When it occurred to me that I had become eligible to be licensed to drive a car World War II was in progress and gasoline and tires were rationed and we didn’t have a car anyway, so it seemed unnecessary to get a license. Time went by and the war ended and we still didn’t have a car so I didn’t bother to go to all that trouble. My Uncle Jack Moore let me drive his car and my lack of a diver’s license didn’t bother him any more than it did me.
When I got married my newly acquired husband did not take the nonchalant attitude toward being an unlicensed driver that my Uncle Jack and I did so, approximately a month after my wedding, on a morning when I had a few minutes to spare, I went to the Colleton County Court House in my husband’s automobile to get my license.
The highway patrolman who tested hopeful applicants for a driver’s license was named Mr. Pruitt. Almost everybody who knew him said he was a nice man but I thought he looked like a glum, dejected person. I passed his office in the Court House many times and I never saw him with a smile on his face. Years later when my children were learning to drive I came to understand why he looked so glum and dejected.
Mr. Pruitt gave me a sour look when I walked in his office and asked what I wanted. I told him I wanted a driver’s license. He asked where my car was and I told him outside, parked right there by the Court House. He then asked me who had driven me, an unlicensed and therefore illegal driver, to the place where the car was parked outside. I was not prepared for him to be so picky about how I got to the Course House as I did not realize the State took driving so seriously. I also suspected that Mr. Pruitt may have watched me drive up and park my car, although I did not know this to be a fact. After a split second of sheer panic, I did the only reasonable thing I would think of to do—I lied. I told him my mother drove me there. He gave me a dirty look, more or less confirming my suspicion that he had seen me drive up alone, and demanded that I produce my mother. Fortunately my mother worked for the Clerk of Court upstairs so I ran upstairs, told her my predicament, pleaded with her to lie for me (which she did) and I brought her and her driver’s license for Mr. Pruitt to inspect. Mr. Pruitt then proceeded to give me the written part of my driving test.
I thought it ironic that in all my years as an unlicensed driver I had never bothered the State of South Carolina and it had never bothered me. Now, as I was trying to comply with the law, if looked as if I might get arrested or get a ticket before I even got my driver’s license. I did not think it prudent to point this out to Dr. Pruitt, however. By this time my confidence had dwindled and my brain was addled. I watched him go over my written test and finally he announced that I had passed. As we left his office to go to my car for the driving part of the test I could tell this was not going to be a pleasant drive around town. He had the expression of a man condemned to be shot at dawn and I had begun to sweat—it was August—and my cute blue cotton dress was soaked with perspiration.
These days (1986) when you hang an arm out of your car window it means you are holding your steering wheel with one hand, or have the air conditioning turned off, or you want to act nonchalant or maybe you are even waving to a friend. When I took my test cars were not equipped with turn signals or air conditioning and when you stuck your arm out the window it was supposed to indicate to others sharing the highways with you what your intentions were in regard to stopping or making a right or left hand turn. Keeping this firmly in mind, when Mr. Pruitt told me to turn right at an intersection, I gave a smart right hand signal and pulled into the left lane and turned left. That was really the worst mistake I made.
When we got back to the Court House Mr. Pruitt, with great reluctance it seemed to me, gave me that marvelous little piece of paper which declared I was licensed by the State of South Carolina to drive a vehicle upon its roads. I could not tell whether the tortured look on his face was the result of his drive with me, or whether it was the result of having to decided whether to license me and expose unsuspecting citizens of the State to a driver who did not know her left from her right.