The road to independence

Published 4:41 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Independence. Now that’s a word that brings all sorts of thoughts to mind. Back in the day, we could get our driver’s license when we turned 15. I remember waiting and waiting for that special day.

My high school was just a few blocks from the driver’s license bureau. After school one day I walked to the license bureau to pick up a book to study for my permit. I don’t remember anyone coaching me on what to do; I just asked some of my friends that were a little older than I.

Studying for my permit was way more important than studying for any of my tests at school, or so I thought. I pored over the book, and soon I felt ready to take my test. I knew every sign and what they meant. When I felt really sure of myself, I devoured the entire booklet once again for good measure.

Upon entering the office to take my test, I had to gulp hard to swallow the ostrich-size egg that appeared in my throat. “Deep breaths,” I told myself. When my eyes lit upon the test, I realized that I knew almost all the answers. There were just a few that I had questions about, but I felt sure that I would be successful in obtaining the piece of paper that meant a step on the road to independence.

Learner’s permit in hand, I strode into the bright sunlight without a care in the world. The realization had not quite hit me that I hadn’t a clue about how to drive a car!

“Paul, teach me how to drive, would you?”

“Maybe Saturday, Jan, I have football practice.”

I thought Paul would be the best teacher, but since he was busy I asked my Dad. As I recall he didn’t have a lot of patience, but somehow I learned enough to take my test. The real problem was parallel parking; I was totally afraid that this evil practice sent from the pit to trip up teenagers would cause me to fail. I couldn’t bare the thought of having to tell my friends I didn’t pass my driver’s test.

I dreamed of parallel parking. I talked about parallel parking. I watched strangers as they were parallel parking. The day of my driver’s test drew near, and I prayed about parallel parking!

The kind older fellow who gave me my driver’s test calmly put me through the ropes. As far as I could tell things were going well. When we pulled up to the area with orange cones arranged to simulate a tight parking situation my heart gave a lurch. The officer looked at me with gentle eyes and said, “How about I give you a little help? Parallel parking is pretty hard until you get the hang of it. Just drive slowly forward. That’s it, now turn your wheels and back up. You only knocked one cone over. That will do fine.”

That was an exciting day. In my youthful enthusiasm I had not yet learned that the road to independence would be long, but it was a good start.

Jan Penton Miller can be reached at