Friday, April 08, 2011

I'm a Big Girl Now

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.


Jenna said...

That was rather lovely, and earned a sniffle as well as the chuckles. I'm right there with you. Took a trip to Norway in February to spend some time with my dad, who'll be turning 85 this summer. His seasons are numbered too, and I'm already wondering when I can go back.

Annette said...

As a matter of fact, I'm just heading out the door to take my 90 year old Mom grocery shopping. She's very low maintenance, though. We have an agreement regarding driving. I won't take her license away from her and she won't drive. For some odd reason, it works.

In my wip, I've created a character who has Alzheimer's. He's a tribute to my late dad. But it rips my heart out to write him.

Getting old ain't for wimps.

Ramona said...

Jennie, yes about the sniffles. I hope you get to visit your dad this summer. You have a much longer hike to Norway.

Annette, you and your mom seem to have a wonderful working relationship. She's lucky to have you nearby, and vice versa.

Janell said...

This was so endearing! Thanks for sharing. I am trying to get my early-80's parents to move closer to me. They have agreed but it will be a slowwww move! My parents are very similar to yours in actions/comments. I loved it-and them! Of course.

Karen in Ohio said...

Ramona, it's good to have a sense of humor about our parents, or we'd never make it through a visit with them!

I'm spending the night tonight with my mother, who is 81 and living on her own, still. And relishing it! She drives every morning to McDonalds where she has coffee and laughs with friends, including one she's known since first grade! I hope to be like her when I get to that point.

But she does some things that drive me crazy, too. Like completely changing her house around, by her own tiny self, instead of asking my nephews for help. They just live five minutes away, for heaven's sake. Too impatient to wait for them to come over. Sheesh.

C.L. Phillips said...

My dad still calls the front passenger seat the "suicide seat" when I drive.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Some things should never change. :)

Maryann Mercer said...

My mom never had the chance to treat my adult self as a child...she died when I was 17. And my dad...well, he was the "use your common sense" type of parent. Used to drive me crazy. But, as he grew older, he worried about me. He always wanted to make sure things were good for me and mine. He let me know I needed a new car well before I did and insisted that when we visited him we get our daily ration of orange juice or a grapefruit, fresh from his backyard tree. We always called him from the airport, coming or going, whether we were on time or late. He was always standing at the door waiting for us as we pulled into the driveway, and standing in the yard watching us out of sight when we left for home. It will be six years next month that his seasons came full circle, and I miss him every day. I'm an orphan. Thanks for bringing back some great memories, Ramona.

Kerry said...

Cherish them while you can. I miss my parents every day!

Warren Bull said...

Sweet. No matter how sick my mom feels she asks about my health before she considers her own.

Ramona said...

I'm glad you all took it in the spirit of loving teasing.

Karen, McDonald's must have some allure for the old folks. My dad goes there every morning, before dawn, with his "gang." They have an area reserved for them--and a *waitress* who delivers their food.

CL, things do change, but it's good to joke.

Kerry and Maryann, I'm touched if this helped you think of good times with your own folks.

Warren, of course she asks about you first. A mom is a mom is a mom.

Annette said...

My dad and his cronies frequented McDonald's, too. He always told Mom he was going for coffee. Years later, after Alzheimers had pretty well claimed the man we knew, one of his buddies blabbed on him. Instead of coffee, he always got a milkshake. He was a diabetic and knew he wasn't allowed such things. The story still makes me smile, because it's soooo MY DAD.

NancyM said...

A few years back, my sister lived in an apartment in New York, and her landlord died. My mother said, "Be sure to write a note to the widow." So that's our response when some loved one gives us an obvious direction like waiting for a green light before turning left: Yes, and we'll write a note to the widow.

My mother goes to "coffee with the girls" at McDonalds on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. (No milkshakes!) Each of them is always very proud when she can bring along a daughter or granddaughter. It's endearing.

Patg said...

Sheesh, I do that to my daughter all the time. So, remember that all you youngins, you'll be giving directions in the future.
Great post, Ramona.

Joyce Tremel said...

Chiming in a day late, but I had to say this is a wonderful post.

My dad died when I was 2, and my mom when I was 18, so I missed out on a lot. I'm making sure, however, that my kids get thoroughly sick of me telling them what to do. It's only fair.