birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Life in the Fast Lane

When my mother was in her mid to late 80's, I began to wonder if she'd cheat death forever. She looked much younger than her years, had lots of energy, and she loved to go on long road trips. She'd drive from Wyoming to New York, then Florida, then Louisiana and Texas to visit her children, grandchildren, and other family members. She would drive up to 12 hours a day, and just stop for gas and meals. Inclement weather never stopped her, and it rarely even slowed her down. My siblings and I would worry about her out on the road, particularly in the winter, but she wouldn't stop taking her solo trips. She loved her life on the road.

When she turned 86, I began to ask her if she would consider not driving. It didn't go over well. She'd get defensive and hang up on me. I tried every sort of logic I could think of to convince her to give up her keys.

"Remember when you knew that your dad needed to stop driving?" I asked her on the phone.
"Yes," she said. "I heard from the neighbors that he was driving on the wrong side of the road."
"Well, I'm just as concerned about you. What did you tell him to get him to stop?"
"I don't remember," she said. "But he was too old, anyway."
"Mom, he was 6 years younger than you are now."

During the two years that I tried unsuccessfully to get her to stop driving, I worried constantly. It drove me nuts to think that she might hurt herself or someone else. Not only would she be devastated if she hurt someone, what if she were sued and lost all she had? I felt terrible asking, and she had no tolerance for my questions. "Just. Stop," she would say, her voice thin with anger and fear.

She was terrified of losing her independence. My siblings and I were divided on what to do. A couple of them were as worried as I was, and others felt that the decision was hers, and only hers, to make. When she turned 87, she ran into a mailbox near her dentist's office. My brother and I decided to take action. He called the DMV and asked them to call her in for a test. She called me, furious, when she got the letter. "I know this was you!" she said. I didn't deny it. "If you're driving ok, then there's nothing to worry about, right? You'll pass the test, and then we'll all feel better."
When I said those words, I didn't think at all that she would pass the test. But she did. She called me, triumphant, from the DMV. "I just signed my new license," she said. I was truly stunned. And sick.
She didn't hold a grudge against me, and by then my brother had confessed that he was the one who called, but she didn't hold a grudge against him either.

She took one more trip out of town--she drove 3 hours in a winter storm to Salt Lake City to go to a doctor's appointment.

And then she called and said she'd decided to stop driving.

I never knew what happened on that trip. She never told any of us. Maybe nothing happened. Maybe she saw the chance to quit while it was still her choice, and not ours. But she never drove again, and soon after that, she moved up to Seattle to an assisted living facility. She began using a walker within a few months, and a wheelchair within a few years. She took her foot off the gas, put on the brake, and slowly, calmly turned the key off. She wasn't merely a driver, but a master pilot, landing skillfully, gracefully, beautifully.


When in Rome