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That precious little piece of paper

Country Roads

My driver’s license expires this month and I absolutely must remember to renew. I took the written test once a long time ago and I don’t want to have to do it again.

Speaking of driver’s license renewals, I don’t appreciate the relatively new rule that forbids one to smile on his or her driver’s license photo. I’ve seen better photos on Post Office walls. I swear those DOT cameras could make Angelina Jolie look like she’d been hit with an ugly stick.

Then again when a state trooper takes a look at my driver’s license photo, maybe he or she will feel sorry for me and just give me a warning. I can imagine a trooper, tears running down his or her cheeks, saying, “I’m sorry, man, but I just can’t give a ticket to someone who looks like you.”

Driving is very much a part of our culture. As a 13-year-old, you can hardly wait to get your driver’s permit at age 14. As an older person, losing your driving privileges can be devastating.

I remember the day in 1962 when my mother drove me to the Hamilton County Courthouse in Webster City to take the written test for a driver’s permit. I had studied the manual until it was tattered. In the end I missed a couple of questions, but still passed.

Halfway back to Kamrar, Mom let me slide behind the wheel of the family’s ’57 Ford and I got to drive home. What a thrill! Well, it was a thrill for me. I suspect it was more of a terror for Mom.

Within two years I was ready for the big time ̶ a genuine driver’s license. I turned 16 on a Thursday. Fortunately, that was the day the driver’s license examiners were at the Hamilton County Courthouse. Dad took a couple of hours off work, picked me up at school and drove me to Webster City. I drove for the highway patrolman (that’s what we called state troopers back then) on duty. I remember making an improper left turn but he approved me anyway.

Now I possessed that all-important little slip of pastel paper that allowed me to drive all by myself ̶ no adults necessary. If I had owned a car of my own, that little slip of paper would have been even more useful.

As it was, Dad let me borrow the family Ford that next Saturday night. My buddy, Rich, and I went to a basketball game in Williams.

I drove for a few years before being stopped by a highway patrolman. By now Dad had traded the old blue Ford for a ’58 DeSoto. It wasn’t cool to drive a DeSoto ̶ especially this bucket of bolts ̶ but my car was on the fritz and I had no choice. The DeSoto had power steering and tended to drift a bit on the highway. A highway patrolman, assuming I was drunk, pulled me over and asked what I had been drinking.

“Just some milk at supper,” I blurted sincerely, realizing the minute it came out of my mouth that he might think I was being a smart aleck. He got his nose up close to the window. Apparently he detected milk breath because he dropped the drinking issue and gave me a ticket for a defective headlight. Stupid DeSoto.

I appreciate the fact that driver’s licenses today do not list one’s weight. My memory may be fuzzy but it seems to me in the old days the examiner would ask (out loud) for one’s height and weight. In my case, both were (and remain) above normal.

You try to whisper the information but you can’t whisper quietly enough and then you hear the people in line behind you murmur among themselves: “Did you hear how much that big guy weighs, Myrtle? Isn’t that how much fat Uncle Charlie weighed when he fell through the hay mow floor and suffocated in a pile of manure?”

It’s been a 57 years and hundreds of thousands of miles since I obtained that learner’s permit in 1962. One line from the tattered manual I studied so diligently back then remains etched in my memory: “Driving is not a right, it is a privilege.”

With all the hot heads, fools and drunks on the highways these days, it may be time to resurrect that line and make everyone recite it before they can obtain or renew a driver’s license.

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