I had to laugh while reading the story in The Roanoke Times last fall about Bronco Mendenhall’s learning to drive by himself on the family farm in rural California.

Bronco’s father, the late Paul Mendenhall, blithely — no, make that confidently — put his young son at the wheel of one of the farm vehicles, apparently without so much as a minute of training. Young Bronco was only able to maneuver the pedals of the vehicle individually, using a stick, the story goes.

I, too, learned to drive by myself in an old dilapidated truck on my grandfather’s Bedford County farm.

On a hot summer day in one of my grandfather’s hayfields, I, at about the age of 14, was given the job of moving the truck from haystack to haystack, helping along the way with loading.

At one stop, I failed to set the old truck’s parking brake correctly, and while I was helping with the hay loading, the vehicle, to my horror, began to roll. It crashed through a pretty white board fence, crossed the main lane inside the farm, traveled down a slope of about 150 yards, gaining speed along the way, before splashing into a large fish pond, scattering hay. It crossed a narrow place in the pond, with its front wheels coming to rest on the opposite shore.

I had hoped that someone could use a tractor to pull the old truck out of the water before Granddad arrived from his office in Roanoke. That was not to be.

When I peered around the corner of a barn, there stood Granddad at the demolished fence gazing down the hill at the carnage below.

I don’t remember all that was said back then about the matter. I do know that there was no “chewing out” from the man who had perfected the art of hell-raising over the years, and whose opinion mattered most to me. Like Paul Mendenhall’s trust in young Bronco, so was my grandfather’s trust in me.

— R.V. Reynolds, a reader in Roanoke

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