It’s Wednesday and I’m in my cubicle at work when the phone rings and a little old lady bursts onto the line with, “I got in an accident and I don’t know what to do, but the young man that hit me just called someone.”
“Mom, are you all right? That’s the most important thing.”
“Yes, I’m all right. What do I do now?”
“I assume the young man called the police, so you just have to sit tight until they arrive.”
“Should I call my insurance agent and file a claim? I think I have his number somewhere. It’s Mike Mitchell. Can you look it up for me if I can’t find it? Oh I know it’s here somewhere–.”
I’ve found the number on the Internet when she says, “I got it.” Then I hear an authoritative voice in the background: “Mrs. Peterson?” and she hangs up.
A half hour later, the phone rings and the little old lady busts on with, “Can you stop by after work with a tarp? I don’t want the trunk to get all wet. Okay, bye.”
Four hours later, the phone rings and she says, “I’m sorry to be a bother again, but Mike recommended a place I’ve not heard of for fixing the car. But the car is leased from Graff, so maybe I should take it to Graff. What do you think I should do? I’m thinking–.” And she goes on to tell me what she’s thinking and asks if I can drive her around this weekend.
“I’m going to see Dad at some point,” I tell her, “but other than that, I’m sure I can get you to get groceries or what not. However, I suspect you won’t like not having a car.”
“Well, I’d like to rent a car but the insurance only picks up $16 a day and I know it’s going to cost more than that.”
I tell her I’ll help her pay for it, and she says she doesn’t want my help. I sigh and say I have to get back to work, that I will call before I come over.
And it’s a good thing I did call ahead, because when I did, the little old lady says, “Because they’re still repaving the road into my condo and I can’t park in my garage, I took the car to Ray and Nancy’s house. It’s in their garage. That way it’s safe and it won’t get wet. I had to walk all the way home from their house, then got part way home and realized I hadn’t left them any keys in case they needed to move the car, so had to walk all the way back.”
“That’s impressive, Mom. Good thing you’re in good shape. Um, one question: that truck that rear-ended you–did you see it coming?”
“I was just sitting at the light when it hit me, so I guess not.”
“That’s good. That means you didn’t tense up and hopefully won’t feel whiplash tomorrow. I’ll talk to you tomorrow to check in on you.”
I grab a beer from the fridge and go about my evening tending to a dozen fuzzy animals, hardly noticing the beer isn’t very cold.
The next morning I am at work and the little old lady is on the phone again telling me she feels fine and would I come get her, take her to Ray and Nancy’s to get her car and drive it to get it fixed? I tell her I’m off work at 4 and will meet her at 4:15 where the cute road construction guys are, that I expect her to be flirting with them when I pick her up. She says thanks and hangs up.
It’s a twenty minutes drive and she’s standing well away from the workers when I pick her up as scheduled. I harass her about being unsociable to the young men and she says they’re not her type. I drop her off in Ray and Nancy’s driveway and back out into the road and wait. Ray comes out to watch her crank up the car. He stands to the side of the garage and has her turn on each of her lights—brakes and turn signals. He shakes his head. The lights on the car all get dark, Mom gets out of the car, Ray gets into the driver’s seat and he cranks the car up again while Mom checks out the lights on the back of the car. The brake lights are not working. Ray gets out and the two debate for a moment whether it is wise for Mom to drive the car at all. I pull into the driveway, roll down the window, and tell her that I’ll be following her the whole way, that her middle brake light works and I promise not to plow into her. For good measure, I mention that towing her car to where she wants to get it fixed will cost money.
She waves me off like I’m crazy, thanks Ray, gets into the car, and creeps slowly down the driveway. Twenty snail-like minutes later, we’re at the car repair shop. I get out before the little old lady does and notice that the hood on her car is unlatched. I am struggling with finding the latch when a woman with a name tag “Shirley” comes out and assists me. I thank her, and she’s about to head back in to the shop when I tell her that the real reason we were there is because of the back of my mother’s car. Shirley asks the little old lady if she’s okay, that that’s the most important thing, and otherwise oozes niceness as she inspects the damage. She leads us inside, fills out paperwork, and I make the mistake of asking how long the repair might take. Shirley says, “Ideally, two and a half weeks, worst case five weeks, but we’ll do everything to get it before the next holiday”. That’s July 4, about four weeks away. When the little old lady’s face falls I mention renting a car. Shirley gets on the phone with Enterprise.
I pull into the Enterprise parking lot ten minutes later and the little old lady says, “I think I’ll wait until Monday.”
“Mom, Shirley called the young man here to reserve a car for you, so we should at least go inside and tell him we don’t want it until Monday.”
“But it’s not the Enterprise location Mike Mitchell recommended. He recommended the Enterprise in Frandor.”
“Which is across town and way out of our way. This is on the way back to your house.”
She signs loudly and we go inside and wait while two other customers rent cars. When it’s our turn we learn that for about $2 a day plus tax she can have a compact car to drive around.
“I want something bigger,” she says. “I’m used to a Malibu.”
I’m suddenly thinking money isn’t a problem as the young man types into his computer and finds a mid-size car. It costs more like $7.50 a day, plus tax. That means about $9 a day. Mom asks if we can go see one of the mid-size cars and he shows us a Chevy Cobalt and a Kia Sorento. Mom rents the Cobalt for Monday.
On the way to my car, I ask why she didn’t just get it now. She says I don’t understand her situation, so I counter by mentioning that I offered to help pay for the first few days so she has the independence to come and go. She says she doesn’t want my money and that she also doesn’t want the rental sitting outside, that she can’t park it in her garage because of the road work, and what if somebody breaks into it? I drop her off, get home at 6:30, grab a beer and notice the beer isn’t very cold. I turn up the dial on the refrigerator to 7.
The next morning—Friday—the little old lady calls me at work and says, “I changed my mind, I hate being without a car. Can you pick me up after work and take me to Enterprise?”
“Sure, but if you call them now, they’ll come pick you up and you can have a car to use all day.”
“I don’t want to go in there by myself.”
I pick her up where four construction workers are resting in the grass and ask if she’s been flirting with them. She says, “Heavens no, what’s wrong with you?” We drive off to get her car, fill out the paper work and she ends up with the red Kia Sorento instead of the white Cobalt. She gets in and it seems to me that she should raise the seat up a bit to see the hood, and when I mention this she says she doesn’t need to see the hood to drive the car. She tells me to get in and that we were going for a short ride. It’s a ride creeping around the parking lot. She drives me to my car, says thanks and “wish me luck.” I leave her $40 to pay for the first 4 days. She tries to hand it back to me and I tell her that occasionally, I get to be more stubborn than her.
I get into my car and go out the parking lot to the right as she heads to the left. I reach a nearby traffic light and am glad it’s red so that I can watch the little old lady in the little red car turn left onto a fairly busy road. I sigh with relief when she makes it safely into traffic. I arrive home at 6 and notice the beer isn’t any colder than the day before. But I have no energy to do anything about it.
That night, a storm comes through and rips tree limbs down all over our yard. Mark and I fill 17 bags with tree debris from the lawn and two bags of debris from the roof, use a chainsaw on the biggest branches, stack wood, and clean out the gutters. The wind blows again Saturday night and we ignore the scatterings of new tree debris and instead, spend Sunday with my father in Grand Rapids. Sunday evening, on a regularly scheduled chat with my sister, brother and me, the little old lady does not even mention getting rear-ended earlier in the week, or the fact that she’s driving a little red rental.
It is Monday and I wake to discover I’m not so young any more, that 19 bags of lawn debris does not bode well on a body that sits Monday through Friday in a soft chair. My arm is screaming in pain and the aspirin I took at 2 a.m. is rotting my stomach. I take the day off, and go into work the next day to find a message: “I have a question about the car.” I call and the little old lady doesn’t answer. I call again in the evening and she tells me she had her car towed from the first car repair shop to another car repair shop. I ask why. She says that Graff said it would take 5 weeks, that Mike Mitchell recommended the other place anyway, and that the guy working at the other place is a really nice guy, and that they’d have the car done in probably three weeks. I mention that Shirley thought that they’d get hers done in two and a half weeks if the parts were readily available and Mom says that Shirley said five weeks, and I bite my tongue. I tell her that I admit I don’t understand her situation.
There’s a pause in our conversation before she asks what else is new. I cannot think of a thing even though just a half hour before, Mark and I had caught a baby mouse that had been running around one of our bedrooms, released it outside and watched it hop-run happily back into our garage. The little old lady says that she got three batteries and asks if I’ll stop by some time. I draw another blank. She reminds me I got her a motion-sensor night light two months ago, that I had forgotten to get batteries and she’s finally gotten some herself? I want to tell her that installing batteries in that is easy, but I know that’s not the point. I tell her I will stop by some time.
I’m feeling empty and stupid, so beg off, hang up and report to Mark that I have discovered the derivation of my stubbornness and occasional illogic. As I reach for a beer, I tell him that I’m glad he still loves me. And that the beer still isn’t very cold. Like not as cold as yesterday.
We pull the refrigerator away from the wall and vacuum two cat’s worth of fur from behind it and under it, hoping that will make it right again and knowing it will not. I take most of the stuff out of the freezer and put it in the giant freezer in the garage. I have removed the drippy creamcicles and am about to toss the soggy carton of ice cream when Mark says I can’t throw that out because ‘How else will we know when it starts working right?”
“My beer will be cold?”
I shrug and leave the ice cream inside to get mushier, head out to walk the dogs and see another of our tree limbs bent awkwardly over the road in need of chopping. As I walk away with my two happy-go-lucky dogs at my side, I find myself wondering how many more tree limbs I’ll have to whack, whether I’ll be shopping for a new refrigerator tomorrow, how soon we’ll see that baby mouse inside the house again, and whether the little old lady will call to say that she wants me to go with her to trade in her little red rental for something in a different color. Or maybe one with a seat that allows her to see the hood.