When the doctor told my mother in law that she couldn’t drive anymore, all of us breathed a sigh of relief. No one wanted to broach the subject.
It’s not like her driving was that bad, it’s just that the kid who last ran into BT’s car was worse.
She was in her early nineties so it was only a matter of time before she would have a more serious accident, whether or not it were her fault.
Although I had been married to her son, Peter, for nineteen years, this was when we really connected. I became her chauffeur.
Our weekly trips to town were predictable, post office, pharmacy, grocery store, drugstore and dry cleaners. She had a list and we stuck to it, unless of course she had off the list requests.
“I’d like to go to Brooks Brothers, I’m running out of white handkerchiefs,”
“Let’s stop at the art gallery and see if they’d be interested in displaying Herb’s paintings.”
“I want to stop by Dorr Oil, there’s a problem with my bill.”
I’m not a spontaneous chauffeur; I like a planned route, so I pretended I had all the time in the world and was paid by the hour. It was a valuable lesson in patience and futility.
One day we ran into her postmaster, of many years, at the drugstore who said he was retiring at the end of the week. “Oh noooo,” she wailed as she hugged him. “I will miss you so much!”
Afterwards, in the car, she got angry and slammed her tiny fists into her legs. “Why do things have to change?”
She had progressive speech aphasia that made communication difficult at times, although this was not one of them.
“Well, people want to retire eventually, just like you,” I said calmly.
“Yes, but don’t they know I’m old!”
I took a deep breath. “You are old aren’t you?”
My delivery was good. She laughed. Another lesson learned; timing is essential when dealing with difficult matters.
Another morning, as we waited at the check out at Shaws, there was a distinct smell of an electrical fire near the meat section. As dark smoke started to gather at the ceiling, and move to the front of the store, an announcement was made. “Attention all shoppers. Please leave the building immediately. This is an emergency!”
BT may not have been able to speak clearly, but there was nothing wrong with her hearing. It’s possible she didn’t smell the fumes but I choose to think she chose to ignore them. She wasn’t budging. As the fire trucks pulled up I said, “We have to leave this stuff and go, unless you want to go out in fireman’s carry.” She was not happy, and my patience and timing had gone out the window.
“I can go back later and pick up your things”, I offered contritely as we picked up cat food at the vets.
“You don’t know what I had!” She snapped back at me.
“I do too, we’ve gone over your grocery list once a week for at least two years now, I can recite it from heart, here test me!”
She acted impressed at my recitation, and used that moment of flattery to beg me to go back to Shaws “just in case”.
In the nearly empty parking lot, surprisingly agile, she moved quickly to the entry. “Don’t move my groceries, don’t move them” she repeated twice loudly.
Oh my gosh, is she going to scream at the poor traumatized employees?
“Wait, don’t yell at the workers!” I yelled after her.
“I’m not! I’m talking to God!” Oh phew.
Yet another lesson, how one practices one’s faith is personal.
Inside, the floors were slick with water and some mysterious foam that someone was trying to dry up with cat litter. “STAY HERE. DO NOT MOVE” I ordered her. Then, softening my voice I added, “Give me your credit card and I’ll see what I can do.”
I swear she was smirking at me.
“These are my mother-in-laws groceries, is there any possibility that we can check them out now?” I begged as I motioned back at BT who looked suspiciously calm. Then again, she knew many of the employees and regularly gave and received hugs from most of them. She was much more at ease than I was.
As we walked out with her three bags of groceries, and others were turned away, the doors were shut and locked behind us.
“Boy, you really do have God’s ear don’t you?” I said admiringly.
Later that day, her son Stephen called, “I hear there was quite a scene in town today.”
I explained what had happened but assured him everything worked out fine.
“Yes, except for a slight problem. She was charged just over $200.”
(I may have slightly panicked and not payed attention earlier.)
“Okay, here’s what would have been purchased.”
I recited her list, that came to an average of $65 a week, by heart, something I will be able to do until my dying day.
The electrical snafu had wreaked havoc with the registers, however, he got a refund, no questions asked.
BT was a woman who loved her children, her extended family, her God, her friends, and lists. I will miss the predictable unpredictability of her.
Namaste – her loving laughter makes my day.