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.