Bob Howell

I’d like to thank a great aunt of mine for helping get me started in my driving career ... even though she had to break the law in doing so.

I’ll never forget sitting on the porch of my grandmother’s house in Opp, Alabama, talking with my great Aunt Edith about her new car ... an early model Corvair. 

I don’t know how many of you remember the rear-mounted, air-cooled engine Corvair. I believed it was going to be one of two things: a terrific new line of cars made by Chevrolet or a bust that would rival the Edsel in its appeal — or rather it’s lack of appeal. My Aunt Edith really enjoyed her Corvair and looked for a good excuse to drive it from central down to Opp to visit with her sisters, nieces and other relatives.

Now, how did we get sidetracked from the intriguing topic of Aunt Edith breaking the law in order to get me behind the wheel of this ultra-modern new car line? When my mother stepped inside the house to help with lunch, Aunt Edith got up and walked over to where my cousin and I were sitting and asked, “Would you like to take my car for a spin around the block?” Knowing that I was only 14 at the time didn’t slow me down from accepting her invitation. She got in on the passenger side and handed me the keys. 

“Can you drive?” she asked. 

“Yes, ma'am,” I replied with a sheepish grin. 

All the while I wondered why she would take a chance with a junior high school kid behind the wheel. But hey, if it was OK with her, why should I argue with her?

She explained how the car would sound a little different with the engine noise coming from the rear seat area instead of the traditional hood area. She explained that the floorboard was flat — with no hump. And then there was the fact that the gear shift was mounted on the dashboard.

Now, if I could avoid being arrested for underage driving and driving without a license. I drove around several blocks, stopping and starting, and wound up in front of my grandmother’s house without so much as a traffic ticket to my name. 

This taste of driving just stoked the flames for more time behind the wheel.

Fast forward to the time when the first of our two sons were nearing the time to get a learner’s permit. As is often the case, the elder son played by the rules completely and didn’t offer to get his mother or me to bend the rules. In fact, he had to be reminded to study for the written driver’s exam. We rewarded him with a vintage Jeep CJ8 Scrambler, which was cool enough for his friends at school to “ooh and aah” over it.

The younger son was just the opposite of his older brother. He begged non-stop to be allowed to get a head start on driving — even without a learner’s permit. We didn’t give in regardless of his incessant pleading. Just to make things worse, six months before he could legally drive, I bought him a used SUV that was really nice, good miles with apple red paint. So nice, his mother started driving it around town. That was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, especially when she would drive to pick him up from school. He turned out to be an excellent driver. He gave credit to all those video games he played growing up.

So just think, if my mother and father had given in to my pleas, I just may have been forced to let our kids drive early, upsetting their respect for law and order.

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