The Reluctant Car Owner–Kathie Hightower


Driving Lesson Adventure

My dad tried to teach me how to drive when I was 16. “You have to learn to drive a stick shift. For emergencies. Like a drunk date in college.”

I pulled up to the stop light. The light turned green.

“Put the car into first gear. Slowly let out the clutch while you press the accelerator. Smoothly, try not to jerk. You’ll feel it.”

I did not feel it and immediately stalled out. More than once. The light went to red. My dad started yelling instructions at me as if I hadn’t heard him earlier when he’d spoken more quietly and calmly. I tried again. And stalled out again. The light turned red. Cars started honking behind me. Dad jumped out of the car and came around to trade places. And drove me home, in angry silence, lesson over. I cried as quietly as I could.

When I came up the steps to our front door, mom opened it in surprise, obviously not expecting us back so soon. One look at my face and she said, also quietly, “Oh, what were we thinking?” We all knew Dad was quick to anger, undiagnosed PTSD, the result of fighting in World War II. Mom was the calm, patient one.

The next day mom took me out. I came back in tears.

I did not learn how to drive a stick shift. Luckily you could test in an automatic.


My Lack of Knowledge, or is it of interest, in Makes and Models

“They don’t sell that model in Germany,” our friend Enno says as we walk through a parking lot in Cannon Beach.

He does this wherever we go on his visits here, points out models not sold in his country. How does he know? He’s lived his 72 years in Germany. I live here and I cannot even identify the car make and model he points at.

Of course, he grew up with a dad who worked for a car manufacturer. Although I’ve known Enno for 46 years, have visited his dad, I can’t tell you if it was Mercedes or BMW. I expect my husband knows.

This might be all you need to know about me and cars. I can’t even tell you the make and model of the cars I grew up with, not the one dad drove in Berlin where we lived for my early years, not the car he drove in Springfield Virginia where I attended 8th grade through high school.

I only know the make and model of each car that I’ve owned. Yet I don’t have a single photo of any of them. Except the one I took for this essay.


First Car…and Second

I did not choose my first car, but I did pay for it. I was 23 and graduating from the Army’s WAC training program, post college, a new Second Lieutenant. My dad found the car advertised on a bulletin board at the Pentagon. He checked it out and bought it with my money. A used VW 411. An automatic. I might not have remembered the 411 part over the years except that I called it my blue Elf. Elf means eleven in German, appropriate as the car accompanied me to my first military assignment, in Germany.

One night I loaned it to a friend who totaled it on the Autobahn taking a big curve at too high a speed. He walked away unhurt, thank God, but I was without a car.

The only car in my price range was a used dark green Austin Mini. A stick shift.


Driving Lesson Adventure #2.

The guy I was dating at the time said he’d teach me to drive it. He did. No yelling, no tears. A good sign. Might explain our upcoming 45th anniversary.



I had no choice in the color of my first two cars or the ones after that, for years. We always went for value, whatever the color. Which explains the Tacoma NW Sport truck that Greg bought in 1999, cheapest truck on the lot. Everything was manual, the windows, the stick shift, of course. The NW designator meant no air conditioning. The bright blue color is one we would never have chosen.

Then in retirement Greg said, “I want to get what I want to get. For once.” A BMW X1. He chose the car for the 6 cylinder, to pass RVs and logging trucks. I chose the color. Orange. Called her Cayenna, for the spice color and because Greg is a cook. We both love yelling out, “Cayenna!” when she easily passes a vehicle.

Orange brings me joy. And we can find Cayenna in any parking lot in the U.S. “Let’s see, white, grey, a different grey, another grey, black, white. Orange!”


Kathie Hightower is the author of nonfiction books, self-help columns, travel and fitness articles, feature news stories, now writing her first novel. She has lived full-time at the North Oregon Coast for 17 years now. She is a cofounder of the Manzanita Writers’ Series.