Though many feel it’s time for my eighty-nine-year-old Great Aunt Thelma to sell her house and twenty-five acres, she feels otherwise.
“As long as the Good Lord gives me the strength to get out of bed and fix breakfast, I’m stayin’ put,” she says.
She and my Great Uncle Avery built the two-over-two farmhouse back in ’49 right after they were married. Together they raised three boys and two girls in that white clapboard haven—a feat impossible by today’s standards. Where would one set up the computer games, stereo equipment, televisions, and other technological trimmings?
Ever since Uncle Avery passed away back in ’86, Aunt Thelma’s pride and stubborn streak have kept her from selling the place and downsizing.
It was at a recent family get-together that she dropped a bomb that created more of a stir than one of those cherry bombs Cousin Ted picks up at South of the Border.
“Which one of you darlin’s is gonna take your ol’ Aunt Thelma to get her driver’s license renewed?” she asked.
Cousin Jim choked on his potato salad. Nana Taylor dropped her Styrofoam cup of lemonade. Elton Beasley, Cousin Kimberly’s husband, said “darn” under his breath. And he’s a Baptist deacon.
Aunt Beulah responded, as always, in a high-pitched voice on the edge of hysteria.
“You’re eighty-nine years old,” she squealed.
“I might be old,” Aunt Thelma responded. “But I still know red means stop and green means go.”
“If you need to go somewhere, one of us will take you,” Aunt Beulah demanded.
“And that’s just what I’m doing,” she responded. “I’m asking for someone to take me to renew my license. “Langden, you’ll take me, won’t you?”
What? I felt as though I was having one of those nightmares where you’re standing in front of the class giving a book report on “The Red Badge of Courage” when you suddenly notice you’re wearing only underwear. All eyes were on me. I blinked hard to wake up, but when I opened my eyes, all my relatives were still seated in lawn chairs holding paper plates full of food and waiting for my response. This was no dream.
“Uh, I’m pretty busy,” I muttered.
“Great,” Aunt Thelma responded. “We’ll go next Friday.”
There was little or no response from the family. Why did I feel so ill? I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was an innocent bystander. I was merely taking my 89-year-old great aunt to renew her driver’s license. How could I convince the entire state of Virginia to stay off the road for the next year or two while she maneuvered her ’63 Delta 88 Oldsmobile around the area?
Why couldn’t she just fill her time with crocheting afghans, listening to The Trading Post on WFLO, and watching The Young and Restless? No, she would rather give Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a run for his money.
Friday morning came quickly. I pulled into Aunt Thelma’s driveway around quarter to nine. Looking as though she were dressed for church in her hat and white gloves, she was already waiting on her front porch and probably had been since the sun rose. I got out the car and went around to the passenger side.
“Good morning, Aunt Thelma,” I said.
“Good mornin’, Honey,” she responded. “Fifteen minutes early. I like that.”
I opened the door and she slowly got into the car. I helped her with her seat belt, closed the door, and off we went as I prayed silently to myself.
The first hurdle was the written test. Aunt Thelma took a seat between a young girl with blue hair and a young man with a pierced eyebrow. Far from a Norman Rockwell painting.
She was the last to finish. I felt a bit guilty. I wanted her to pass with flying colors, but, on the other hand, I knew it would mean she would soon be driving on the same roads as I drive.
Then came the driving test. Her instructor was a bit apprehensive when he discovered it would be Aunt Thelma and not me getting behind the wheel. With only a slight jerk, the car moved forward. I watched and didn’t watch. I prayed for and against. I breathed and didn’t breathe. And when she finished with a perfect parallel parking exhibition, I knew somebody was going to be baking a cake with Congratulations Thelma! on it.
Sure enough, she received a perfect score on both her written and driving test. She adjusted her Sunday-go-to-meeting hat, took her seat in front of the camera, smiled victoriously and had her photo snapped.
As I drove her home, there was little conversation. Her white gloved hands delicately held her new driver’s license as we listened to a Christian radio station. I pulled into her driveway, turned off the car and walked Aunt Thelma to her door. She opened it and then turned to me.
“Langden,” she said. “I sure do appreciate you takin’ me to get my license. There’s just one more thing I want you to do for me.”
If she asks me to get her a pair of roller blades, I was going to have to put my foot down.
“Now take this,” she said as she handed me her driver’s license. “I want you to cut it up and toss it in the trash.”
“But I don’t understand,” I said.
“I never had any intention of riskin’ my life out there on the road. There are too many crazies behind the wheel today. I just wanted to prove to myself I still had it in me to pass my driver’s test one more time.
“Wow, Aunt Thelma. You’re amazing.”
“It’s funny,” she said thoughtfully. “When you’re my age, there’s a mighty fine line between “amazing” and “foolish.” The key to living a long life is knowing the difference between the two and always coming out looking more amazing than foolish. In other words, I am amazing because I still have what it takes to pass a driver’s test, but I’m not foolish enough to think I can still clean out my own gutters.”
After my Great Aunt Thelma’s accomplishment, she decided to keep living in her 1949 farmhouse and catch a ride with friends and family when necessary. As for her gutters, a couple of us are going over next Saturday to clean them out. Yep, she’s one amazing lady.