Monday, December 12, 2011

Taking Mom's Car From Her


Mother could sew an invisible hem that would never tear loose. She could design a Christmas package so that it looked just like a shirt front and tie, and she could simmer a pot roast until it fell apart, so tender, juicy, and flavorful.

But Mother was among the worst drivers anywhere. Once, in our fiery red Mercury, she followed a dump truck too closely and failed to notice the stop sign ahead on a route she’d driven many times. The truck driver stopped; she didn’t. The front end of the Mercury scooted up under the truck bed, its paint and smooth surface scraping and bending until momentum finally released it and us. I didn’t think Dad would ever unclench his jaw after that one. He was steely for days.

Many years later, I was the passenger while Mother drove on roads were wet with snow. Tensed, Dad sat in the back seat, now and then saying, "Slow down," especially as temperatures fell and the roads turned icy and slick. Mother drove faster. The closer she came to her home in the hills of Arkansas, the faster she drove. She wanted to be done with the trip, with driving, with worry about her dog waiting, with slick roads. Her haste made waste that time. In a curve, she lost control, the back tires skidding right while the front end headed left. She overcorrected, and we headed down the mountain. Only thick, wet slopes stopped our downward slide as the car dug deep into the mud and held. Dad said nothing.

He did tell all about Mother’s bump-up with a County Road Grader. Headed home, she failed to notice that the grader was in reverse, heading directly for her. In her defense, she came upon it suddenly, round a curve, and who wouldn’t expect a vehicle to be going forward, not backward. Dad scoffed and sent his prized buttery yellow Caddy off for a new front end and hood.

My favorite Mom-wreck occurred three times. She pulled into her own driveway and failed to put the car in park, not once or twice but three times! It rolled back out of the drive, across the street, and down the yard opposite until the neighbor’s brick front porch stopped its progress. Three times! Three times that car was driven up and out of the preacher’s yard. Three times! She was furious with herself, but blamed the car, swearing that it was defective.

I don’t know how many years Mom and Dad paid more than most for car insurance. I do know that when he passed away and I began to help her with financial obligations, she was insured by the company of last resort. She had three car accidents in a short period, then a fourth, and no one wanted to insure her.

These facts played in my mind as I watched her age and slide into Alzheimer’s. She clung to that car as if it were her lifeline, and I suppose, in a way, it was. But it had to go. I knew it. Neighbors knew it. Strangers knew it. She refused to know it. It went anyway, the first car my husband tried sold on eBay. He got a good price, one that helps pay the companions mileage as they take Mother places she needs and wants to go.

The world is safer now. She always drove too fast, followed too closely, and let her mind drift to the many, many things she wanted to accomplish all at once. The road was always just a bit of a nuisance as it carried her from one dream to another, and she wanted to be at journey’s end as quickly as possible. Now the roads she traveled loom large in my memory.