I never knew there was a swamp across the street from Winn Dixie, until my grandfather pulled out in front of someone one Saturday afternoon. The lady’s mangled car plowed into the woods over there and down into that swamp. He said, “that woman, she just came flying out of nowhere.” Thus, he was my first memory of a senior driving–or at least the first one I really noticed.
The police said that the lady was driving well under the speed limit. Thanks to seat belts, both were fine; but granddaddy a few days later bought a brand new pickup truck. He was 90. Now that is optimism!
A few months later, that new truck almost mowed me down on a sidewalk. If it hadn’t been for my friend, I wouldn’t be here today. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a vehicle bounce up on the curb just as my friend yanked me out of the way. The truck bounced back down into the parking spot, and my granddaddy climbed out and jaywalked across the street to the hardware store as if nothing happened. He noticed neither one of us.
Taking the Keys Away
My friend said, “you people need to do something about your grandfather’s driving.” I’m thinking as if that will ever happen. We would surely have to pry those keys out of his cold, dead fingers.
You see, granddaddy was 90 something when he chased one of the running great-grandbabies down before she could reach the street. He was still agile and could run. We were all there, but he didn’t yell for one of us to do something. He just took care of the problem, just like he always did. I can still see those old long legs striding across that lawn. He was a tall man, even in his old age. He was still strong and didn’t think that his senior driving privileges should be curtailed in the least.
Looking back I guess we should have known that his driving was a problem. Our younger teenaged cousins told us that they were afraid of his driving back when he was in his early 80s. They discovered this while on a trip to the mountains with granddaddy and grandma. My cousin said that he would rather get on any roller coaster anywhere than get in granddaddy’s truck in the mountains. You know it’s serious when the teenagers refuse to ride with him.
Granddaddy has passed now. We never took his keys away. He finally fell and broke his hip about a year later. His truck set in his driveway throughout his eight months of therapy, but he never recovered enough to walk again. We certainly didn’t encourage him to go back to driving, and thankfully he never tried.
Spatial Errors in Driving
My mother-in-law’s driving was legendary, too. We have a drive-way that encircles a garden in our front yard. It is about fifty feet across; and it has several rose bushes, a small tree at one end and lots of liriope surrounding it. About once every two months, you could tell that someone had driven through it.
I was always fairly certain the someone was my mother-in-law, and I knew for sure when I watched her drive through it one evening. The headlights bounced through shining up in the trees and down into the bushes on each side of the driveway. Surely, she knew that she had run over something. Thankfully, though, she always missed the roses; but the liriope on one side was stunted and the tree sort of leaned. She, too, became a classic senior driver in our family. She, too, was in her 90s.
Her garage door looked like a war was waged inside. It bulged out in several places, where she tried to drive out before remembering to raise the door. She also tried to close the garage door before completely backing out one day. It closed on her hood. Her hood was all bent up, but it was several months before we found out what really happened. Her friend finally let the cat out of the bag.
So we have had our moments with the senior driving, but it still did not prepare me for this.
We were almost home from the Thanksgiving holiday, after a long day of driving across four states. I did most of the driving because I handle the interstate better than my husband who is ten years my senior. So you can see why I gave him the wheel at our last stop before home. We were less than 30 miles away with nothing but blue highways to go. I was tired, and the kids sent me a couple of texts that I wanted to answer.
Just before we got to the house, Chuck stopped at the local CVS. I’m still texting, and he says, “Stay here. I’ll be right back.” I never look up, but then I realize that our car is moving, as in rolling backward. He is already halfway into the store, and I yelled, “Chuck! Chuck!”.
Panic sits in. I looked over at the brake. I am no contortionist. At my age climbing over into the driver’s seat in a little Rav4 will take some painful maneuvering. I’m still rolling back across the parking lot downhill toward the busy street. Chuck is already pulling at the driver’s door, but we’re going too fast. Then thank goodness I remember the handbrake. God bless the person who put it in between the seats. I pulled it, and the car stopped.
Chuck, who is always the calm one, gets in and pulls the car back up into the parking place. He makes sure I’m ok, and then this time he puts it in park and goes inside. I was stunned.
My mind began to race, as I pulled the pieces together. It has been almost five years since my mother-in-law passed away, but lately, I noticed that someone has been driving through my garden again. I also noticed as mentioned earlier that Chuck’s driving on the interstate is not good, too much floating over the line. And don’t get him talking about anything because all of a sudden we’re going 45 miles an hour in a 70 mile an hour speed zone. He seems to forget that he is driving.
Night driving is becoming a problem. When turning, especially left, I think he cannot see the lines. He slows and seems to be feeling his way through the dark left turn. I’ve asked him about it, but he says that everything is fine. Like granddaddy, Chuck is driving slower and slower. I remember thinking that surely granddaddy’s driving couldn’t be all that unsafe because he drove so slowly.
So we finally left CVS. I’ve finally settled down, and I’m looking at my texts again when I realize that we’re slowing down for a green light. Lately, I’ve noticed that he slows far too much in advance of a light. I say, “Chuck, the light is green.” He’s red-green color blind, and I’ve always noticed a moment of hesitation when coming to a light. He begins to accelerate, but we’re still rolling slowly when the light turns yellow. I’m thinking he’ll just stop now, but instead he floors it and accelerates through the “now” red light. He says, “I guess I’m a little tired of driving”.
Oh my God! I’m thinking, “there’s your sign”. He napped off and on–while I drove all day–and now he says “I’m tired?”
Thank the Lord, there was no traffic in the intersection, but we will pay–because we’ll get another one of those red light photo tickets in the mail–like the one he got about a month ago.
Oh dear! It hasn’t been an entire decade since the kids moved out of the house and our car insurance premiums got back to normal. Sigh! I guess we’ve officially entered the senior driving zone.
Did you have someone in your life who scared you when they drove? Were they a senior? When should someone take their keys away? Or should they?
[…] These memory lapses came more frequently, and then they got quite unsettling. I tried to joke about it, as I did when I wrote about this a few years ago. At the time, I thought one lapse was just bad driving. Now I know it was problems with paying attention – with staying in the moment. You can read about it here. […]