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The Driver’s Seat


“I think I’m done with driving,” Mom randomly announced while unpacking a grocery bag.

“If you want to stop driving we’ll make a list of your weekly activities and work out a schedule,” I responded.

Just as quickly as she brought up the subject, she dropped it.

A week later mom announced, “I told your sister I’m going to stop driving.” Without making eye contact, she lifted a tea cup to her lips and sipped. Before we could discuss further she changed the subject again.

This is her way. Mom never asks for help. If she can’t do it herself, it doesn’t need doing. And if she stopped driving she’d need help getting around.

I knew mom was serious. She hadn’t just thrown out the idea to hear herself say the words. She was taking baby steps toward making non-driving a reality.

A thriving 88-year-old, she’s strong, confident and self-sufficient. She’s always moving. She’s washing dishes, dusting furniture, sweeping her outside patio, cleaning out closets. Was this woman ready for the limitation of waiting for a ride? Could she rely on local transportation? No more driving to the library, senior center, or the local drugstore on her own.

I knew she wouldn’t be driving forever, but she showed few signs of slowing down. Perhaps I’d missed significant clues.

Independence ruled Mom’s life from a young age.

Mom grew up in Honolulu, where she pretty much walked where she wanted to go, within the radius of 5 miles. Church. School. Grocery store. Swimming pool where she competed in swimming meets.

Just before WWll she married dad. He carpooled to work leaving the car just sitting in the driveway unused. She immediately learned to drive.

Driving equalled freedom. Mobility. She didn’t have to sit at home or take the bus. She took my sister and me on rides around town and to picnics at the beach.

Soon Dad revamped a beat-up, stick shift Jeep that he’d picked up cheap from army surplus. She reveled in driving from  country to town. Today she laughs about its lack of seat belts and how unsafe that car was when we’d cross over the Pale, a very windy valley. No seat belts. No car seats. No crank-up windows. Sister and I must have hugged tight to the back seat from sheer inertia.

Seeking adventure, we moved to Los Angeles. So much to see and learn about their adopted city. Their first purchase was a car.

Almost immediately we found a local church where we attended Sunday service. Whenever an outing was organized for the Sunday school kids Mom volunteered to drive to places like Clifton’s cafeteria, a turkey farm, the beach and the museums of Exposition Park. She enjoyed the adventure as much as us kids.

Mom loved the freeways where she could drive for miles north to Santa Barbara, south to San Diego, west to the beach, east to the mountains. Trips completed in a single day.

Ten years in LA, Dad unexpectedly died.

Mom had never worked outside the house. But she knew how to drive. She found an entry-level job in a nearby town.

At least one weekend a month we drove down to San Diego to visit family. During those early morning trips we glimpsed great expanses of open space, clusters of mountain ranges, orange groves as far as the eye could see, and cattle grazing in open fields. Truly a magical journey.

Mom’s enclosed garage is attached to her condominium. Moving her mid-size car in and out of the garage is more difficult for her since cataract surgery.

And since having surgery the DMV has required her to take the behind-the-wheel driving test every year. Retaining her driver’s license has been a challenge.

Once Mom lets her driver’s license lapse we’ll work out that schedule.

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat. I am.” Mark 8:34

‘Tis A Season

IKEA. Not my favorite store – it’s too big and everything is self-service – but they carry kitchen items at a great price.  I needed a new non-stick fry pan. I knew IKEA would have just what I was looking for.

First stop, the Information booth. The escalator was out-of-order. I had a question so I got in line behind the family being served.

A little girl, about 7-years-old, was standing at the gate with her parents. They were signing her into the play area. She’d play while they shopped. Win/win.

She wore a floral printed t-shirt and peddle pushers with tennis shoes. Her hair was cut into a Dora-the-Explorer bob.

Slowly she turned toward me and started to dance .  .  .  first she swayed side-to-side, then took her Dad’s hand for him to twirl her. When she turned back to me she smiled.

“You must be happy,” I said. “Dancing means you’re happy inside.”

Her smile widened, as she began to sing.

Her dad told me, “She’s normally very shy and never dances in public.”

Again she took his hand to twirl. He in turn attached her name tag “Grace.” A perfect name for one so full of love and gracefulness.

“My grandmother is in Mexico. She left yesterday,” she told me between lyrics of her non-descript song.

“Mexico? Such a beautiful place,” I responded. “She must be having fun.”

“Yes,” her smile widened as she lovingly brushed her mother’s arm. Her mother was holding a newborn. But she responded to her daughter by returning the caress.

“She’s my mother’s mom,” Grace informed me.

“Shhhh,” her mother cautioned. Grace was getting a little too chatty. I imagine Grace isn’t usually so talkative or at least not in the last few weeks when grandma and mom were busy with the new baby. She seemed to finally be having time alone with her parents and her joy couldn’t be contained.

She turned to enter the center.

“Keep dancing, Grace,” I called after her. “Stay happy.”

Grace certainly set the tone for my day. I found what I was looking for and more . . . a smile that stayed with me the rest of the day.