(Put longer hair and lipstick on Mr. Magoo, and you’ll see my mother)
As a senior, she’d coast along highways, lost in thought, unaware of the wreckage she caused aside and behind her. In that respect, she reminded me of Mr. Magoo, that cartoon character who bumbled along, while other drivers careened off bridges in their autos. My mother, like that character, was oblivious to the fact she caused the mishaps.
At an earlier age, she put a considerable V in the back end of the family’s Chevy Impala when she backed into a street light in the parking lot of a local bowling alley. It was her night out with the girls, an innocent-enough event, except she never mentioned the damages to my father-until the next day. She had no choice: he was driving that car to work.
As she aged, her misadventures grew more alarming, suggesting more dire consequences to come.
I remember the time she decapitated a fire hydrant right down the street from my house (she was 84). We had returned from a craft festival and she proceeded to drive herself home, following dinner (she was ferociously independent). As she rounded the bend, she swung too wide and uprooted the hydrant, dragging it some 100 yards up the street. It fell off on its own eventually.
If that hadn’t happened, she would have brought it back to her home, for the hydrant bumping around on the road bed wasn’t enough to stop her. You see, she lived by her highly-developed code of denial: “If I don’t recognize the problem, it isn’t happening.”
But witnesses along the street did recognize what was happening and reported the “crime” when they saw it. They noted an older female driver leaving the scene of the accident and reported her tag to police. Within minutes, officers from two municipalities converged on her house (the hydrant was property of one town; she lived in another).
When they asked: “Do you realize you’ve destroyed public property and left the scene of an accident?” she claimed, ”I never did such a thing.” And when they pointed out the tell-tale red paint on her car (where the hydrant hit the bumper), she held firm: “I told you I didn’t do that…I don’t know HOW that got there.” And she believed that.
She ultimately paid restitution, but we (in her family) assumed fault, as well.
There were signs long before this that her driving days were “done:” the times she forgot where she was going and didn’t know where she was; the many times she lost her keys; those occasions when she misplaced the car.
Why did we allow her pretense? We couldn’t accept our own painful reality: Our mother could no longer live independently; she’d become more and more like a child; we now had to parent our parent.
Biddy recognizes that transitioning through life’s stages is difficult. It’s even harder when one fights the process.
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