Tuesday, November 10, 2009

At The Drop Of A Hat

[This post was composed for the 18th Edition of Smile For The Camera ~ A Carnival of Images]

My mother, Jacqueline Austin MacEntee, would get in the car and drive almost anywhere - at the drop of a hat.  It was not unusual for Mom to put over 40,000 miles a year on her car.  The trips covered mostly the East Cost - all the way from Maine to Florida with occasional excursions beyond.  They included:
  • weekly trips to visit brothers and sisters (usually 45 minutes or less)
  • trips several times a year to see sisters in New Jersey (about 2 hours)
  • visits to Washington, DC to visit me while in college (only 6 hours)
  • summers in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (about 8 hours if we took the Lewes ferry otherwise 10 hours)
  • monthly visits to Virginia Beach, Virginia to see her grandchildren (10 hours)
  • trips twice a year to Florida to drive a "snow bird" relative down with their car and then flying back
    (required an overnight stay but a 2 day trip in total)
And then I can't even remember the countless shopping trips to places like Oneonta, NY or Scranton, PA because there was a sale!  Oh yeah, add in the trips at Christmas and Easter down to New York City to see a Broadway show or perhaps the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

Mom was comfortable driving and was a very good driver despite having a bit of a lead foot as she got older.  I think because she worked for the police station in a small village which entitled her to a police badge, she was emboldened to tempt fate.  I would shrink into the passenger seat in embarrassment whenever she presented her license to the officer who had pulled her over, knowing full well she had placed it right next to her police ID card.  Only wrapping it in a $20 bill could have been more embarrassing!

The photo above is from the early 1990s when Mom would drive down to see my grand aunt Ethel McCrickert Macari Hannan who lived by herself in Fort Myers, Florida.  About 1998, just before Mom was diagnosed with early dementia as an indicator of Alzheimer's Disease, she made a final trip to see Aunt Ethel and discovered one or more persons had scammed her out of most of her life savings.  There was no air conditioning in the house, an extra bedroom filled with "prizes" from dubious sweepstakes companies, and a once dignified woman who had lost the ability to take care of herself.

So Mom made a journey that I soon would be making: she became a caretaker for an elderly relative by moving Aunt Ethel up to her home in New York.  The next four years before Ethel passed were, quite frankly a living nightmare - and a glimpse into another nightmare waiting for me and my mother.  As Mom's disease progressed and overlapped with the decline of her aunt's, very often life in that house was a scene out of Arsenic and Old Lace with two batty old ladies.  When I called or visited I was just afraid to ask "how things were" only to be told the latest mishap or adventure!

After Ethel's death, Mom declined quite a bit and the mental impairment greatly affected her driving.  Finally we had to have her gerontologist send a letter to the DMV asking them to revoke her license.  Rather than suffer the shame of having to appear and take a written and a driving test, Mom figured it was for the best to give up her car.

Traveling was Mom's lifeline and while losing the car was like turning the key on a prison door and throwing it away, I needed to ensure not only her safety but the safety of others.  I remember all those trips, all those good times, all the adventures and all the fun we had.  Memories are what we have left when the body no longer cooperates.  And as in this post, I strive to document the memories so my nieces and nephews and the rest of my family really understand how my mother lived and loved life.

Photo: Jacqueline Austin MacEntee, abt. 1990, Fort Myers, FL. Digital image. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, Illinois, 2009

© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee

1 comment:

Amy Coffin said...

Great post, Thomas. I really admire your mother's traveling spirit.