#SOL15: Novice Driver


Smoke billowed out from the edges of the hood. Wait, is that smoke?  Is that steam?  Doesn’t matter . . . it’s BIG TROUBLE!   No panic.  After all, this wasn’t a movie.  Also, not reality TV.

I had landed with a thud.  No exploding air bags.  They hadn’t been invented yet.  Seat belts?  I don’t remember unfastening them.  Probably not required on a car that had been manufactured in the 60’s and became our second car in the 70s.  A “diner” – big, heavy, old.  Not too dinged up – definitely bought for its durability.

I was driving along, minding my own business, when I discovered I was behind a road grader.  There was that hump of dirt piled up about eight inches high in the center of the road.  For you city slickers, it’s a rock road.  We’re in the country.  (And there were probably only two roads in Iowa that had four lanes. Just sayin’)  How lucky could I be?  The road grader was out, blading the road in the rain.

Car coming towards me.  I slowly eased my car over that hump of dirt that I had been straddling.  Old car. No danger of dragging bottom.  Old diner cars had a clearance like current all-wheel drive cars. Ok, that wasn’t too bad.  Wipers on.  Wait, do I turn the lights on in the day time when it’s raining?  Its awfully dark!

I wasn’t too sure where I was on my half of the road.

It HAD been raining ALL morning.  I went to work at my regular time – 8:00 but they said, “Come back at noon.  We’ll see if it’s still raining and decide what to have you do.”

It was DAY 2 of having my own driver’s license so I was 16 – barely.  I had over three hours to kill.  I was dressed for work.  I wasn’t going anywhere dressed like that.  I had 3 and ½ hours to kill before I had to go back to work.

My plan, due to lack of anywhere else to go or anything else to do (no books in the car), was to go home.  Home was seven and ½ miles north of the Northrup King plant. I could kill time at home before going back to work at noon to see what weather and work would allow.

My half of the road was soft, soggy, and felt like it had little rock.  Dark. Muddy.  And still raining. Not fun.

Today as I try to remember all the details, I don’t remember ever having driven in rain before.  I also don’t remember ever driving much before this.  Back to the action.

And then my stomach hit my toes.  The rear end of the car was sliding toward the ditch.  Mud was sucking at the tires. It was pulling me into the black hole.

Do I steer into this sliding mess? Out?  No time for thoughts as I was already landing with a loud CRUNCH with an undertone of a SCRAPING noise.


I hadn’t had typing yet.  I really didn’t know what those symbols meant.  But I’m sure I said a word or two that I wasn’t supposed to even know. (At this stage of life, I think I had heard my mom say “sh**” once.  But as a farm girl, I wasn’t totally ignorant.  Just because I hadn’t said the words, didn’t mean that I hadn’t heard them.)

So the car is in a ditch. Smoke or steam is rolling out of the hood.  No engine noise but maybe just a bit of a gurgling sound.

It’s pre-historic times.

The folks that invented cell phones haven’t even been born yet.

(Unimaginable for some of you youngsters!)

What to do?

It’s raining. A sixteen year old girl, dressed for “detasseling corn”, in a ditch alongside a rock road in the middle of nowhere Iowa.

Four miles from home doesn’t really mean relatives are nearby.

I don’t even know who lives in the house that I can see.  There are no kids that get on the bus at that house.  Clueless.  Alone. Wet. Cranky. Anxious!

I wonder if I can just sit in the car until someone comes along. . . That doesn’t seem like much of a solution. I could be sitting here a long time!

I talk myself into getting wet AGAIN.  I do have a raincoat but that will only cover part of me.  I grab my work shoes and put them on.  They are already dirty. A bit of mud won’t hurt them.

I trudge to the house.  By the time I start up the sidewalk,  I have about 6 inches of mud and clay attached to my shoes.  I detour to walk through the grass.  I had wiped as much mud as possible off my shoes just by dragging them across the grass in the yard.

I knock on the door, introduce myself, and ask them to call my parents (I’m not calling – I’m not breaking the bad news!).

I stand on their porch.

But I was a mess.  Plaids and polka dots and colors that didn’t match.  Old clothes that would be tossed at the end of detasselling season.  After all, they had already been handed down from my cousin to my sister, back to another cousin, to her sister and then to me. . . oh, lucky ole me!  The fifth person to wear these clothes!

The lady at the house comes back and tells me that my dad said to wait for him here.

I wait miserably.  Cold. Tired. And yes, scared.  I’ve had my license for less than two days and I’ve already wrecked the car.  I’m introuble!

My dad drives by in the truck.  He goes past the car, on down to the next house, pulls in the driveway and turns around.  Of course, the road grader has come by and completely removed the hump from the middle of the road.  The tire tracks look like someone just drove off the road into the ditch.  A little swervy, but not much. Thanks a lot, Mr. Road Grader Man!

Dad pulls up next to the car in the ditch.  He walks around the car, then opens the driver’s door, and pulls out my purse.

Hmmm. . . I wonder what that means.

He pulls up to the house, waits on me to get in, and then slams the truck into gear.  He doesn’t say a word.  ME either.  Silence is perfect.

Half a mile from home he says, “Why didn’t you just stay in town if you had to go back at noon?”

“Because I thought I would get in trouble if I just stayed in town.  None of my friends detassel.  Where was I supposed to go?”

No answer.

When we went in our house, after shedding muddy shoes and boots, Mom asked, “How is it?” and I just walked on to my room, closing the door gently.

Dad said, “She landed on a cement culvert. The radiator is done. The block is cracked.  The car will probably be totaled.”

Second day of driving. . . Truth be told – second morning of driving . . .less than 48 hours after getting my license. . . totaled car!

When has “being a novice” caused you problems?

Do you remember your first car accident?  Does it still cause that sick feeling in your stomach?

How do we learn to deal with adversity?

I, obviously, didn’t give up driving for the rest of my life!

As I was driving today, I retold this story to myself several times and wondered about connections between this story and school. How do we provide support when novice students need it?  And YET, how and when do we also  stay out of the way so that learning occurs as a result of the situation?


Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, Anna, Betsy,Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 


12 responses

  1. Oh, my! My first accident was pulling into the garage. I hit the accelerator instead of the brake, and slammed into Dad’s workbench! He said, “Oops!” Thanks for sharing!

    1. Jennifer,
      I would have been so happy with an “Oops!”

  2. My son just got his permit last week — I have only let him drive in parking lots!! Guess I need to let him face some more adversity. Help me!!! Love this piece — had me the entire time (and loved the thought shots)

    1. Needless to say, my son drove for years before he was turned loose by himself (that would be the positive result!)


  3. What a fabulous story, and perfectly told. So many twists and turns in your story, and so much voice! Just love reading these slices of your Iowa life, Fran.

    1. Tara,

      I’m ALL about VOICE!

      Small moments and narratives are getting easier!

      Thanks, Tara!

  4. I smiled all the while as I read this. My first accident happened the first time I took my mom out for a ride. I hit the bumper of the car owned by my doctor’s daughter. Barely a scratch on her car. Same can’t be said for my dad’s car.

    1. I had to go back and check to make sure that I mentioned the reason the car was totalled. It was a PERFECT landing on a cement culvert . . . transmission, radiator, engine . . . but the car LOOKED FINE!

      (looks can be deceiving!)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. These words were terrifying – “DAY 2 of having my own driver’s license” !!! Yikes. What an experience!

    1. It was so terrifying. I seriously thought I should not have a license if I was so incompetent, but I quickly got over that. I wanted to drive to work, school, activities, etc. But, oh, the rules!!!!

  6. Wow, Fran! I was right there in that car with you. I love the way you connected your experience to the latitude we give kids to figure things out on their own. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Catherine!

      I’ve been channeling my “drama queen” and also reading some YA!

      The novice, practitioner, expert work from Val, Marjorie, Amy and Ryan was in my thinking as I recounted this!!! Thank you for noticing!

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