I remember when I was a kid, my grandparents would come to visit and my dad would always ask the same question when they’d arrive.
“How was your trip?”
“Great,” Grandpa would answer. “Your mother drove all the way. All I had to do was hold onto the steerin’ wheel.”
It got funnier every time or, at least, you’d think so, to hear my male role models laugh. Little did they know, at the time, that twenty years later, that story would be closer to truth than fiction.
Grandma never learned to drive, but, at 80, she saw a lot better than Gramps, so together they were a really safe team. He drove and she told him when there were kids or puppies in the road. If that’s not scary enough, consider that Grandpa didn’t hear so well either.
As Gramps approached his 85th birthday, I took him to see Doctor Seymour, our family optometrist, and explained our dilemma. She completed the exam and explained that Grandpa was 20/60 in his best eye, which restricted him to driving in daylight, and only within 25 miles of home. I made a facial gesture that let the young doctor know I didn’t think Gramps should be behind the wheel at all.
“Mr. Wright, I don’t make the laws,” she proclaimed in a tone devoid of empathy.
“I understand, Doctor,” I replied. “You know, Gramps has a lot of free time. I’m sure he’d be happy to drive you to and from work each day.” She declined.
So, for another two years, Gramps drove his 1988 Cadillac Seville to Dan’s Market, Small Mart, and St. Mary’s Church. You’d have thought that pink behemoth had flashing lights and the word “Ambulance” painted on it, the way the other drivers in Smalltown scattered to get out of its way.
Gramps seemed to see numbers more easily than letters. One Monday morning, he was driving his sweetheart, my grandmother, Mabel, to SmallMart when he was pulled over by Howard Smith, Smalltown’s finest (and only).
“Mr. Wright, do you know why I’ve pulled you over today?” Howard asked.
“Who do I look like, Carnac the Magnificent?” Grandpa sputtered.
“I clocked you at 5 miles per hour. I wondered if you were alright.
“I was doin’ the speed limit, Howard. The sign by Amy’s Diner says 5 miles per hour, and that’s what I was doin’.”
Howard removed his Smokey the Bear hat and chuckled. “The sign says 5 miles to Jeffersonville, Mr. Wright.”
“I’m not headed to Jeffersonville, so why are you tellin’ me that?” Gramps grumbled.
Officer Smith rolled his eyes and threw both hands in the air. “Just thought you’d like to know,” he lied. “Have a good day, and be careful.”
Not a week passed before Officer Smith had Gramps pulled over again. “Mr. Wright, you were doing 35 miles per hour in a 25 zone.”
“Howard, the sign back there said 35; I know it did.”
“Mr. Wright, that’s an advertisement for rooms at the Sleep E-Z Motel—they start at $35 a night.”
“We don’t need a room, Howard. Mabel and I live just around the corner. You think we’re kinky, or what?” Grandpa replied.
Officer Smith just shook his head. “Alright, Mr. Wright, I’ll let it slide this time. Just pay attention to the signs, okay?”
Two weeks later, Howard was parked behind the pink Cadillac again, blue lights flashing. As he leaned in to speak to Gramps, he noticed my grandmother looked quite distraught. Her blue hair was windblown, her face ashen, and her white knuckles were seemingly glued to the dashboard.
“Are you alright, Mrs. Wright?” Howard asked.
“She replied in a shaky voice. “Ya . . . Yes, Howard. Just a little scared. We just turned off Route 105!”