LEARNING TO DRIVE IN NEVADA
My friend Ruthie from Tonopah, NV tells about the time she went out with
her great-granddad to learn to drive. . . Here it is, in her words:
“So Grandpa comes by the house in his old pickup, and he tells me to
get in. I’m so nervous I’m shaking. I’m scared to death— not that I’ll crash or anything because there’s nothing around Tonopah, but Grandpa had an old, old, old stick shift and I was sure I’d never learn to shift it. (Grandpa is my mom’s grandfather. My dad died in WWII and Grandpa filled in for him in raising us two girls. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s way up there.)
“I climbed up beside him, and he made me climb back down and go around to the driver’s seat while he scooted across the front seat. When I was in, he handed me the keys and said, ‘No use puttin’ it off any. Take your left foot and put it on the left pedal- that’s your… looking at me shaking like a leaf, Grandpa reaches under the seat and pulls out a quart canning jar half full of something he shoves at me, ‘Have some of this Panther Piss, Kid,’ he says to me. It was kind of froggy looking stuff. It looked to me like snake venom or something, and I wasn’t going to try it at first. But Grampa insisted so I had some.
“After a couple swallows of Panther Piss, I wasn’t afraid of anything
any more. We have all these dirt roads up aroud Tonopah, and Grandpa took me
out and over them to go to his brother’s house. Uncle Joe lives in a mining shack, and mining shacks aren’t put together with a lot of care— back in mining days everybody knew they’d be moving real soon, anyway, once the vein ran out.
“We drove all the way out to my uncle’s place in the middle of Nowhere Nevada, and while we drove, Grandpa made sure I got the hang of the clutch and the gas and everything. There were no STOP signs out on the dirt roads, so I’d slow down by letting off the gas and practice down-shifting so I could slow down as easily as I could speed up.
“So we get right up close to grandpa’s brother’s house and suddenly we both realize I’ve been taught to_go backwards and forewards,_ but not to stop! I grazed the side of Grampa’s brother’s house thinking it might help stop the truck, and all of a sudden the whole thing came down right on top of Uncle Joe! All four walls slowly leaned and then fell to the outside, while the roof comes down flat onto the wooden floor of the shack. Dust from the collapse rises slowly into the desert air.
“Grandpa starts to let out choking noises which suddenly turn into belly laughs. His knees seem to go weak, so he bends over and puts his hands on his knees while his nose runs and his eyes water— he was hysterical. Uncle Joe lifts up a corner of the roof and walks out across a flat wall just hopping mad; I mean, his ears glowed he was so ticked off.
“First, he saw Grandpa, and he started cussing and swearing like I never heard… and I had heard plenty. Then Uncle Joe’s eye fell on me, and Grandpa, between gasps of air, explained how he forgot to teach me to stop. Everybody started to laugh, Uncle Joe just as hard as Grandpa.
“We put the shack back together, and hammered in a few extra nails to boot, had a few more slugs of Panther Piss together as family, and I drove us back to my Mom’s place, being careful to practice stopping a whole bunch of times before we ever came to roads with stop signs.
“Mom didn’t tell me that she smelled Panther Piss on my breath until many years later. ‘I knew he’d teach you to drive, and I knew better than to ask about any details.’ She added that she heard about me knocking down Uncle Joe’s whole house, too, and nearly strangled herself to not say: ‘Now don’t you knock anybody’s house down, Ruthie!’ whenever I picked up the car keys. As far as I can tell, it brought us even closer than we already were as a family.
Essentially as told to Dayonda by Ruthie Roark in 1974———-___________________________________________________________________________
What happens when Ruthie learns to drive on the dusty backroads in the Nevada (US) desert.