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                                                            Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sometimes it is funny how two people can view the same thing and have completely different reactions.  For example, I will use an episode of the latest drive to the base with Dad.  For those uninformed, this year, 2008, Dad is 89 years old and in good health for that amount of time on earth.  Every week or two, we make a trip to the commissary on the Little Rock Air Force Base.  We use the back gate entrance as it is closer from his house, and I guess it is about 8-9 miles to the big grocery store.  I drive most of the way, but due to security requirements, I am not allowed to drive into the base without going to the front gate and applying for a permit each time we go.  Since that would take about twice as long to do, I stop about two miles before the back gate on old two lane Highway 107 or, as it used to be called, Highway 5.  I pull over on the large paved shoulder, and Dad and I switch places.  As Dad slowly unloads from the passenger side and makes his way around the car to get into the driver's seat, the tension begins to mount, and I know I may be enjoying, well not enjoying, rather I may be having my last few minutes of life.  As he extends the seat back, I start thinking about all the things I still want to do before I die. When he puts his seatbelt on, I remember my wife and kids and a little smile comes to my lips in remembrance of the 'old times.'  When he shifts into drive, I start praying, and I place the little statue of Mary on the dash that my Catholic neighbor Mike gave me.  I also rub the necklace of the cross that I 'borrowed' from him tha last time he was down, which I decided I needed just for these two mile trips. 

Now keep in mind that I am a very thoughtful son, so I try to keep cool as Dad drives so he doesn't think I am worried. Even though I said the Lord's Prayer out loud as soon as his foot touched the gas pedal and I shed a few tears, I am hoping he did not notice.  His hearing has been a bit off the last year or two.

So as he pulls into the open road, I try not to look back but common sense usually overtakes my thoughtfulness for his age handicap, and I take a glance  to make sure that the supersized 18 wheeler that I have nightmares about is not really comig down the highway at that moment at 90 miles per hour.  It is clear, so Dad takes that as a sign to clean the bottom of his shoe off by pushing the accelerator  to the floor.  The old Lincoln Town Car has not seen this much action since the last time Dad drove it two weeks ago, but it still jumps up to 70 in about 2 seconds.  I remain calm as Dad negotitates the first curve, and I glance secretly at the speedometer, and it reads 62 mph.  Most of the left side of the car is still on the right side of the double yellow so I count my blessings.  By the way, the speed limit is 55 and why it is that fast on this curvy two-lane is a mystery to me.  Now if this were my kid driving, I would remind  him that the speed limit is supposed to be the fastest you go and that a slower speed is also legal.  But since it is Dad,  I pretend to be calm and cool as I wonder if I can grab the wheel fast enough if we barrel towards the ditch or the other lane.  It is kind of like when you are in the dentist's chair and they are drilling your tooth and you realize your whole body is one tight mass of muscle so you mentally tell yourself to relax so they won't know you are in immense terror that something will slip and you will be in unbearable pain.  That is what I am trying to pretend like as he negotiates the next curve, still at 62 mph.  This time there is a car coming and he is a bit too far to the left.  He is probably not in their lane but he may be on the yellow and this is where  I tense up.  This part of the road has several curves in the old two lane, along with lots of big trees to provide nice shady spots, the kind of place you often see those little crosses with flowers on them for the unfortunate who went before riding with their elderly parent.  I think I saw one that said Terry on it but had to look away as I observe Dad take his hand off the wheel to reach in his shirt pocket.  Dad is so considerate he does not want anyone to have to wait for him so the last little mile or so he tries to pull out his ID which he has to show the guard at the back gate.  Earlier at home he has placed it in his shirt pocket and now he is going for it.   This might seem a simple task, and it would be except fo a few other small details.

1-- Dad is 89

2-- He has violent tremors which rock the steerng wheel even with two hands on it

3--There are two dump trucks, extra wide, coming the other way and they also on the yellow line, by neccessity.

4--Dad is going 62 mile per hour still

5-- I am too young to die.

Despite all the above, I still remain calm.  As Dad feels in his pocket where he has two cards, his debit card and the ID, he mentions how the card feels different.  He glances down to look at it as the first dump truck nears (Dad ignores the dump truck, he obviously is not too young to die)  and he sees it is his Driver's License.  Now I am losing my cool!  Driving over the speed limit with one hand on a curvy narrow road with traffic coming and looking at his driver's license is just about my limit.  To this point, I was successful in hiding my concern.  You would have been proud of me, sort of like somebody pointing a gun at me and threatening to kill me and I did not break down and beg for mercy.  I was in control of my self, the ice man, Joe Cool. 

But I am sorry to say, my threshold was crossed with the next incredible move by Dad, though I do give him  credit for  bravery.  I will paint the picture for you as I remember it to make it as dramatic  as possible. 

Lincoln Town Car, 89 year old driver, narrow road, 62 miles an hour, bobbing gray head, shaky hand on the wheel, riding the yellow line, big truck coming in the curve, shaky foot on the gas, ashen 50 year old passenger who has the leather seat sucked up his puckered crack trying to hang on for the certain crash, then Dad leans to the left so his rear rises on the right side and reaches for his wallet as he looks at his back pocket.  Now Dad doesn't just grab a wallet like your or me; he fumbles and misses due to his tremors. It is not a grab, bam, here it is, it is a 6-7 second exercise in subterfuge, where is it hidden, I know it is there somewhere, while his hand cannot quite find the pocket and grab the apparantly worth-risking-my-and-your-life-over-to-get-the-IDcard-so-the-minimum-wage-security-guard-won't-have-to-wait-three-extra-seconds wallet. 

This is where I lost my composure.  With one hand I grabbed the wheel just in time to swerve back into the right lane and avoid the dump truck, though I think the driver's mirror scraped on the rear bumper of it.  With my other hand, I pushed his hand out of the way and grabbed the wallet.  I knew this would not be over until he had his military ID in his hand or we died in massive burning heap of metal and flesh.   Where the third hand came from I don't know; maybe it was the hand of God, but somehow in an instant, I had Dad's ID in my hand and gave it too  him.  I don't remember what happened next, but when I regained conciousness we were just pulling past the guard where Dad was supposed to stop and he hit the brakes a bit hard.  The guard walked from his post to Dad's stopping point ten feet past him, checked out the ID, looked at me in the passenger seat and said something to Dad about how I did not look well.  Dad said something about the weather and we proceeded to the commissary.  I said another prayer and I don't think Dad's awareness or heart rate ever rose from the event.  And that is how, as I said at the beginning, it is funny how two people can view the same thing and have completely different reactions.





PS-Liberties were taken with the mostly factual account but I do not want the truth to get in the way of a good story, for your benefit, of course.
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ADVENTURES WITH DAD    #1