Article by Marilyn about Dad edited by Richard Parks.  070412


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This story was sent in by Marilyn and was edited for space.  It has a
nice biographical structure, one we should all
copy and create our own story to leave to our children.

My father never drove a car. Well, that's not quite right. I should say I
never saw him drive a car. He quit driving
in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926
Whippet.  "In those days," he told me
when he was in his 90s, "to drive a car you had to do things with your
hands, and do things with your feet, and
look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy
it or drive through life and miss it."
At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in: "Oh,
bull----!" she said. "He hit a horse."
"Well," my father said, "there was that, too."  So my brother and I grew
up in a household without a car. The
neighbors all had cars -- the Kollingses next door had a green 1941
Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the
street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford
-- but we had none.  My father,
a newspaperman in Des Moines , would take the streetcar to work and,
often as not, walk the 3 miles home.  If
he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the
three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet
him and walk home together.  My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I
was born in 1938, and sometimes, at
dinner, we'd ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. "No
one in the family drives," my mother
would explain, and that was that. But, sometimes, my father would say,
"But as soon as one of you boys turns 16,
we'll get one."  It was as if he wasn't sure which one of us would turn
16 first.  But, sure enough, my brother turned
16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from
a friend who ran the parts department
at a Chevy dealership downtown. It was a four-door, white model, stick
shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything,
and, since my parents didn't drive, it more or less became my brother's
car.  Having a car but not being able to drive
didn't bother my father, but it didn't make sense to my mother. So in
1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked
a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the
place where I learned to drive the following
year and where, and a generation later, I took my two sons to practice
driving.  The cemetery probably was my
father's idea.  "Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?" I remember
him saying once.  For the next 45 years or
so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she
nor my father had any sense of direction,
but he loaded up on maps -- though they seldom left the city limits --
and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to
work.  Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout
Catholic, and my father an equally devout
agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to bother either of them
through their 75 years of marriage. (Yes, 75 years,
and they were deeply in love the entire time.)  He retired when he was
70, and nearly every morning for the next 20
years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin's Church.
She would walk down and sit in the front pew,
and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish's two
priests was on duty that morning.  If it was the
pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my
mother at the end of the service and walking
her home. If it was the assistant past or, he'd take just a 1-mile walk
and then head back to the church. He called the
priests "Father Fast" and "Father Slow."  After he retired, my father
almost always accompanied my mother whenever
she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were
going to the beauty parlor, he'd sit in the car
and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the
engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game
on the radio.  In the evening, then, when I'd stop by, he'd explain: "The
Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base
made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the
multimillionaire on third base scored."  If she were going to
the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out -- and to make
sure she loaded up on ice cream.  As I said,
he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and
still driving, he said to me, "Do you want
to know the secret of a long life?"  "I guess so," I said, knowing it
probably would be something bizarre.  "No left turns,"
he said.  "What?" I asked.  "No left turns," he repeated. "Several years
ago, your mother and I read an article that said
most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front
of oncoming traffic. As you get older, your
eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So
your mother and I decided never again to make
a left turn."  "What?" I said again.  "No left turns," he said. "Think
about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that's
a lot safer. So we always make three rights."  "You're kidding!" I said,
and I turned to my mother for support.  "No,"
she said, "your father is right. We make three rights. It works." But
then she added: "Except when your father loses
count."  I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I
started laughing. "Loses count?" I asked. "Yes,"
my father admitted, "that sometime s happens. But it's not a problem. You
just make seven rights, and you're okay again."
I couldn't resist. "Do you ever go for 11?" I asked.  "No," he said. " If
we miss it at seven, we just come home and call
it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can't be put
off another day or another week."  My mother was
never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said
she had decided to quit driving. That was
in 1999, when she was 90. She lived four more years, until 2003. My
father died the next year, at 102. They both died
in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later
for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother
and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom -- the house
had never had one. My father would have
died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he
paid for the house.)  He continued to walk
daily -- he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was
afraid he'd fall on the icy sidewalks but
wanted to keep exercising -- and he was of sound mind and sound body
until the moment he died.  One September
afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk
in a neighboring town, and it was clear to
all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual
wide-ranging conversation about politics and news-
papers and things in the news. A few weeks earlier, he had told my son,
"You know, Mike, the first hundred years
are a lot easier than the second hundred." At one point in our drive that
Saturday, he said, "You know, I'm probably
not going to live much longer."  "You're probably right," I said.  "Why
would you say that?" He countered, somewhat
irritated.  "Because you're 102 years old," I said.  "Yes," he said,
"you're right." He stayed in bed all the next day.
That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him
through the night. He appreciated it, he said,
though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said: "I would
like to make an announcement. No one in
this room is dead yet."  An hour or so later, he spoke his last words: "I
want you to know," he said, clearly and
lucidly, "that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as
happy a life as anyone on this earth could
ever have." A short time later, he died.  I miss him a lot, and I think
about him a lot. I've wondered now and then
how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.  I
can't figure out if it was because he walked
through life, Or because he quit taking left turns.

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