Driving with Mother
My Mother never trusted my driving – she was a backseat driver – and one day we were on a major highway on our way to Boston – Mother stared straight ahead as the rain kept pouring down like buckets – Mother, she kept repeating, “Buckets, just like buckets – see it?
When we reached the Berkshires those buckets of rain turned into sheets of pure ice, and I mean ice. So much ice my Mother stopped talking. . .
The few cars left on the highway were crawling; red lights reflected across the hood of the car. I glanced for a second to see Mother’s face.
Cars were coming to a complete stop – ahead, more flashing lights, but this time blue. Not – only blue but
red, and I heard the sirens – lights bounced off the ice crystals on our car windows, hood, and even Mother’s glasses.
Mother’s thumbs were doing the twirling twiddle – twirling around and around – and around thing – Mother was rubbernecking while I was trying to hold the car on ice – trying to basically standstill in the middle of the storm. She rubbernecked, her head twisting ever so slowly, inch by inch as she kept staring out a sheet of ice to those blue flashing lights – I thought for a moment she was ready to open the door of the car to get closer.
Windshield wipers were skirting the window, and they seemed to hypnotize me, like Mother, who was still rubbernecking, while her thumbs were twirling and twisting – she had not said one word.
Mother was awfully quiet, even after all that staring – her eyes glued to the window – the defroster began to melt sheets of ice from our view, so now she pushed up her glasses, moved ever so slowly in her seat – I could feel the words about to burst from her mouth. No wonder Mother complained when I drove – she told the world she couldn’t see a darn thing two feet in front of her – without her glasses.
Well her glasses were always around her nose, and if her fingers and thumbs stopped moving she pushed her glasses up again – and again. We finally began to creep forward as the ice melted off the windshield – I glanced toward Mother; she stopped twiddling her thumbs because now she was really rubbernecking – she loved disasters. Even a wreck on the side of the road. Father called her sick.
Well, she was disappointed when we increased our speed and she saw nothing, probably some ole’ animal crossing the highway. Right before we left home Father reminded us about this old car needing work, and we shouldn’t be traveling alone, especially in winter and all – he said it just wasn’t acting right, not herself. Funny how cars are always a girl – when they start to break down. I believed Father brought the car in and if he didn’t, he wouldn’t tell us. It was an old clunker.
He always told the men at the shop to do their thing – just make it work. So we are now heading down this highway in the old clunker – a piece of thought, she was too worried about me driving, and things leaving the road. You see we had no choice but ride right straight through the Berkshires and toward the bean town, my Mother’s sister, she was to be on her death bed.
And come hell or high water Mother wasn’t going to be sitting three hundred miles away, waiting for death to arrive. Then we came to the highest mountain to drive over, and hope the breaks would hold coming down. First, my foot was way down on the peddle, and then lifting up and then over the mountain we started to slip and slide like we were back in her hometown of Vermont on a homemade sled.
I felt how hard that old car worked to take us down in the right direction. Mother was making some odd noise now, her thumbs were going so fast they kept clicking on her fingernails. Down at the bottom in the valley, the weather picked up with thick white snowflakes, as the wipers kept pushing them away slower, and slower. I knew we had not made the halfway point, and Mother, she was getting restless cause her feet were tapping.
We’ve been driving since lunch and barely made it out of New York State. On a normal day, we would have gotten to 495 – the interstate before you entered the busy section near Boston.
I knew the Ludlow Rest Area was halfway, and we were approaching Springfield, exit four. We noticed signs – signs indicating that the rest area was open, and I wanted to pull over and let this car rest, and me too. But Mother said we had to keep on moving, just keep on moving, telling me we were over the tough areas.
So I waved goodbye in my mind to the rest area and kept right on truck’in. Kept right on moving like those eighteen-wheelers passing me. I started to pick up some speed, and they were still splashing slush all over the windows and headlights – Mother kept moving her body as if she too had a steering wheel in her hands when those hands weren’t filled with nerves. She told me there is a time to sit, rest, run, sleep, and die. She wasn’t going to be stuck on a highway, far from her sister when she closed her eyes, and it was her time.
We had a lot of catching up to do. We were late my Mother told me. Late, I thought. Late. Late for someone to die? I never asked her what she wanted to tell me – did she have some inside information. Well – damn it. I knew we were late, and I also knew she was having herself a good time when she was rubbernecking.
Mother was so nervous over me behind the wheel of her car. This car, of all things to worry about. You see I would not swear in front of Mother, or nearly anyone I came in contact with because swearing just isn’t lady-like. But, shit I had the right to think about it. I had the right, as I slammed on hand on the steering wheel and Mother jumped.
Well, I knew we weren’t getting anywhere too soon, and when that their sky began to lighten, it sure was not from some big city lights – it was snow – snow was coming back towards us in a black winter night. Snow began coming down like buckets like the rain back home, in buckets, buckets like Mother said.
The windshield, covered now with this heavy white stuff, no more melting it off the window with some little defroster. No more staring through a haze of ice, or even rubber necking out the side window. It was that sky, moving like a bat out of hell. Another one of Mother’s sayings. I never said it out loud.
It was turning itself into some blizzard blowing like a nor – easter – not easter, noreaster – some way of telling it was not a time to drive on the highway let alone leave your house. And, for that matter, a noreaster is just snow in the winter comparing it to wind and rain in a hurricane. This – was a noreaster.
The wind started pushing our car from the left to the right of the road, and Mother kept falling toward me then she fell the other way, she still wasn’t talking. She was still tapping her feet, while her fingers were dancing on her winter coat.
Told Mother she had better be wearing the seat belt, just because there was no law about it here, she should strap herself in tight.
Well, I watched as much as I could at her struggle to hook the belt around her thin body and noticed that she was pushing the metal into my spot. I felt around and there was nothing there to hook in – that was broken too. I tempted to tell Mother I was pulling off to the side of the road, for her to buckle up in the back seat.
Well, the storm calmed down soon enough to see the exit where my Mother’s sister was to be dying. And, I bet you wonder why I have taken this death thing to lightly, I mean, someone was leaving this earth, flying on some snowflake up to heaven, and if we didn’t make it first, Mother had to say goodbye. So Aunt or no Aunt . . . this old car made it to the last exit.
Then – I heard this loud sound and a bang – something was pushing up underneath the car, hoping it was just a huge snowbank. This old car sank in different places – so I stopped worrying.
Glanced from the rearview window and saw these sparks – knew the snow would put them suckers out. . . but I knew – knew the entire muffler must have been hanging by a thread. Mother asked about the noise, what it was? I told her just snow, only snow. Couldn’t tell Mother my fear of the entire gas tank exploding. We made it – By the Help of the Dear Lord, as Mother would have said, to the exit and off the highway. The Good Lord. Gosh, he may have performed a miracle, after all, getting us here in one piece.
Mother mumbled as I thought, “The Good Lord, he made things right.”
By this time I couldn’t see a foot in front of me, the snow was starting again, as we stopped for a red light – now thick white snow, thick like Mother’s glasses. I kept looking through the rearview mirror, and no sparks. So I kept on moving. The man at the gas station where I had to fill it up. He took this long look at me, then peeked inside the car, then back at me. I thought I had a bloody nose or something, but he never said a word, not until I asked for directions. “You muffler, it’s dragging, and it’s against the law here in this state, did you know I could call the cops on you?”
My muffler is dragging – I told the man I thought it was snow hitting the bottom of the car, but I had no time to think now, you see, I told him my Aunt was dying, or she could be at the undertaker’s by now, as I stared at my watch. We are so late, and Mother is now sitting in the back seat, she crawled over to stay safe when that wind picked up, well she wants to say goodbye, she kept waving to the man. You understand. I stared at the man in dirty overalls.
He had a monotone voice – “Turn left, then right and on the left side you will see this yellow midis sign, should be open, it’s only a Friday night. I don’t want a muffler, no muffler, do you hear me, no muffler, someone is dying or dead, I need directions. We left NY before the strike of noon and now we are deep into the night. I want directions – please.
I climbed back into the car – Mother knew something wasn’t right, she always knew when something wasn’t normal. She asked if I had enough money for gasoline, and I motioned, yes. In front of me was this toll road, another highway, another place where people stretched their necks holding up traffic. Her voice I heard it start up – “Where are we now?” I opened the window and this kind man said, “No toll lady, no toll here – just keep mov’in.” God help his wife – no thoughts or worries about two women out in the middle of the highway without a muffler, I knew he heard it, and he smirked like someone who knew we weren’t going to make out destination.
Lost in some white city, where the wind blew the street signs either completely from the poles, or snow was up against them, while this muffler started shooting stars.
I wasn’t searching for some yellow sign with black letters, not me, but I had no idea Mother was. She called out, “Over there, see it, right there in the back of Dunkin Donuts.” For darn sake she picked out
this little sign and not a soul, not one soul was in the parking lot. I told her it was closed, and she insisted she saw a man in overalls walking around the room.
Mother’s eyes grew larger, it wasn’t her sister, it was a Midas shop, a plain old station to tie up our broken muffler before we continued. I watched as Mother made the sign of the cross. Then, she kissed her fingers, instead of twiddling. I told her, wait in the car. I mentioned the snow, too much to be trampling around without boots, she’d catch her death of cold. Then I told her to lock all the doors, it was a strange town.
Inside a grubby old man in some jumpsuit, full of grease – hands filthy, face half missing, and this dirty cloth rubbing more dirt onto him – I told him, my muffler is dragging in the snow. I asked if he could tie it up since someone is dying. He comes back with some ridiculous statement, telling me someone dies every second, someone is born too.
My father was too have had this at the shop but it seemed to be something dragging, and I asked nicely, if it was the muffler, and wouldn’t a nice heavy rope hold it in place? Asked if he could do me that small favor – as I glanced back at my watch – I looked at him, “No kidding sir – she’s probably already dead.”
He was just another person without a care, he didn’t care about someone dying, a broken car, a Mother near hysterics waiting to say goodbye to her sister, and me, me trying as hard as I could to get this piece of junk to the right place.
Disappeared he did – looking back at the car now covered by inches of snow, and me, praying Mother remained inside. He returned – bring it inside – pointing to the stalls. I asked him how long? Any idea would be helpful. . . knowing it was a dumb question, he told me as I suspected, nothing, not until he would check out the bottom on the car on one of those high risers.
Now, get mother out of that car first. He looked at me, so I just climbed over the snowbanks and reached in to take her arm, told her we had a minor problem, we lost the bottom of the car.
She stared at me – Do it! she yelled, now. Mother made it inside without falling, one accomplishment, and she sat herself down on this old orange, worn out, torn, plastic-covered couch – I sat near her, grabbed some magazines on auto repair. Anything had to do. The magazine was handled by those who sneezed, coughed, cried, spit. I threw it back onto the table.
Mother was right, Mother she kept telling me about the stuffing popping through the orange couch, she kept picking at it, like a little kid. I asked her if she had a book, anything to read in her large pocketbook – or perhaps a few crackers to munch on. . .
You never leave without a book. But Mother was back on the subject of my driving, too slow, and how sick her sister had been. She told me she was probably dead by now. Yur Aunt – Your Aunt!
I knew it was my aunt – I heard she was going to die, that day. But the day was over – and the night was nearly coming to an end. Mother, I let her know, I knew she was going to die – why would I be driving in this snow, wind, ice, and rain to bring someone flowers for the hell of it. . . My insides were twisting and turning.
I noticed one man who was covered in grease head our way – knew when he saw two women lost on some highway with something wrong with the car we would be taken for all that could be wrong with a car. . .
Right then I heard my father’s voice – what he said about driving the car – it was no good – basic and plain – he said he had this feeling it was no good, let it be and he was right. . .
Total job Lady will be four hundred and ninety dollars. My eyes only looked into his eyes, knowing I had forty dollars in my pocket, enough for tolls and a meal – and no credit card. . . no bank was open, and no one had any debit cards back then.
For God’s sake now what, Mother yelled. Mother – carried her black purse for her paperback book, some Kleenex and comb –He told me we had to pay first. . .no job until the money was upfront. Pay first – pay first – my eyes glared at my mother whose telling me to use my credit card and my father would pay me back. Told mother – I had no credit card – I had a few dollars, enough to sleep, heck this was going to be a quick trip.
Now the muffler is gone and dragged so far he added on all the other crap that fell off. And the grease man he never smiled – just wondered what we were going to do – reminding us the shop closes so make up our minds. Mother kept kicking the floor as if she were marching in place.
“Stop it,” – I stared at her. Instead, her legs went faster.
She started rambling on about her sister, reminding me it was my Aunt, and how sick she was, and she was going to die. . . And here we are stuck in this garage – Well, what about cash – asked the greaser – know anyone with cash?
Sure – I know everyone with cash they want to throw our way, you jerk… I mumbled to myself. Asked if I could use the phone telling him it would be a long distance, not that long since we haven’t gone too far, just over that damn mountain. Father had a credit card, knew I would never live it down – but it was the only way. The greaser said the charge would be tacked onto the bill. Handing over the dirty phone.
Father started yelling but I closed my ears, closed my mind, just give me the damn number – looked at Mother who was complaining about seeing her sister dead. Dead she yelled out – she’s going to be dead. . . Then looked back over to the man – tapping those dirty fingers on the counter – Mothers feet, his fingers – what the hell then I handed the man the phone you talk to him – All father did was tell me the streets back home were dry – well he never cared about Auntie or the snowstorm, or the broken muffler, only his money.
My head was pounding, and my eyes killed from those red lights – trying to see through the snow, drive on ice – hear sleet, and Mother moaning about Auntie, now she was dead. Father must have given out that number – cause the man slammed down the phone and never asked any questions. He started writing out the slip about the car, like in a doctor’s office with some illness and you have this long list of things wrong….
Then he asked me to sign… I did, but he told me it’s wrong the name, not the same. I motioned for Mother to come over and sign the paper, she didn’t care, she would sign herself into a mental hospital if she could, no wonder why father never gave her a credit card. . . I asked how long – we had to wait…
Two hours – I heard two hours. Sitting on that orange couch for two hours – out the windows everything was black – good thing mother didn’t pay a bit of attention to the time – she was slouched over the couch and her eyes kept opening and closing.
I sat down, next to Mother knowing we were taken – taken by this man. All those things weren’t wrong with this car. . . for heaven’s sake – it wasn’t that bad. Knew – Mother would awake start yelling about Auntie, forgetting she was inside this garage. Can’t worry about that now – no other choice. I kept staring at Mother, now sleeping. I reached into her purse for the paperback, it had to be better than some greaser’s magazine. I knew it, a mystery, called “Death in the winter…” appropriate.
I began the book, leaning on the arm of the orange plastic couch – reaching the second chapter I started to flip the pages, some old habit with books – like counting them in my head when all these paper bills began to fall from the book… all one hundred dollar bills.
Money – money Mother hid. She wasn’t broke. What the hell? I nudged her, then pushed her – telling her to wake up. I flashed the money in front of her, and she grabbed it so fast shoved it down her bra. . . “It’s none of your damn business.” She started yelling, your eyes are no good, can’t even drive a car without breaking it. So shut up, you hear. For a moment I wondered – what was I doing here?
Why did I take this ride to see someone that never mattered to me but mother, she had to go and the car breaks down, she pleads bankrupt and falls asleep while Father is telling me it’s my fault the car he owns is falling apart.
She will fall asleep – again – she will remember nothing – will know nothing about the money – knowing mother – she will know nothing, she won’t remember who brought who to the garage. She probably would drive the rest of the way alone, not knowing I was with her.