Now that Mom is fully vaccinated and her assisted living community has eased restrictions and, as Mom says, “sprung her from jail”, we get to go for drives again.
Now, if you’re not from the south or maybe it’s just if you’re not from my family, driving around in a car may not seem like a big deal. Certainly, nothing worth writing about. But to us, it’s always been a bit of an event. When I was little and Dallas was growing and growing and growing out, out, out into the suburbs, we’d pile into the car just to drive down the new tollway extension. After getting to the end, we’d turn around and go back home. I’d sit in the backseat and listen to Mom and Gran say things like, “Well, I never thought I’d see the day when the tollway came all the way out here” or “I didn’t even know this was out here” (as if both the tollway and the world stopped at I-635). Once, when I was a teenager, Gran and I drove out to see a newly opened part of Sparkman-Hillcrest Cemetery, which sits smack dab in the middle of Dallas, between Northpark Shopping Center and a synagogue. We drove around the winding cemetery road in Gran’s midnight blue Buick Riviera until we found a new bench (to go along with the new plots). “Let’s sit here for a bit, Willo,” Gran said. And so we did, eating the tunafish sandwiches Gran took out of her purse, feeling the high noon sun on our faces and looking out at the pristine land that would soon, gradually, be dotted with headstones. “It’s nice to just sit here for a bit before the dead people arrive,” Gran said.
Yes. Yes, it was.
All these years later, the southern/family tradition of going for a drive continues. My almost ninety year aunt is just itching to “run down” to Italy, Texas so we can visit her grandparents’ graves. As has been the case her whole life, Mom has simpler, less ambitious goals. She enjoys driving around Plano, the suburb just north of Dallas where she has lived for nearly forty years. Twenty-five of them with her second husband, almost fifteen years without him and the last two-and-a-half at Sunrise Assisted Living Community with me, for the first time in thirty years, living right down the road.
I have to admit that, when I first returned home to Texas to help take care of Mom, I did not enjoy taking her for drives. My mother is the world’s first GPS system and her routes are never the obvious, tried and true routes. No, she takes what she calls “goat trails”, which she will go to her grave (maybe over at Sparkman-Hillcrest!) swearing are by far the fastest way to get anywhere. When I first came back home and tried to drive Mom somewhere, she’d constantly interrupt and override the GPS.
“Turn here,” she’d say or “Get in the next lane” or, if she was really getting impatient, “Why in heaven’s name are you going this way?”
“Because, Mother,” I’d say in that all-knowing tone adult kids take with their elderly parents when we think we know what we are talking about, “the GPS has more information than you. It’s telling us that, right now, this is the best way to go.”
“Well, that woman’s voice may be telling you that,” Mom would explain, “but I’ve lived in Plano for nearly forty years. Where has she lived?”
Over time, as Mom has slowed a bit (and I’ve learned to just turn off the sound on the GPS), Mom no longer tries to give me directions (for the most part). Instead, every drive is a trip down past, present and future.
Take the other day when Mom and I went to see a new doctor.
The trip started on an upbeat note as I showed Mom that GPS had helped us find a new “goat trail” to Medical City Dallas so we could avoid the highways. “Well, this is one of the best pieces of information I’ve received in a long time.” Along the way, Mom mentioned that her husband had some family who “lived over here somewhere.”
“Who were they?” I asked.
“Oh sweet boy, I don’t know. Cousins maybe. It doesn’t matter. They’re all dead now.”
A bit further down, Mom pointed her finger across my face (fortunately, we were at a red light). “What in the world is that?”
“It looks like a very big building, Mom.”
“Well, it has never been there before.”
“Mother, look at it. That’s hardly a new building. I imagine it’s been there for at least ten years.”
“Nooooooo,” she said, taking that corrective tone that any mother can take with her child their entire lives, “I am telling you, that building was not there last year. They must have built it while we were all cooped up in jail.”
As if to reassure me that she would not hold my obvious ignorance against me, Mom reached over and patted my leg. “You really have become an excellent chauffer. I like it when you drive me around.”
The reassurance didn’t last long.
As we neared the doctor’s office, GPS told me to veer off to the right and go down a slight incline to a stop sign. Looking ahead, you could see there were nothing but two open fields, a creek and a very old billboard at the intersection.
“Where in the world are you taking me?” Mom said.
“Mother, this is where GPS is telling us to go.”
“Well, your mother is telling you not to go there. There is nothing down there but the tail end of White Rock Creek. Willo, please, I am eighty years old. Do not make me walk through a creek to get to the doctor’s office.”
Mom laughed. I laughed.
“Mother, it will be fine. GPS knows where it is going.”
“If you say so,” she said, “but I’m telling you. I have never met this doctor before. I don’t want to arrive in wet pant legs and soggy shoes!”
GPS did know where it was going. And Mom’s clothes were dry and neat when she met the doctor, though she did tell him that she was afraid I was going to make her walk through a creek to get to his office
He glanced over at me with a look of concern that told me he was among the many who did not get the shall we say somewhat off sense of humor that Mom and I have shared all these years.
I just shook my head “no” and smiled.
We weren’t at the doctor for long and, within the hour, found ourselves making our way back to Sunrise. Nothing much caught Mom’s attention on the drive home, though she did note, “You know that actually is a nice creek over there.” Mainly, we just talked about what the doctor had said, how my dog must be getting hungry and how perfect it was that she’d arrive at Sunrise right in time for dinner.
Which we did. As Mom walked in, she seamlessly joined the small stream of elderly folk making their way into the dining room where, no doubt, she soon would be regaling her table of six with a tale about how her “sweet boy” almost made her walk through a creek to get to the doctor..but didn’t.
I watched Mom as she walked to her table and I must say I teared up a bit.
In a happy way, not a sad one.
There was a time, not so long ago, when stopping my day to tend to Mom’s day would have seemed like an inconvenience. I might have tried to find a Lyft or an Uber for Mom. If I’d had to drive her myself, I’d probably have been on the phone much of the time.
Talking business. Doing what’s important.
But now, I’m back where I started: Cherishing the simplicity of going for a drive.
Because it is in that simplicity that family lives. That love lives.
That gratitude lives.
Even if you have to walk through a creek to get there.
The Mom Chronicles is a blog series about a middle-aged son learning to care for his elderly mother.