She finally caved in.
After multiple times of me asking—and asking—and asking yet again, my mother finally caved in and agreed to take me out so I could drive her car. She told me one Saturday morning that we were going to go for a drive.
I was so excited to show her that I could do it.
She drove out of the city of David and headed north towards the mountainous countryside. We must have driven for at least an hour to get to the pristine location. We pulled in and were surrounded by mountains in the distance. Tallgrass and a radio antenna were all that were present at this abandoned airstrip in Chiriqui.
My mother pulled onto the tarmac and said, “This is the place where I learned to drive when I was young. Now, it is your turn to learn. I will let you drive, but you have to listen to me first.”
I nodded with anticipation and listened intently. I watched her carefully because I did not want to miss a single step.
“First, you must put the seat forward so you can sit and hold the steering wheel.
After that, you press the clutch with your left foot.
Make sure the car is in neutral.
Put the key in, then step on the clutch again.
Turn the key to start the car.
Once the car has started, make sure you still have your foot on the clutch.
Then, put the car into first gear.
Once you are in first, you want to press the gas pedal.
Once you hear the engine revving, you start to slowly lift your foot up from the clutch.
When you feel the car moving forward, you can let go of the clutch completely and give the car more gas.”
She asked me if I had understood her commands. I could not get the word yes out of my mouth fast enough.
I got into the car from the driver’s side and I told my mother I was ready to drive.
“Okay—go for it.”
I did exactly what I was instructed to do.
I pressed the clutch with my left foot to make sure the car was in neutral. I gave the stick shift several quick wiggles to make sure it was in neutral. Then, I put the key in the ignition. I pressed the clutch pedal again and I turned the key with great enthusiasm.
Once I heard the engine start, I was elated. I made sure my foot was still on the clutch pedal as I placed the car into first gear. I gave the throttle pedal a gentle tap and the engine didn’t really move. I gave the car more throttle and I could hear it rev up.
Then, I heard my mother tell me to go. I began to release the clutch pedal as I held the gas pedal in place and the car started moving forward. I was having the time of my life because the car was moving forward.
I fully let the clutch pedal out and now I was able to focus on the gas pedal alone.
With both hands on the steering wheel, I pulled myself up to get my foot off the gas pedal so I could see how much road I had left. There was plenty of room so I was back in my seat and back on the throttle. The engine started to really scream because the RPMs were high in first gear.
I turned to my mom in a panic and I said, “Mom, what do I do now?”
She immediately told me, “Do the same thing: press the clutch—don’t touch the gas. Change the gear to second, then let go of the clutch and get back on the gas.”
I did everything she said as she was saying it; there was no delay in my action. Finally, she told me to give the car a lot of throttle, then jump up on the seat and drive the car. I did as she told me one more time and I drove the car from one end of the runway to the other end.
That was the first time I drove a car.
I can still see my twenty-eight-year-old mother looking at me with eyes of approval. I was so happy that she taught me how to drive her car. This was the best memory from my eighth year of life.
Fast forward roughly twenty-two years and I am driving my mother from Santa Cruz, California back to my apartment in the Bay Area in my car. By this time, I have learned how to drive cars in a professional capacity. I had been a test and development driver for a major automaker and I was licensed by the organization to drive their vehicles at the limit.
Needless to say, my driving style and capabilities had changed significantly. The one thing that had not changed was the trust my mother had in me when I was behind the wheel of a car.
As we were driving through the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains taking in the scenery, a bright red sports car was approaching quickly. My mirrors were filled quickly by this speed machine. As the vehicle got closer, I could see that it was a Porsche and it was being driven by a middle-aged male. He was accompanied by a woman who was dressed elegantly and was seemingly half his age.
I turned to my mom and said to her with laughter, “This guy has a nice car. He has a nice lady with him. This guy seemingly has it all.”
My mom decided to look over at the vehicle to see for herself. She then turned to me and said, “Yes, he seems like a nice guy,” and we laughed. We were having fun.
We then heard the revving of the engine of the Porsche. This stopped our laughter and filled us with curiosity instead.
I looked over at the man driving the Porsche and he revved up his engine again to signal that he wanted to “race.” I knew at this point this guy wanted to show off for his friend. As a typical male, his ego was dictating the evening for the two of them.
I decided to ask my mom what her opinion was of the man’s suggestion to race. Her response did not surprise me, but I wanted to confirm that she and I were on the same page.
“Show him how to drive, my boy.”
As soon as she confirmed the command, I looked over at the man in Porsche and signaled back by revving my engine. I saw the joy in his eyes that I reciprocated with intent.
I downshifted my car from sixth gear down to third gear and I applied my throttle. As I was making my downshift, out of the corner of my eye I saw my mother place one hand on top of the other in her lap. She assumed such a delicate sitting position as if she was going to rock outside on a porch and enjoy her favorite tea. What came next was an acceleration from both cars and a section of twisty Santa Cruz Mountain road.
All the engineering capability of the Porsche was instantly eroded by the man driving the vehicle. As I confidently drove my car through the twisty mountain road, all I was able to see was a red dot in my rearview mirror.
Once it became apparent that our roadside friend had disappeared, I looked over at my mom and smiled and said, “I hope that was not that guy’s first date with that woman.”
My mom turned to me while laughing and said, “I hope not either—I would not be impressed if I was her.”
She paused and told me at this moment that she enjoyed our drive and she loved the way in which I drive. She complimented my car control and how effortlessly I changed gears.
Looking back now, I am glad I took the time to enjoy her presence after this drive. The glow of her smile was brighter than the California sun. Her demeanor was pure bliss.
This was the last adventure with my mom, and this was the last time I drove with my mom.
The Santa Cruz Mountains was our last drive.
Author’s note: The is a photo of the car I actually drove in the story and is the one my mother taught me to drive in.
The location of the photo is in Boquete (the city), Chiriqui (the province) Republic of Panama (the country) the photo was taken circa 1997.
“My mother was my mom first, she was my teacher, and she was my best friend.”
Her name is Olivia Stevens 05.09.1967 – 11.19.2019.