My mother would be 90 today. I’d like to think she would still be spry and elegant, but I recognize the possibility that she could have become infirm, confused, and unsteady by this age, too.
I washed her 2000 Acura carefully to mark the day, since there can’t be any birthday lunch, dinner, or cake. Later I might put in the CD of the Telemann piece she liked so much and take a ride to the beach. My mother bought this car when she was 78 – no sensible Camry or sturdy Buick for her. She had me ship it to California from New Jersey when illness forced her to move here, although she never drove it again. It would have been easier and more economical to sell it in New Jersey at the time, but I understood her need to have it here – it represented the hope that she would get well and learn to zip around the LA Freeways much as she had barreled up and down the NJ Turnpike.
This car was a luxury, bought brand-new and paid for in full. My mother made do with dubious cars for a long time when the family economy was rocky, driving a ’67 VW bug when she was well into her 50s, taking an occasional perverse pleasure in flooring it on her way home from work on Route 18, nudging the speedometer past 95. When the bottom rusted out after many harsh East Coast winters, she nailed a cookie sheet over the holes and drove it another 30,000 miles. Last week when Michelle Obama talked about her early rides in Barack’s rusty car, I could hear my mother pronouncing that a cookie sheet would have easily taken care of the problem.
My 16-year-old son alternates between sniffing that it is “embarrassing” to be seen in this car and claiming that he wants to lower it, soup it up with rims, and career around in it much like the young Asian-American men in Westminster and Gardena who seem to favor turning these Acuras into hotrods.
I’ve told him that he can’t have it unless he pays me darn good money for it. Although my mother sold it to me for $1 not long before she died, if she were here today I imagine she’d order me to give it to him, and she’d probably float Christopher the money to trick it out – she was that kind of doting grandmother.
I can’t give my mother a 90th birthday present today, but I’m thinking about her many gifts to me, not the least of which is a certain practicality and resourcefulness. Regal as she was, she also had that nail-a-cookie-sheet-over-it-and-get-on-with-it side, too. I’ve been lucky enough to make good use of that ability to patch up all kinds of things.