Driven To Distraction
In the aftermath of my Mother’s death, while awaiting her memorial service, my wife reported that problems had cropped up in her family. My wife’s father has lived in a retirement home in Mississauga for 7 years. A widower, he is hale and hardy, and unlike my own father, extremely capable in the kitchen, but now chooses to have his meals prepared in a central dining room. Other than that, he is completely independent, still belongs to a golf club at the age of 88 and – most importantly – still drives his big white Cadillac. He loves his car and is a superb driver, one of the few residents his age still behind the wheel. Which makes him a popular guy. He ferries friends to doctor and dental appointments, and pops into Toronto regularly for his own doctor appointments and to visit his two daughters and grandchildren. It would be almost impossible to imagine my father-in-law without his license.
But at his age, he knows his driving days are numbered. He has an eye test and a written ‘rules of the road’ test every two years and lives in constant fear of having his license pulled as a result of failing. It’s not the written test that worries him. It’s the vision test. And after his recent second cataract surgery, it appeared that his time had finally come. He has developed a retinal problem that has made reading very small letters, like on street signs, problematic. And the vision test itself, to keep his license, consists of exactly that – reading very small letters. That’s it. No assessment of his mental faculties (excellent), his reflexes (fine), or his flawless driving record, which has never yielded him so much as a speeding ticket in 70 years. It had all come down to one small line of letters. And on his follow up visit to the specialist who had performed his cataract surgery, he didn’t do so well. That surgeon suggested that his eyes, even with new glasses, were probably not up to the vision test. My father-in-law would, in all odds, fail.
My wife says that in all the years she has known her dad, that prognosis dispirited him more than anything else. At our Thanksgiving brunch, he put on a brave face, but was clearly dreading the test, and admitted to spending every moment he could hopping into his Caddy and just… driving. He spoke about wanting one last road trip, one last great spin down the 400 series highways, which he drives regularly with confidence. But should he fail his eye test, he feared that the notice in the mail, requesting he turn in his license, would come too soon afterwards to allow any road trips.
My wife and I were torn. We don’t want her father driving past the point where it’s no longer safe. Neither does he. But both of us, and, most importantly, my father-in-law, still believe he is a safe driver, safer, in fact, due to his experience and caution, than many other younger drivers on the road.
The night before the test, he called my wife. He had a bad cold and joked that maybe the examiner would take pity on him. My wife urged him to cancel and rebook. But my father-in-law went anyway. In the waiting room, he told us, he was shocked that he could hear the other old folks reading out the line of letters – always the same one – over and over again – through the closed door. In desperation, he memorized them, and briefly contemplated cheating. But this is a guy that has never cheated at anything in his entire life.
As it turned out, he didn’t need to. Whether the lines were bigger than he had imagined, or his eye specialist had been needlessly alarmist, he read the line of letters without difficulty. And then he aced the written test. His spirits were flying as he reported the results. He could drive his beloved white Caddy for another two whole years – without fear of someone taking it away from. The relief in his voice was palpable.
So was his joy.