It’s A Nice Car Driven By A Little Old Lady

fullsizeoutput_214b

Today is the day

On my way to Portsmouth, NH, the Lexus RX SUV I have been driving (Dad’s car) officially crossed into the land of 100,000 miles.

fullsizeoutput_1e7b

After I received my master’s degree, I had the opportunity to work in hospitals as far north as Vermont and as far south as West Virginia. Whenever I moved, dad would always encourage me to find a good auto mechanic in case anything ever happened to the car. “You need someone you can trust,” he told me “and if you do, and they’re good, you can keep driving that car”. 

Did I listen to him? – No. I didn’t find a good mechanic. Instead, I found the best pizza restaurant and the best Chinese food delivery service along with the best restaurants and theaters. 

No, I did not seek or locate an automotive mechanic. 

At the time dad gave me his automotive recommendations,  I had a really cute little Honda Civic sedan that I loved.  When I moved to Vermont, I went with him to trade it in for a Toyota Camry as he wanted to know I was in a bigger, safer car.  When the Camry was totaled (after I was hit on route 95 just north of New Haven, CT), it was time for us to go exploring for yet another car. 

Because I had a really great job, I could afford a better car on my own so I asked my dad to accompany me while I test drove every car I have ever wanted to drive or own in my life. And like the good sport that he was, he took it all in stride and came with me.  We drove Honda’s, a VW Jetta and yes, I even subjected him to a really cool Jeep Wrangler; no, not a hardtop, the one with the side windows that you could unzip during the hot summer months when a drive to the Cape was in order. 

The last car we drove was a brand new, bright red, Acura Integra which we found at Acura of Newport.  Once I started driving it, I was smitten.  I told him – “I LOVE this car!” as we drove and drove all around Newport. We were at the tip of Ocean Drive when he said to me “You know, we’re going to have to take this car back to the dealership right?”

“Why?” I asked him, jokingly – as we continued driving past the mansions along the drive and then toward Bellevue Avenue. Did I tell you I loved the car?

“You have to pay for it”, he said. 

When we returned to the dealership, we negotiated the cost of the car and then I thought that because I had driven the red one for so many miles (and because red cars tend to get pulled over a lot), we purchased a nice navy blue Integra instead. More conservative; less likely to be pulled over.

Every car I drove from that point on was an Acura – some of them were owned, many of them were leased but I absolutely loved driving them. I also loved the fact that they had everything already in them when you picked them up: a nice sunroof, heated seats for those cold, late nights coming home from the hospital, space for my bike, a great sound system, the way they hugged the road when you drove them and the fact that the mileage was really, really good. The other thing I loved about them is that you could talk to anyone on your phone through the sound system of your car just by pressing the small black button on the steering wheel as you drove. If I was listening to music, it would be immediately disrupted by the call coming in with information about who was calling displayed on the screen in front of me.

The last Acura I had was a white “Bellanova pearl”  ILX – very beautiful (and very fun to drive).

10662133_326622957509930_1908189370680414751_o
Acura ILX (Bellanova Pearl)

I arrived in Florida in September of 2014 (when this picture above was taken).

Sadly, Dad died after his long battle with cancer a month after I arrived at which point mom’s memory declined severely. As we adjusted, she and I realized that it was better for her not to drive. We also decided that it would be better to reduce the number of cars we had. Because the Acura was leased and the Lexus was fully paid off, the Acura was the one we (okay – Mom) decided to let go of (honestly, I wasn’t ready to let it go as it was such a beautiful car). The fact that it was a newer lease also made the decision difficult. But we also knew we needed to be practical with our decisions.

In trying to figure out the best solution, I knew it was better to be honest and open about our situation. So I drove to the Acura dealership in Sarasota, told them that dad had died and I would be caring for my mom and that we only needed one car as mom was not driving and asked if they could help.

The dealership was immensely supportive and purchased the car back from me. Their customer service and management was nothing short of phenomenal (which is also another reason I always went right back to Acura whenever I needed a car – their customer service is phenomenal). 

After they purchased the car, mom and I resorted to cruising around in dad’s Lexus which (at the time) only had about 60,000 miles on it. 

Mom was pleased with this low mileage and used to tell everyone “it’s a nice car driven by a little old lady who never takes it anywhere”.  If you knew my mom, a very analytical, quick-witted and astute retired ER Nurse, you would know the term “little old lady” was not quite the way people described her.  But as her memory was fading and her steps were not as lively as they had been previously, our pace did slow down a lot. 

If we drove around the neighborhood, we would usually use our golf cart. And we only used the Lexus when going to doctor’s appointments, to the grocery store or out for lunch. After some surgery on her legs, she would also start using her cane more frequently and would often have trouble navigating the high step into the Lexus.

After 3 years in Florida, I was offered a job in New Hampshire and mom and I decided to return home to New England. She found a nice apartment in an assisted living place close to our friends in Rhode Island so we packed our belongings in the Lexus and headed north. While it was a fast trip, driving with mom (and our cats – Nate, Callie, and Trey in their carriers in the back seat), was a fun ride. Mom had wanted to go slower so we could stop and see friends along the way but because I could not defer orientation with the new job, we only had three days to get “home” to New England. 

Once we arrived, mom settled in to her assisted living place while I continued on to New Hampshire to start my new job.

As I relocated to my new city of Manchester, I thought again about what my dad had told me: “Make sure you find a really good auto mechanic”.

And yep, again, I didn’t listen.

It was during the second week of orientation at my new job that the transmission of the Lexus (which had been repaired a month-ish earlier in Florida before we left) decided to stop working. When the light went on, I found the nearest automotive repair place closest to me (using AAA) and drove to see if they could help. I immediately assumed this was going to be a very arduous and expensive endeavor which would cause me to miss a full day of orientation.

But what actually happened was that I walked into a really good automotive repair shop that not only agreed to repair the car, the mechanic also drove me to work so I ended up missing only 5 minutes of orientation instead of a full day.

And as the subsequent months progressed, the guys at AutoCare Plus not only fixed the transmission, they also changed the oil and told me what the best tires would be to put on the car so that I would have no problems driving between New Hampshire and Rhode Island so I could spend every weekend with mom. If I ever had any glitch with the car, I would take it to them and they would explain everything from what needed to be done, to their recommendations and the cost. I trusted them and they did really great work.

In the 2 hours and 6 minutes it took for me to get to mom’s apartment from New Hampshire, I frequently would sense the “I told you so!” coming from my dad as I drove, feeling safe in the knowledge that everything that needed to be done with the car was done.

6 months after relocating home to Rhode Island, mom passed away. I spent the next month packing, donating and subsequently moving everything out of her apartment. Having such a large car was a blessing, but the more I drove it, the more I thought it was too big for me and time to go back to driving a smaller car.

At the same time, I also realized that the car has some great memories, is in very good shape and is completely paid off so, since that time, I have continued to drive it. And while I miss not being able to press a button and talk to my friends from a button on the steering wheel, I have come to enjoy the quiet rides and beautiful scenery along the New England roads whenever I am driving.

When I first arrived in Florida, the car (which at the time was 10 years old) had 60,000 miles on it and because mom and dad were so proud of this, I tried to go easy with adding additional mileage to the car, so going over the 100,000 mile mark as I did yesterday, has been quite an occasion filled with good memories of conversations in the car along the way and the benefits of the message that dad always tried to convey that I finally did listen to – “Find a good auto mechanic whenever you move to a new town”.

Thanks Dad; message received.

The Cats Are Alright

fullsizeoutput_155

This is Nate. He’s my guy, named after the author Nathaniel Hawthorne. For the last threeish years, Nate and I had been living with my mom in Florida and taking care of her. She had two cats of her own, Trey and Callie (pictured below).  Trey is the oldest, a Maine Coon cat who thinks he owns the world, Callie is a little diva (who’s a year younger than Nate) and then Nate, who sort of has a personality of his own and is probably one of the most affectionate cats you will ever meet. He is a master at headbonking.

Mom and I had made a deal that if I found a new career endeavor in New England, she would move back with me as she wanted to see her friends and watch the leaves change in the Fall. Hearing her discuss this made my job search more focused as I wanted this wish to come true for her.

A few months later, I was hired and we made plans to move. Initially, she wanted to live with me but then decided that it would be better for her to be in an assisted living place closer to her friends in our hometown. I decided I would stay in the town where my new job was and then commute back and forth to visit her on the weekends.

Originally, because it was only a few days, I left Nate at home to guard the fort on the weekends I would visit her. But as mom became iller and I was spending more time with her, I decided to keep Nate with me. Together, we would drive to and from Mom’s normally listening to books on tape or podcasts along the way. He seemed to be a lot more relaxed everytime we listened to “This American Life” so it became a thing.

From our visits and conversations during the week, I thought mom was getting better. This thought was short lived however as, on a Friday when I spoke with her, I heard her coughing and realized this wasn’t the case and that the pneumonia she had developed was still present. I decided that Nate and I would head out earlier than we usually do the next morning and also called the staff and asked them to check on her that Friday night.

Early on Saturday morning, her nurse called to tell me that when she had arrived to give mom her medications, she had died.

It was news I never hoped (and wasn’t ready) to hear.

After making calls and asking for help from a friend, Nate and I got in the car and headed south to mom’s.

The next month was a foggy blur as I emptied out mom’s apartment while taking time to have a few big ugly cries as I wasn’t ready for her to leave.  And while Nate and I spent time getting things together, Callie and Trey were definitely struggling.

fullsizeoutput_19b
S.A.Leys / Take Paws Photography

Callie is a rescue cat (her story is here). A beautiful and also very affectionate little girl who had a tendency to sleep with mom on her pillow above her head. Mom would go to bed and she would tell me “the next thing I know, Callie’s on the pillow kneading before settling down and purring while finding her comfortable spot to spend the night”.

And because she was a girl, every time one of the guys got close to her, she would growl wanting to make sure she had her space and her “mom time”.

screen - 147
S.A.Leys / Take Paws Photography

Trey was the master of the house. He was “mom’s cat” and had been part of our family for several years. Even before they settled in Florida full time, Trey had traveled with them back and forth to Rhode Island. At one point, during one of their flights, she had opened his carrier to pet him during a layover at Dulles International when he decided to push by her hand and take a nice long walk along the concourse.

Mom, not wanting to scare him, followed him from behind until she could finally get close enough to grab him. Hearing her tell the story was hilarious and Trey had many events like this but usually did really well between living in Florida during the winters and on their boat with them during the summer.

But when mom died, he was lost. And while I knew that cats grieve when their owners die, I never realized how bad this grief process could be until I watched Trey for several days after her death.

The morning I arrived, mom had died but was still in her bed. What was reassuring to me was that she looked the way she always had whenever I arrived early in the morning; resting quietly looking content.

Trey was lying across the doorway to her room. It almost seemed like he didn’t want anyone to enter and didn’t want her to leave. And he didn’t move – as the nurse, and subsequently, the funeral home director went into and out of the room, he stayed exactly where he was – lying fully sprawled out, blocking the doorway, watching everything.

When the funeral home director came back with the gurney, I picked Trey up and took him to mom’s chair in the living room. I think he liked that he could still smell her presence so he stayed there… watching everything like a hawk with those big Maine Coon Cat eyes of his.

Callie, initially had hid under the bed but then followed us into the living room where her “people” were.

The following days were the worst as Trey and Callie realized that mom was no longer there. I’d watch as Trey jumped from the top of her bureau (where the clothes she had worn most recently were still in a pile) and then to her bed; he was clearly looking for her. Callie had settled into the floor of her closet where she slept on top of her shoes.

A day later, it was early in the morning when I decided to take a shower. I had closed the door when I could hear the feverish scratching of paws against the door and loud yowling. When I turned the shower off, I grabbed a towel and opened the door to see Trey – it was like you could actually see the sad, disheartened, “oh, it’s only you” look on his face.

A few days later, my brother arrived. Together we discussed Callie and Trey and keeping them together or separating them. Because Trey had been the only cat my parents had had for several years before rescuing Callie, we decided that Trey would go back to Florida with Scott and Callie would move in with Nate and I as they seemed to get along pretty well.

The next few weeks also seemed trying for Callie and Trey as furniture was donated (along with antiques and books and other belongings). What had been their home had transitioned to suitcases, duffel bags, and boxes which subsequently were taken to different places. The emptier the room became, the more confused they all appeared to be.

Because of this transition and the grief they had, I paid a lot more attention to what I was doing and made sure that we developed as consistent a routine as possible for them regarding spending time together, feeding and bedtime. I also made sure that some of mom’s clothes were available for Trey to lie down on.

On the last day, I put Callie and Nate in their carriers and took them to my car. Trey and I were the last ones to leave mom’s room. I made sure we had a conversation and a prayer about mom watching over us in heaven and then thanking Trey for being so brave before we closed the door behind us.

A few weeks later Scott returned to take Trey home with him. Watching them together going through security at the airport, I knew that both Trey (and Scott) would be happier together but I cried as I watched them leave.  Trey had endured probably one of the toughest times in his life but I knew he would be happier having all of Scott’s affection to himself and being in warm, sunny Florida where he could watch the birds play outside while watching the world go by.

And Callie and Nate have settled in well together here in our home – adjusting to their new place.

Grief is hard; but the cats are alright.