I was fifteen.
We were way out in the middle of sixty acres of his father's land in the middle of the middle of nowhere. Weedy and snaky roads. Nothing there except a million pine trees, a well with cool spring water, a rusty old tractor, some rose bushes that had seen better days.... and me and Daddy in his 66 Fairlane Ford Sedan.
He refused to drive anything but a Ford. It looked a lot like this except the color was a bit darker blue. (Thank you Wikimedia.org. It's the only one I could find and I have no idea why there is a Siberian Husky in the front seat and I don't know who those people are forgive me please but it is public domain..I digress)
Anyway, his mission that day was to teach me to drive a straight gear with a clutch before I got my learner's permit. These are my verdant memories of that fateful day.
Lots of pine trees, lots of cussing, pigtails and Daddy's big shoes.
I had to sit on a Sears Roebuck catalog just to see over the steering wheel.
He drove waaaaay down this bumpy dirt road out of reach of all civilization ( Daddy was a wise man) and told me that we would begin at the barn and drive back up to the house. OK. Simple. We switched places. "This the clutch. This is the brake. This is the gas." I stopped. I started. I lurched. I slammed. I started. He cussed. A lot. This was harder than playing the foot pedals on the church organ for sure. Finally, the car began to act like it had some sense and moved.
Away we went!
The road was lined with apple trees. Green apple trees with worm holes and pretty colors and speckles and such. I was fascinated with the trees on each side. I was not paying attention to the sharp curve ahead that led into the driveway of the house.
We're talking branches and branches of sticky needles and scratches all over the windshield, hood and roof of Daddy's Ford. All I heard was "Slow down. Sis, slooooow down. Sis. Sis. Sis! Slow d......."
By the third slow down I was paralyzed by the impatience in his voice and forgot how to slow down. I literally could not remember where the brake was. Brake. Clutch. Clutch. Brake. Eeeny meeny. No clue. He yelled. I panicked.
And then I felt his big big hard shoe on top of my foot slamming on brakes -I gotta tell ya - that hurt!
It wasn't a pretty day, my friends.
"Mimi! What are you DOING???!!
Well, by the time it was all over I was picking pine needles out of my pigtails and Daddy and I were sitting in a shady car.
I looked at him.
He looked at me.
He cussed some more.
"You didn't tell me about the pine tree. I didn't know there was a pine tree. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."
"You mean you couldn't see that pine tree?"
"I saw the pine tree, Daddy. No..I...well....I didn't see it in time."
"Why didn't you put on the brakes? I told you to hit the brakes!"
"I forgot where they were."
"You're not paying a damn bit of attention to what I'm telling you."
He was right. I tugged on my left pigtail like I always did when I was in a world of trouble and turned my face away in embarrassment.
"You hurt my foot!!" I said with tears rolling down my face which only made him feel worse.... and thinking to myself that I would never learn to drive this stupid car. I needed a manual for the manual transmission class.
And I'm sitting on a department store. Typical.
He huffed and puffed and muttered. I got out and we changed places. We left the Pine Tree Motel and he drove home in silence with a sniveling me tugging on my hair looking out the window. Looking anywhere but at him.
Boy, was he mad at me.
Now that he's gone I tend to recall the things that made me happy about our relationship but I also tend to forget the stressful days. I shouldn't.
There were many and they are real too. They are part of our relationship. Tears and yelling in sticky situations are part of our father/daughter evolution.
I didn't want to disappoint him.
I always feared I would.
I sometimes did.
And nothing made him madder than when I cried. He just didn't know what to do with that. His propensity for impatience with me was only equally matched by my tendency to take everything so personally. A cycle we trod many times.
I think I would like to do that lesson over.
I wouldn't have cried.