What do Prince Philip and my mum have in common? They are both 97. And at least from my family’s viewpoint, they are both royalty. Philip’s recent car accident prompted this article in The Guardian about when is it time for our seniors to stop driving. Writer Nick Duerden doesn’t definitively answer that question in his article; he does describe a harrowing road trip with his grandfather that I can relate to perfectly.
Scott and I were visiting my mother and wanted to take her to lunch at her favorite place, The Cat & Fiddle. Mom was 85 at the time and proud of the fact that she was still driving. She insisted on getting behind the wheel of her old Buick and driving the 6 miles to the restaurant in Concord, NH. I sat beside her in the passenger seat, Scott was in the back seat.
Meet Me at the Cat & Fiddle © Scott Morgan 2007
At one time a statuesque 5′ 6″, my mother had already shrunken in height to 5′ 1″. She looked like a kid trying to peer over the driver’s wheel to see the road in front of her. The massive sedan was swerving side to side jerkily under her command. She narrowly missed stopping for a red light near a school crossing. At that point,Scott suggested–not so gently–from the back seat, “Anna! I’d feel better if you let your daughter drive us. Please pull over.”
My mother, already in the grips of the same lethal white-knuckle combination of fear and pride that Nick Duerden witnessed in his grandfather in The Guardian article was having none of it. “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!”, Anna seemed surprised that there was a man in the back seat at all, let alone my boyfriend scolding her driving skills. I tried to calm her down while she continued driving and ranting, “YOU’RE NOT GOING TO TELL ME HOW TO DRIVE! I’VE BEEN DRIVING OVER 70 YEARS!”. At this point, we were only a mile or two from the restaurant. We arrived and had lunch, her keys were on the table. A waitress came over and asked if the Buick belonged to us and said the lights were on. Scott jumped up and said “I’ll go turn them off!”, scooping up the keys and handing them to me when he returned, whispering in my ear, “You’re driving us home.” After lunch, my mother did not protest when Scott held the door to the passenger seat for her as I got behind the wheel.
Anna with me in October 2012.
My family began the “give it up, Mom” campaign soon after. Lots of strong language ensued (Anna is no shrinking violet). She insisted on going for her driver’s license renewal on her 86th birthday and she passed the test. Her concession, she told us, was that she gave up night driving of her own volition. She was buoyant as she gave me the news over the phone, “Tell Scott: they approved me for 5 more years of driving. Remind him I will be 91 in five years. Tell him what the hell does he know?”. Fortunately, our queen recognized on her own that she couldn’t handle the road any more. She never drove that Buick again. “But I could if I wanted to and I’d be legal”, she said. Anna turned 97 last November and still lives in her own home. The Buick? It’s no longer parked in her garage.
Queen Anna, in front of her garage. Summer 2018 5 months shy of her 97th birthday.
A delightful, and important essay, Katy !
Cars, Independence and Ageing . It’s good you tell the story because it’s not just about the Queen , it’s also about each one of us eventually .
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Thanks for reading and commenting on it, Larry. I wholeheartedly approve of the self-driving cars being developed and hope they will be affordable by the time I need one 🙂
Some years ago my mother spent a few hours trying to negotiate with me and two siblings when we told her the doctor told us she had to stop driving, based on the cognitive tests she had taken. She finally gave up when we told her the doctor would have to report her to the DMV if she didn’t. But for the next year or so she tried to get the keys to “just start the car so the battery wouldn’t die” We told her the newer cars didn’t have that problem. Of course, the next time Jill went to visit and they went to the garage the car battery was dead. We sold the car immediately after that!
Thanks for sharing, Susan! We do that with my mom’s stove now. We turn the breaker in the garage off so that her stove doesn’t work and thus she can’t use it and forget that the burners are on. My dad took his car out for “one last spin” while he was ill with his final illness. He ended up hitting the garage which is how we found out. ❤
Wonderful story, Katy, and so very heartfelt.
Thanks, Joyce! I can’t believe the original version I sent out mistakenly said “Prince Charles”!!! I hope that’s not prophetic. 🙂
I feel for her. Glad she decided on her own. Do you think the Buick was just to big and old to handle? Maybe if she had a smaller more compact car with a higher, adjustable seat so she could see over the wheel. Wait till she finds out about those driverless cars…lol
This was a long time ago, Jainee. 2007, if my memory serves. She long ago got over it. Doesn’t like riding in cars much these days as she says the oncoming traffic makes her feel nervous. I think we get fragile as we get closer to the end. Loolie is feeling much the same way as my mom (but she refuses to pass in her driver’s license….) 😉
That email made me cry. I hope with all my heart that’s the way I end up. Defiant, proud but practical.
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We all have Queen Anna’s DNA in us. 5 kids x 5 grandkids x 13 great grandkids, all of us blessed to have her and to have each other.
Love you, too!