Note: My dad, Richard Pannabecker, died nearly 14 years ago. He was a biologist, a college professor for more than 30 years. Like most kids, I thought my dad had all the answers. Most of the time, he had a pretty good one and if not, he’d help me find a solution. A few weeks after he died, I went out for a run. I was just coming back from knee surgery so I was moving pretty slowly. I remember suddenly stopping mid-stride. I couldn’t take another step. I sat on the curb and cried, the reality of his death finally hitting me. Now, all these years later, not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. It occurred to me that I could write him some letters. It’s probably selfish, but if it serves no other purpose, it’ll make me feel better.
Do you remember when I was learning to drive? You insisted that I had to learn how to drive a manual and an automatic, so we took a trip to Lima in the VW. I was just beginning to get the rhythm of shifting gears smoothly. Idling in neutral and shifting into first was still a challenge. We were stopped at the light at the intersection of Bluelick and 65. My stomach was churning, because I was sure I couldn’t get the dang car to move forward up that slight slope.
My dad and me, circa early 1970s
Sure enough, it stalled the first time. I tried again, but the car began rolling backward and I rolled gently into the car behind us. You jumped out and checked to be sure there was no damage, then opened the driver’s door and told me to “Get over” in a less-than-gentle tone. I, of course, burst into tears as you eased us forward and drove to a flat clearing.
I think you actually apologized and then insisted that I start driving again. I begged you to drive the rest of the way home, but you refused. Something about getting back on the bike after falling off. Then I think you made a crack about the guy behind me being too close anyway, so he probably deserved it.
We switched seats again and had an uneventful trip home. Soon after that, I suddenly realized I’d mastered the whole starting on a hill thing, and I never had a problem with it again. I still prefer a manual, but haven’t had one since we ditched our Festiva.
But learning to drive didn’t end there. You also made sure I knew how to change a tire and check the oil. Of course, since I’ve never since had to change a tire….but that’s why we have AAA, right? You made sure I knew the value of that, too.
Did I ever thank you for all the things you taught me? Probably not, but I’ll bet you knew it. You were a pretty smart guy.