My 92 year-old mother has just decided to not apply for her driver’s license this year. Having undergone surgery on her wrist that is (in her words) taking it’s own sweet time to heal, she’s come to the realization that she can’t grip the keys or turn the steering wheel well enough to consider herself an undistracted, safe driver. And while she’s been recouping from surgery and been the passenger rather than the driver of late, she’s (finally) embraced the idea that her reflexes may not be as sharp as they once were – and prefers not to end up one of those (again, her words) stubborn old coots who kills someone just to prove they can still drive a damn car

For the record, my mother has been a stubborn old coot for as long as I’ve known her and it’s a trait that has always served her in good stead (but I’m certainly not going to tell her this now!)

My mother got her driver’s license after my brother was born at the end of WWII and my father quickly nick-named her Leadfoot Lucy because she had a tendancy to drive (how shall I say this) just a wee bit fast. She would wave my father off claiming she didn’t speed. She just knew how to keep up with traffic. Yes, even if it was all behind her…

To her credit she didn’t get tickets and never once caused an accident and she always got us where we needed to go. Among her friends she was the designated driver. It wasn’t until the early 1960’s that more of her female friends began to drive and as a child I remember my mother was always picking someone up or dropping someone off.

She was the one who drove the carload of kids, pets and luggage three hours to the summer retreat ahead of the other adults. She was the one who packed the car with kids needing rides to ballet lessons, track meets, football games, beach parties, piano recitals, choir practice, birthday parties, Saturday matinees at the movies, doctor appointments, dentist appointments and spur-of-the-moment trips to take everyone for pizza or special desserts. She did this for her neighbours, her friends, her relatives, her children, her grandchildren and even recently, her great-grandchildren. She was the one you called when you needed to get somewhere now.

When I was 9 or maybe 10 years old my seamstress mother was sewing a wedding dress for a customer when her hand slipped and the machine plunged the needle directly through the middle of her finger, through the nail, through the flesh. She told me to get her keys and meet her at the car. When I saw her next she had a towel wrapped around her hand like a boxing glove and down the stairs we went. I opened the car doors and she instructed me to sit on her lap and she helped me work the wheel and gearshift while she worked the pedals. We limped down side streets all the way to the emergency.

When the doctor unwrapped the towel he found the needle, thread and presser foot were all still attached to her finger. Like I said – my mother drove everywhere.

My mother now faces being the one who needs a ride and after all these years of being the one who’s done the driving, this is not the easiest pill to swallow. In a phone conversation yesterday she shared with me how hard it is to ask people to take her places (the grocery store seemed to upset her the most) even though people seemed quite willing. I reminded her that she never felt put upon when anyone asked her for a ride and the people around her today are happy to take her anywhere she needs to go. Still, the journey from driver to passenger is a hard road for an otherwise independent soul.

She’s buried her one and only husband, a grown daughter and every relative on my father’s side of the family with whom she had a history. She and her sister are the only two left on their side of the family, save the younger ones from my generation on down. She’s buried every lifelong friend, classmate, teacher, film idol and I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like. I understand loss. But the loss of every single person with whom one has shared childhood or young adult memories – or even middle-aged memories – that I can’t even wrap my head around.

So I reminded my mother how very fortunate she is in that she has people around her who know her now – and love her now – and won’t let her slip through the cracks as it happens with other oldies who find themselves alone, stranded and forgotten.

And in reminding her of all these things it has occurred to me that we don’t do enough for our oldies. Our neighbourhoods are spotted with oldies who could probably use a ride to the shops or doctor’s office and we need to make more of an effort to find out who they are. It shouldn’t be left to them to ask. It should be up to us to offer.

My mother’s affair with driving a car spanned just about 70 years and three generations, all without incident. There should be something that commemorates this kind of milestone in a person’s life.

A renewal notice from DMV is just not a fitting end to 70 years of unblemished service.

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