Page 18 - WTP Vol. XI #5
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emergency room where the on-call doctor said she suf- fered a hairline fracture in her kneecap. I never found out what had made her feel “funny,” but the fall began her decline. Maa now needed a walker and not that long afterwards, a wheelchair. I eventually had to move her to a “board and care,” a private home licensed to provide assisted-living services to seniors. She was happy there until Lewy Body dementia moved in with her. One day she was joyfully telling me about a tele- graphic message from a new friend who wanted her
you everything you never wanted to know about the Federalists, Whigs, and former presidents nobody remembers. Instead of weighing her life down with knickknacks and an extensive wardrobe like Maa, Mil guarded every penny and splurged only on large, worthwhile expenditures, like a trip to China and an automobile with leather upholstery and an excellent safety rating. A Volvo was high-end luxury, but it was practical luxury.
 to join a special singing group. Soon she was throwing food and screaming at her invisible, dead friend Stella for stealing Dr. Abraham Lincoln away from her. To calm her violent outbursts, Lincoln prescribed antipsy- chotics, which made her quasi-catatonic.
I used to take Maa for joyrides in Toaster—when I was a child she loved driving for its own sake—but all
I could do now was push her around the block in a wheelchair. My once loquacious mother now rarely spoke, except for an occasional, muttered snippet, a reaction to a strange world locked inside her head. One afternoon I was rolling her down the sidewalk when a tiger swallowtail alighted on her thigh, spread- ing its wings. I said, “Hey Maa, look!” not expecting a response. A few seconds passed. Then she said, “I feel good, Laurie.” It had been months since I’d heard her say my name. It would be the last time I ever did.
I was certain that Mil’s mind, unlike my mother’s, would never shut down. There was too much brain- power and stubbornness packed behind those silvery white curls. Unfortunately macular degeneration was slowly damaging her eyes, causing centralized blind spots. And despite Mil’s logical nature, she continued to drive. She claimed she had no problems driving because she only traveled to the same three places where she knew the route. Because she always made three right turns instead of a left. Besides, her plan was to stop driving when she turned ninety, and at eighty-nine, she still had another year to go.
Summer 2021. My mother-in-law, who I’ll call “Mil,” offered to give us her 2006 Volvo S60 with only 50,000 miles on its odometer. We immediately said yes, though secretly I had my qualms. I still loved my Toaster, even after 15 years, 147,000 miles, a finicky driver’s side window, a broken phone charger, and three rear-end collisions. Now older, I appreciated the ideal buttocks-height of my Toaster’s seats, and like my mother before me, I’d bonded with my auto- mobile. My other objection to owning a Volvo was, I admit, trivial. I’d always thought that “Volvo” sounded too much like “vulva,” that is, a woman’s external genital region that includes the inner and outer labia, clitoris, and vaginal and urethral openings. Talking about my Volvo seemed more appropriate with doc- tors than mechanics.
Then Mil failed her driving test, twice. She botched her first attempt by driving too slowly—the bane of old ladies and stoners. The second time she ran a stop sign—and blamed the stop sign, claiming it was higher now than last time, an excuse I’d more easily imagine coming from Maa. Mil was determined to try a third time. But she soon had a scare—perhaps a lucky one—when she became lost in a parking lot and couldn’t find her doctor’s office. Was it her eyes? Or her mind? She wasn’t sure. But we knew it was a little of both.
Yo’ Mama’s Volvo
When Maa was alive, she and Mil were my yin and yang. When I had too much of Maa’s eccentricities,
I looked forward to Mil’s calm pragmatism. She’s a wholesome, frugal woman and the diametric opposite of my bawdy, goofy, spendthrift mother. She’s also a Republican who was born knowing her party was the elephant, a history buff with an IQ of 150 who can tell
I hadn’t seen Mil since before the pandemic. Now everything about her seemed thinner: her already slim frame, her voice, her silver-grey curls. When she signed the Volvo’s title over to Tom, she needed a magnifying glass to ensure her shaky handwriting stayed within the lines.
I liked Mil’s car the moment I saw it. It was silver
The incident caused Mil to revert to her default, prag- matic mode. She decided to forgo a third driving test, quickly sold her home, and moved into an assisted- living community where she’d reserved a room over a decade earlier.
But she was in good spirits and we made the best of our time together. The staff was friendly and accom- modating—and not once, thank God, did anyone mistake us for residents.

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