This is a modest tribute to my sweet, wise mother, who passed away almost ten years ago. I miss her every day.
1977. “Come on, Ell,” my mom said. “You can do it.” And with that, she gave me an encouraging little nudge toward the car. The Dodge Dart sat there gleaming nonchalantly in the driveway, as it had for almost a year since my marriage fell apart. It didn’t seem to care that it wasn’t being driven, so why should my mom?
Sigh. “Ma,” I told her for the umpteenth time, “I can’t. I’m too nervous. It’s been way too long.” I had stopped driving when my daughter was a baby, nine years before. I couldn’t cope with the ordeal of being a brand-new, still-terrified driver with a squalling infant in the car seat behind me, too far away to be comforted. So I simply stopped driving and developed better relationships with bus drivers.
But the longer I spent out of the driver’s seat, the more entrenched my lack of confidence became. And now I was in the silly situation of owning a perfectly fine vehicle as part of a marital separation agreement, but never using it.
I glared at the car. It seemed to mock me, no, dare me. My mom and I were about to leave to pick up my son from kindergarten… but as I headed for the passenger side, my mom stood between the car and me. “Not this time. Go over there,” she nodded to the driver’s side.
“I caaan’t,” I wailed. “I’m too scared!”
She wasn’t buying this. She led me around the front of the car, opened the door and – gently, mind you – shoved me in, coaxing all the while, “You can do it. If I can do it, you can do it. I’ll help you.”
I gave up. Turning the key, I shook my head in despair. I couldn’t believe she was forcing me to do this awful thing. Couldn’t she see how frightened I was? What kind of a mother was she, anyway!
I slowly inched back out of the driveway, as if to my doom. And that’s when my mom metamorphosed into a bona fide driving coach with the patience of Job and then some. Because all during the ten-minute trip (it seemed a lot longer, I swear), paying no heed to my white knuckles and protestations of fear, she kept up a soft, encouraging patter: “You’re doing all right, you’re doing great… See? That was a perfect turn! Of course you were rusty before. But it all comes back. Wonderful… That was fabulous… We’re almost there… one more turn…” …encouraging, praising, cajoling. And at the end, when we finally got there, she couldn’t resist a sort of little I-told-you-so… which I must say I didn’t really mind.
“I knew you could do it,” she said sweetly, with a twinkle in her eye.