As Peter’s seventy-fifth birthday approached in 2013, he kept the DMV reminder to renew his driver’s license beside his chair. The family had been nagging me to convince him to stop driving, and I knew I had to do it. He’d gotten lost several times, and was no longer confident behind the wheel. The man who used to drive thousands of miles a year for work could no longer back out of our driveway.
His birthday arrived and he’d done nothing. As gently as I could —I tend to be too blunt — I reminded him his license expired that day and asked why he hadn’t renewed it. “I don’t know,” he said sadly. And it was as easy as that. He gave up. I think I was as sad as he was.
Laughter is a gift.
The driver’s license issue upset me so, that I hadn’t even thought to bake his annual carrot birthday cake. “I’m sorry,” I said.
Peter, 70, Nobby, 3 months.
“If you hadn’t reminded me I wouldn’t have known it was my birthday!” he said. I asked if he knew how old he was?
“How old is Nobby?”
“Five,” I told him.
“Then I’m seventy-five.” He remembered the dog was his seventieth birthday present and he did the math.
For a time I hid our car keys in case he forgot he wasn’t licensed to drive anymore, but then that need vanished. Now I hide them because if he sees them he picks them up, then loses them somewhere in the house.
Next I needed to sell his little sports car, a car he’d bought without considering my views, a car he really was never able to drive well, a car that, as long as he was driving it, he kept washed and waxed so that it glimmered, jewel-like, in British Racing Green splendor. He was not happy about selling it, of course, but he knew it was foolish to keep, though he would never admit it.
The car sat at the end of our driveway, its brilliant shimmer dulled by grime. I’d never driven the car — always a bone of contention — so I certainly wouldn’t drive it to the carwash. Since Peter no longer cared if it was clean or not, I finally replaced the usual FOR SALE sign with one of my own:
FREE! FREE! FREE!
Pollen! Dust! Bird droppings!
With purchase of …
After several months’ trying, with son-in-law Martin’s help, I had a buyer who didn’t mind the dirt. And I cried, not because the car was gone, but because Peter could no longer drive and he seemed not to care. The buyer handed me his check, then gave me a hug before he left.
The next weekend, I was weeding in the front yard when Peter ran out of the house. “Where’s my car? What’s happened to it?” He yelled, wild-eyed.
Oh no! I’d tried to be so circumspect about selling his car so that it wouldn’t come to this. “Remember, I sold it this week…?”
“No, no, I don’t mean that one,” he said, still panicked, “I mean the other one.”
“Right there!” I pointed to his battered red PT Cruiser in the driveway.
“Oh! Whew!” He went back inside and that was that.
Now I do all the driving, and although I gritted my teeth at first because I had to take him everywhere, it quickly became part of my routine. In a way, I get the last laugh because now it’s Peter who sits in the passenger seat, pumping the brakes. He doesn’t give directions though — I always was the navigator — because he never had a sense of direction, and now he doesn’t know which way to go at all.
Header photo: Nobby, six months old, June, 2008.
2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.