From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Mum and the Volkswagen

I didn’t know how to tell her I was buying an old Volkswagen convertible—Mum, who had survived the Great Depression, and whose number-one edict was, “Save every penny you can, you never know when you might need it.” I was sure owning a convertible in the North, let alone a second car, would seem most excessive by her standards.

When my mother’s health had failed dramatically, I’d moved in to tend to her during her final years. I became the parochial Catholic child again. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt my mother or anything that might provoke her disapproval. Spending money “frivolously” on a VW convertible that I didn’t need but only wanted—she would certainly purse her lips, at least mentally.

But this time, I just didn’t care. A friend had found a bargain and I wanted this car. I hadn’t figured out how I’d tell her, but somehow I would live with the consequences. I was forty-one years old. I had the right to spend my money the way I chose. Why did I still need the approval of the woman I called “Mum”? Why at my age could I still not challenge her or cause her disappointment? I had no answers, but I was buying the car and that was that. And I did.

I drove home in my little VW with the top down and parked it squarely in the drive. I stepped into the house gingerly and said, “Come on, Mum, I did something extravagant, and you’re going to love it!” Inside I was churning. I helped her out of her chair, put my arm around her frail little body, supporting her for balance as we walked to the door.

“Oh my Lord . . . ,” she paused.

Here it comes, I thought, steeling myself.

“What a cute little jalopy! Can we go for a ride?” She spoke breathlessly, her failing heart unable to cope with the burden of her obvious excitement.

I was smooth. I behaved as if all along I just knew she’d be thrilled by it. Inside I couldn’t believe my ears. Can we go for a ride? Whose wee voice was that? Not my mother’s— it couldn’t have been. But outside I calmly said, “Let’s bundle you up. It’ll be chilly with the air blowing on you,” and we retreated inside.

She was hooked after the first mile. “Oh, doesn’t this make you feel young?”

In my mind’s eye, I saw her: a truly beautiful young woman, not a fragile, ailing seventy-six-year-old. It was easy for me to respond to her, “Young we are, Mum. Young we are.”

That first week I purchased a heated lap blanket that plugged into the lighter. I would bundle Mum up and toss the blanket over her, and we’d be off. It became quite a ritual. As we backed from the driveway, her words were always the same, not because her mind was fading but out of sheer fun.

“What a great contraption this is,” she’d say with a smile in her voice.

My reply was always the same, “You mean the blanket?”

“No silly, this baby car. It makes me feel so alive.”

Oftentimes when the weather was dreary or it appeared too chilly, I would head us toward the every-season car and she’d say, “Can’t we take the baby car?”

My response was always, “Sure, why not?”

Climbing into that little rig enriched the last two years of our lives together. We would exchange our ritual words, and then we would take off, not always going far and not always talking much, but always together in the kindred knowledge of shared pleasure. We would crank up the tunes and laugh together like a couple of teenagers. When autumn approached, she was as sad as I was when the New England weather would change and it was time to store the VW.

Now my first and last ride of the convertible season is always taken alone. I drop the ragtop and head out hearing her words in the air beside me: “What a great contraption this is. . . .”

The summer months begin and end with only her spirit along for the ride, sharing my joy and freedom of the open air. I head for the same destination spring and fall, year after year. A pink rose rides in the passenger seat where my Mum once did. When I arrive and open the door, I feel an odd sense of loneliness combined with an overwhelming love that time has not diminished. We chat for a while and when I leave, the pink rose rests gently at her headstone.

Driving off, my words are whispered into the wind, and they are always the same, “I miss you, Mum.”

Dorothy Raymond Gilchrest

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