Community & Current Events

A year of firsts: Brenda Freer

A year of firsts: Brenda Freer

Photo illustration by Greg Stevenson/i2iArt Image by: Photo illustration by Greg Stevenson/i2iArt Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

A year of firsts: Brenda Freer

I grew up in Toronto and loved to travel around the city by bus or subway. When I turned 16, my father tried to teach me to drive the family car (even though I had no learner's permit). As much as I enjoyed our lessons, my passion at the time was photography. So while my best friend was saving for her first car, I was saving for a Canon AE-1.

At the age of 30, I started thinking about getting my licence. I had two kids now—it was time! One hot summer afternoon I strapped both kids into the back seat of the Plymouth Caravelle (mistake #1), my husband took the passenger seat (mistake #2) and I took the driver's side.

Once on the road, my husband pointed out everything I did wrong. "Too fast! Too slow!" The aggravation in his voice made me nervous. When we arrived home, he told me to back our boat of a car into the driveway. What was he thinking? After two failed attempts, I looked up and saw the neighbours staring at us and, to make matters worse, a car pulling up behind me. I'm not exactly sure what happened on the third crank of the wheel, but I do remember my husband throwing his arms up in the air. I promptly exited the vehicle, leaving it in the middle of the road. "You park it," I yelled.

Afterward, I considered placing an ad in the local paper: "Husband looking for someone to teach wife to drive." I thought someone with a sense of humour and lots of patience might respond, but I never did go through with it.

At the age of 52, when I inherited my father's car, I finally got serious about getting my licence. My husband, much mellower now, was excited about not having to drive me everywhere much longer. I'll admit I was initially embarrassed when I realized I was the only one over 17 in my driver's ed class, but then I thought: Maybe I'll inspire one of these kids not to give up on their dream."

The more confidence my husband had in me, the better I drove. So when a friend came to visit, I offered to drive us both to the lake for kayaking. We loaded both kayaks into the back of the pickup, then I grabbed my learner's permit and gathered up my courage. I said to myself, "You're over 50, you can do this."

We arrived at the lake and carried the kayaks down to the water's edge. The water was like glass, reflecting the clouds from above. I paddled ahead just to take it all in. As I waited for my friend to catch up, I turned my kayak around and caught a glimpse of the pickup on the bridge, and in that moment I felt amazingly free and complete. Maybe that sounds corny, but I'll never forget it.

On Jan. 7, 2013, I took my driver's test. I felt relaxed, even though my examiner tried to be intimidating. After 15 minutes of testing, I drove back into the parking lot. The instructor wrote a few things down, paused for effect, then told me I had passed. Oh my gosh…I did it!

I grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously. I thanked him, thanked God, and thought, "I can't wait to tell my husband and my kids!"

Later that day, I decided to go somewhere special to celebrate. I hopped into the truck and drove to my favourite spot on the river near my home. I sat there in silence looking at the frozen water.

I remember feeling proud of myself.

Read more inspiring stories about Canadians embracing a year of firsts.  
This story was originally titled "Behind the Wheel" in the May 2014 issue.
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Community & Current Events

A year of firsts: Brenda Freer