“Where’s the choke?” asked my grandmother, eyes gazing at the dashboard in confusion. She leaned back and looked down at her feet. “And your car is missing a pedal. Shouldn’t there be three?”
Grandma sat in the driver’s seat of my mother’s car, adjusting the way she sat, reaching out to touch each button, peering at all the digital readouts. I had borrowed the car from my mother for the day to help Grandma run errands. My mother didn’t need to know that “running errands” was Grandma’s code for secret driving lessons. I glanced sideways at my student driver. Seventy-five years old, one week a widow, her chin jutting out, determined to take control of her life.
What had I gotten myself into?
“It’s an automatic transmission. It doesn’t have a clutch pedal and I’m not even sure what a choke is, but I don’t think this car has one.”
“Cars sure have changed since I learned to drive the first time. You’ll have to start from the beginning.” She sat back in the driver’s seat and folded her hands in her lap.
“You already know how to drive? That’s good. So, this is just a refresher course. When was the last time you were behind the wheel?”
“What? It can’t be that different!”
“Grandma, the last time you drove was two years before my mother was born! That’s thirty-eight years before I was born. That’s fifty-seven years ago. I wouldn’t even know what was different!”
“You’re quick at math, darling,” Grandma said.
“Thank you. It’s simple arithmetic and I’m a nineteen-year-old university student. But, thanks.”
Grandma patted my cheek as if I was 6 years old and was showing off what I learned in first grade.
It was going to be a long week.
We spent a while talking about how cars had changed. She explained how she learned to drive in an AMC Rambler with standard transmission and a manual choke, which was a thing that changed the fuel/air mixture. This was important if you were trying to start the car in the cold. Then, when the car warmed up, you’d adjust it again. For a person who hadn’t driven in over fifty years, she seemed to know a lot about the theory of internal combustion engines. I told her I assumed cars had computer-controlled choke functions now. I didn’t actually know if what I was saying was true, but didn’t want to admit how little I knew about cars. To make up for my basic ignorance, I told her that this model had cruise control and explained what that meant.
“They may as well drive themselves!” she said.
“They’re working on that.”
“Are you even sure the state will give you a driver’s license at your age?” I asked.
“I have a license. Every four years since 1964, I have renewed it. I just haven’t driven since then. It was practical to keep the license current to use as ID.”
“But wouldn’t it also have been practical to keep your driving skills current?”
“Your grandfather preferred to drive and we only ever owned one car.”
“I suppose that makes sense.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Grandma said, banging her palm on the steering wheel and accidentally turning on the windshield wipers. “It makes no sense at all. Your grandfather had a lot of dumb ideas that I went along with. And now, he’s gone and I have a car I can’t drive, a checkbook I can’t balance, and a garage full of power tools I don’t know how to use, even if I wanted to, which I don’t.”
I covered her hand with mine. She sighed, then turned to smile at me.
“I’ll be fine,” she assured me.
“Yes, you will. Let’s do the driving lessons first and then I’ll show you how to balance a checkbook. Dad taught me last year. After that, I’ll show you how to sell the power tools online.”
A bark of laughter escaped from her.
“I just got a vision of what your grandfather would go through had I died first.”
“And it was funny?”
“Hysterical. He’d be sitting in the dining room, eating raw food, and the sink would be full of dishes because he never learned to use the stove or the dishwasher. He’d be wearing dirty clothes because the washer and dryer would be a mystery to him. Or worse, he’d be wandering around naked, wondering where I kept his clothes.”
“TMI,” I said.
“Too much information,” I elaborated.
“Sorry.” Grandma smiled. “I think I’m ready to learn to drive now.”
Five months later, I rang the doorbell at Grandma’s house. She grinned when she saw me.
“Come on out back. I’m mowing the lawn.”
“You are? Did you figure out how to use the mower?”
“No. I sold it on eBay and bought a robotic mower. I’m drinking iced tea, reading a book, and watching it roam around the yard.”
© 2021 Liza Cameron Wasser