by Ramona DeFelice Long
A few weeks ago, I visited my parents in south Louisiana. On Thursday, I drove my mother to her weekly appointment at the beauty shop, which is owned by my cousin Linda. I’ve been to Linda’s beauty parlor… oh, seven or eight thousand times…but because my mother is my mother, she had to give directions, including this gem:
“Turn right to cross over that bridge. On the other side you’ll have to make a left. There is no left turn arrow, so wait until there are no cars coming. And make sure the light is green.”
I’ve only been driving for cough-cough years but thanks, Mom, for clearing up how to perform a left turn without plowing into oncoming traffic.
Later that same day, she asked me to check the mailbox. It’s across the road from their house. The trek is only a few yards, but this also required instructions:
“I saw the mail truck go down the street, but I don’t know if he came back up. So go to the edge of the yard and look down the lane for him. It’s a white truck. It says US Postal Service.”
My dad is just as bad. One evening, I was chopping vegetables for dinner. He stopped at my side and said, “Don’t cut yourself.”
Really, Dad? I am cough-cough years old. You think that, without that warning, I’d have gotten confused and lobbed off my left pinky instead of this onion?
But what can you do? Parents are parents. It’s their job to perpetually treat you like a six-year-old even though, I’m sorry to say, they are the ones getting less reliable.
The week before, at Linda’s beauty parlor, my mother lost her keys. They were missing for four days, and eventually found under the dryer. She made it home because she always carries a spare set. That’s because she has locked her keys in her car so many times—once with the engine running--that the sheriff’s deputies know her by name. (Hint: Even though he may be such a polite young man, don’t try to give a law enforcement officer a five dollar tip for unlocking your car.) My dad is still a big tough cowboy who bales hay in 90 degree weather, but he won’t allow the air conditioner to be set below 80 because he swears his pacemaker lowers his internal body temperature.
I’m not poking fun here, even though the scenarios earned a chuckle or two. It’s tough to get older, and it’s tough to see your parents get older. I’m not around on a daily basis, so I see the cumulative changes rather than the gradual ones. Shrinking, loss of hearing, forgetfulness, frailty, walking sticks, questionable fashion choices, it’s all there.
But I’m still their little girl who needs reminders about left turns and kitchen knives.
As some of you know, after years of editing mystery novels, I am in the middle of writing one. I have included a minor character, an older lady, who gets into a fender bender. It’s not her fault, but her overprotective grandson seizes the opportunity to take away her car keys. It’s the right move, and she knows it, too, but she wants to give them up, not have them taken away. She may be older, but she still has her dignity. I wanted to show that. As part of the story, I had my MC orchestrate a turning over of the keys that was sad, but allowed the lady to do it of her own accord.
I thought a lot about the indignities of aging while on my visit. With my parents, I handled it by teasing. At a 4-way STOP, I threw up my hands in mock terror and cried, “Oh no! What do I dooooooo?” My mom laughed and said she couldn’t help it, she’d been giving directions all her life. When my dad asked for my new cell phone number, I wrote it on my business card. I pointed at my email address and said, “If hell freezes over and you get a computer, you can contact me there, too.” He grumbled that it would take hell to freeze over, etc., etc., but I could tell he was a little thrilled that his daughter had business cards. The way I could tell was because he asked for nine or ten to give to his friends.
But the real telling point came when it was time for me to leave. I carried my bags and loaded them into the trunk of the car. My parents locked up the house like it’s Fort Knox, as is their habit, and my dad asked my mother 32 times if she had her house keys, which annoyed her, as is their other habit.
Out on the carport, my dad held out the car keys…to me.
“Do you want to drive?” he said.
This was a first. My mother instructed me to get into the left lane a good ten miles before I needed to take a left exit, and my dad shut all of the AC vents near him, but the drive to the airport went without incident.
When we arrived, my mother announced, “You’re a good driver.”
“Yup,” my dad said. “I wasn’t scared even once.”
My next visit will probably be in early fall, although I usually avoid hurricane season. I will take my chances with the weather, as think their seasons are numbered, and I want to give them as many chances as possible to treat me like their little kid.