Smith Says

  • Monday, January 14, 2013

A FB friend (and former co-worker) posted this on Dec. 11: “Assuming the world ends, is there anything you regret not doing or saying?”
Responses ranged from “Not being kinder “to “Not eating more chocolate.” My favorite was “I regret NOTHANG!!!”
I regret not learning Spanish, despite trying for months with podcasts and patient Spanish friends. It just doesn’t translate in my head. They say some people have an ear for languages; I’m half-deaf so maybe that explains it.
I regret not going to Europe by myself, although it’s never actually occurred to me to do that.
I regret the fact that I still don’t dance, decades after my foot-washing Baptist father thundered, “When you dance, the devil laughs!” (Context: I was eight and doing the Twist in my slip.)
I also regret never been named Miss Hell Hole Swamp, which was my original goal when I moved to South Carolina in 1990. (That and get a newspaper job, which I did do.)
When you get down to it, I don’t regret a whole lot. I’ve done more, loved more and had more than I ever dreamed possible. Mine has been a charmed life, and I’m  grateful.
But still…. my single biggest regret is not learning how to drive a stick shift. For me, trying to drive a car with a manual transmission is like trying to rub my tummy, pat my head and juggle flaming pineapples at the same time.
Friends have tried to teach me. Boyfriends have tried to teach me. Two husbands have tried to teach me. But the first brave soul, the one who took me on quiet country roads after I got my learner’s permit and said, “You can do this,” was dear old Dad.
We practiced in his Ford Galaxie, Sunday after Sunday. We must have hit every dirt road within 20 miles of home: Turkey Farm Road, Pony Farm Road, Pig Farm Road (I am not making these up), Nine Mile Loop, Two Devils Road (I have no idea), anyplace there was no traffic.
Dad would drive us there, then we’d switch seats. With me at the wheel, we’d go lurching and swerving and bucking between the ditches.
I just COULD NOT get it. The awkward routine of gas+ brake+ clutch never equaled a formula I could follow. As the weeks wore on, Dad--normally a very calm, patient man--began to sweat before we even got in the car. Once, during a particularly rough ride, I heard him grinding his teeth.
The coup de grace came on the Nine Mile. As the car stalled and swerved around a curve, Dad let out a strangled cry. Directly in front of us was a North Carolina Highway Patrol license check.
The trooper hollered something right before I ran over his foot.
“Sweet Jay-sus!” Daddy screamed, certain we were going to jail. Thankfully, the road was soft from recent rains so the trooper’s foot just sank into the dirt.
After a moment of paralyzed shock—did that girl just drive over my foot?—the trooper began laughing hysterically. He staggered to the passenger side and motioned for Daddy to roll down his window. His face was beet-red and he wiped his eyes as he leaned in.
“Brother,” he said. “Do one thing for me. Please get behind the wheel.”
“Yessir!” Dad cried, and that was the end of that.
At dinner, he told the tale to my Episcopalian mother…. who smiled, sipped her tea and said, “Well, at least she wasn’t dancing.”
Julie R. Smith, who has a lot of her mother in her, can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.

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