Monday, May 28, 2012

Driving Ms. Clover

“What I need is for somebody to drive my mother around.”
                    - Boolie Werthan, in Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

The aging Daisy Werthan (the late Jessica Tandy) crashes her new Chrysler and is no longer able to get driver’s insurance in postwar World War II Atlanta.  Her son Boolie
(Dan Akeroyd) asks Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman) to serve as his mother’s chauffeur.  “Well, if you don' mind my askin', sir,” Hoke inquires. “How come she's not hirin' for herself?”  Boolie scratches his head.  “See, it's kind of a delicate situation.”  Hoke nods.  “Oh, yessir, yessir. Done gone around the bend a little bit. Well, now, that'll happen as they get old.”  Boolie smiles faintly and shakes his head.  “Oh, no, she's all there. Too-much-there is the problem!”

This past week I drove my 87-year old mother from Florida’s Gulf Coast to her new home just outside of Columbus, Ohio.  She has been living in Florida off and on for almost  thirty years following my dad’s retirement save for a brief time in the mid 1990s, when they lived in central Ohio.  They eventually went their separate ways, although they both ended up back in Florida.  Dad is gone now, and many of her Florida friends and neighbors have passed on, so Mom decided she wanted to be closer to my sister and her family, as well as to the Ohio friends she had left behind when she returned to Florida.  She will also be nearer her family in her native Michigan.  Not that she could not have made this trip on her own; she is an excellent driver and fully capable and up to the task.  But I offered to drive her north; I just thought it would be a nice chance for the two of us to spend some time together.  And you can’t get much closer together than the front seat of a car. I was actually looking forward to this trip; a chance to travel roads my family once took from our homes in the Midwest to Florida for vacation.  I later drove these same routes to and from college in the Sunshine State, and it has been close to 40 years since I have visited some of these areas.  A lot has changed in the meantime.      

I left home outside of Washington, DC early on a chilly, rainy morning and flew from Baltimore to Tampa which was sunny and in the low 80s when I arrived there mid-morning.  Mom met me at the airport and we immediately set off for points north, stopping briefly to visit my dad’s grave at the Florida National Cemetery near Bushnell, and sharing a nice lunch with my mother-in-law, in Gainesville. Soon we passed from Florida into Georgia, severing my immediate family’s last tangible link with the Sunshine State.

We spent a night in central Georgia, near Macon, and the next morning I navigated the rush-hour traffic around Ms. Daisy’s Atlanta.  The city has certainly grown since my folks lived here when Dad was at Georgia Tech (they moved to Chicago shortly before I was born).  We stopped to visit some of their oldest friends whom I had not seen since my wedding almost 38 years ago.  From there we headed into the North Georgia hill country where my own family spent vacations before we started going to Maine. Later we passed through Chattanooga and Knoxville, in Tennessee, before spending a second night on the road in southern Kentucky.

From there it was a foggy drive up through the Kentucky mountains between Corbin and Berea until we broke back into the sunlight in the bluegrass and horse country  around Lexington.  What a treat to travel through this area on an interstate with very little traffic.  I recall the days when we traveled the narrow, two-lane blue highways behind a caravan of slow moving trucks.  And then there was that one memorable winter trip when we were stranded in Renfro Valley here during a blizzard!  Don’t get me wrong!  I like to drive the back roads, but when you are on a strict time schedule, one doesn’t always have the luxury to do this.  From Lexington it was a quick trip up to and through Cincinnati and on to Columbus, Ohio, our final destination.  I love driving through the cornfields of Middle America and it looks like the corn will definitely be “knee high by the Fourth of July.”  
All in all, it was a nice trip, and Mom and I had a chance to talk about and catch up on a lot of things.  She was naturally flustered with the move to Ohio.  A long distance change or residence is never easy, and I have to hand it to her . . . she handled it all despite numerous changes of plans and schedules.  And she was anxious to see her new place, and to be back among friends she has not seen for a while.  Add to this the fact - and she freely admits it - that she is a very nervous passenger.  I was happy to do the driving, and although I have been driving for over 40 years and consider myself a safe and cautious driver, I am certain Mom preferred to be behind the wheel, and said so on more than one occasion.  But we made it to Ohio safely, in good time, and still speaking to one another.  That said, I think we were BOTH happy to have the trip behind us. To quote Boolie to Daisy: “You’re a doodle mama!”  But I love her just the same.

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