Two years ago, my mother died on this date.
I think about her more often now. Even when it is a sad memory, I almost instantly remember that she’s at peace. I can miss her, but not regret that she’s gone. Not in a “better place” sort of way, but that she served her time in purgatory while in this life. It should be her ‘It Gets Better’ period in my mind.
Of late, I’ve been telling my nephews stories about her and other members of my family. My mother plays a key but humorous role in tales about why I don’t like olives, why I do appreciate cemeteries, and why I believe offering someone a ride is the work of angels.
“Want a ride?”
When I was a kid, my mother did not drive. She had a lifelong seizure disorder. My Dad worked shifts, so the rest of us walked everywhere. Everywhere. I probably trekked 80 millions of miles carrying a gallon of milk nestled in my arms. With great resentment toward the milk jug.
In any case, my Mum relied on rides from neighbors and family. Once she walked over 2 miles to retrieve me from school when I was sick.
When I was licensed to drive, my Dad very seriously told me about my new responsibilities. My mother and us kids had received so many rides over our time. It was now my duty to ‘pay it forward’ by giving rides when I could.
Of course, not in a ‘dangerous broody hitchhiker with a mysterious satchel’ way. More simply keeping my ears and eyes open that someone needed a ride. And saying ‘yes’ when asked to give a ride, if possible.
It’s been possible for 37 years.
Drove my neighbor and her cat to a vet appointment. Drove a grad school friend from Louisiana to Washington, DC. Picked up a friend waiting at the bus stop in the rain. Gave a lift to countless friends with broken down cars. Endless designated driver runs. Picked up dogs traveling to adoptive homes. Trips to the airport, bus station, and elsewhere. Gave a ride to a woman I witnessed falling on the sidewalk. It was second nature. And an ongoing tribute to my mother. Sometimes, I drove my coworkers home from work.
For the same reason, if I had gas, I said yes. It was my ministry, my calling, my love talk.
Most times, the person expresses sheepish gratitude. And I instantly wonder how many times my mother uttered that sentiment. Did she feel embarrassed or shamed asking for help? Did we put her in that position too often for convenience rather than necessity?
Meanwhile, my parents bought a beat-up Volkswagen Diesel Dasher for me in 1987. The caveat was that I had to always prioritize my mother’s needs. I took her shopping. To visit family. To meet her friends for lunch. To pay bills. I hauled my younger brother around.
Emergencies. Errands. Escapades. Everything.
And as I graduated into newer-to-me vehicles, I kept giving rides. And tell my passengers about my mum. My last vehicle was the #CatCar. My final act was to donate it to a friend for an art car derby; he painted the somewhat smashed hood for me to use as a sculpture in our yard. I like to think it was the last ride I gave someone – into the heart of a smash ’em up.
Nevertheless, now I’m the one who needs rides. I have been without a car for six months and no change in sight. I can’t afford to buy a car. I’m staying with friends who have three drivers en suite. There are community friends who offer to help. One friend offered to lend me her car while she recovered from shoulder surgery. Who does that? Good people. People like my mum.
Complicating matters, I have trauma symptoms from a recent incident that landed me in handcuffs wearing pajamas and shackled into a police cruiser. It was a seemingly a ruse to get me out of the house so the locks could be changed. It destroyed my sense of ease or safety riding in cars with strangers so ride shares are something I must approach with caution. Right now, I can only ride with known entities.
Still, I get by. But I’ll be returning home soon and need new coping mechanisms. I can walk some places, some friends have offered to help with errands, and I can re-learn the bus system. I have choices and privilege my mother did not have.
Finally, back to my mother. She actively used public transit, but with most busses, there was usually a walk, too. She braved horrendous suburban intersections with tall weeds and nonexistent walk ways. In 1989, she was hit by a car and spent two weeks in the hospital having surgeries on her leg. She kept walking because the pins in her legs didn’t magically create a car and driver at her disposal or a good crosswalk.
Fast Cars and Family
The celebration of the recent performance of ‘Fast Car’ at the Grammy Awards by creator Tracy Chapman and cover artist Luke Combs has been glorious. I’ve mostly associated that song with my own teenaged self driving around with friends.
But my mother, who didn’t drive, also wanted a fast car. She and my father spent thousands of hours meandering around in his car on his days off. Sometimes they literally bought a faster car. Most times, they forgot to come home to let us in the house after school. People contain multitudes.
You got a fast car
And I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Any place is better
Starting from zero, got nothin’ to lose
Maybe we’ll make something
Me, myself, I got nothin’ to prove
Really, she wanted a ticket, an escape from a very difficult, painful life. Sadly, her trajectory was not much further than that checkout girl. Until now. Finally, she’s in a better place.
I got nothing to prove, but if I ever own a car again – I’ll definitely return to the work of the angels. Maybe someday I’ll pick you up and tell you about my mum.
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