at least for me. I’d have driven at 12 if it was legal. Thanks, Lisa.

      • Lisa A. says:

        I understand. It was different because your mom didn’t drive. My grandma doesn’t drive. She takes the bus or we give her rides.

  24. hbsuefred says:

    I have a similar story of a similar first accident when I was the same age. I didn’t avoid driving but I avoided that intersection for as long as I possibly could! Interestingly, I’m pretty sure I can recall all of the auto accidents I’ve ever had. How weird is that? 🚘

    • Not weird at all. I had one other, a black ice skid into a front lawn, and I’ve avoided the area during winter ever since. You never forget. Thanks for the visit and comment.

  25. The accident sounds kind of scary.

  26. I rolled my parents car, woke up late missed my lift. Mum talked dad into letting me take the family car. Lost in on long bend. 500m from workplace.

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