Monthly Archives: March 2013

Driver’s License

Just writing that title, it takes me  back to Bob Phillips Drive-In in Charleston, WV, replete with curb-side orders into the intercom perched on a pole beside lines of cars with roller skating waitresses.

Yep, right out of Happy Days.

On a  summer day in 1962, my brother at 17 was hanging at the curb with some friends and apparently, things got a little rowdy. No dope, no alcohol, just a few amped up teenagers honking their horns and feeling their oats.  The cops were called and when they got to my brother’s car, they leaned in his window and asked for his driver’s license.

Now at this point, being nine years his junior, I always picture him as a 60’s classic: crew cut,  khaki pegged pants, oxford cloth starched shirt, skinny  black belt and white socks with Weejuns, shined to a mirror gloss.

My brother looked up at the policeman and when the officer repeated the request, he retorted, “Driver’s license. Driver’s license? Driver’s license!”

Well the rest of the story is family history and local lore. My brother and his two buddies in the car were thrown in a paddy wagon and hauled into the station for his irreverence, along with a dozen or so others.  He called my parents and asked their advice as to what to tell the police and they basically said “the truth will set you free.” Innocent and kind as my parents were, they were also naive. The other boys got daddy’s attorney to set them free and my brother’s name was the only disorderly youth listed in the Sunday paper. Even made the local news as he, on his own accord, was the only one of those arrested not to cover his face in a Justin Beiber-like faux cry for privacy.

Family uproar at the time, but now it makes me smile. Every time I hear the words “driver’s license”  I think of my brother and that day. As complicated as it seemed when it happened, it calls up a simpler time in my mind. When kids were called rowdy for what they said, not who they hurt or what they did. And helicopter parents didn’t always hover for a landing in each child’s learning experience.

But on to the purpose of this post. As I mentioned last week, I recently had a birthday and with it, I needed to renew my driver’s license. (Do I hear car horns, roller skates, The Shirelles?)

My letter in the mail from the Secretary of State noted I was required to take the written test as well as get a new picture. Both thoughts sent chills down my spine.

I had the good fortune for eight years to have kept the same license and the same decent picture.  Because of my good behavior, unlike my brother, I got a sticker on the back of my my driver’s license for my pristine record that gave me an automatic renewal for a basic fee.

But  this letter stated  I must show up before my birthday and take the written exam.
I don’t like exams because I have to get an A.  Tests bring out the ACT/SAT watch the clock/sweat bullets in me.  I become the three point shot at the buzzer, the defining cross-examination in the trial, the horse that pulls out in the final lap and takes the crown.  I have to get 100%. Or die.

My daughter told me to print out the Rules of the Road online, which I did,  all 90 some pages, in black and white. I studied.  I fretted. My hair fell out, I developed an ulcer.

So after three days of ruminating, I decided on a whim to breeze into the DMV and pick up the real Rules of the Road.  The computer sheets just weren’t doing it for me. And while I was there I, again breezily, asked the guy at the desk to check and make sure if I did indeed have to take this exam. Hope springs eternal.

He took my license, glanced at it and said, I swear with a wink, “You shouldn’t have to take the exam, unless of course , you have been bad.” Wide-eyed I assured him I had not been, as he typed my social into the computer.

“You weren’t bad four years ago in West Virginia?”  Busted, deflated, again full of test angst, I remembered a little speeding ticket I had paid for at the local station and supposedly gotten off my record.  Mom and Dad would have been so proud, I pled guilty as charged.

“Ah, go on and take the test,” he said, “It’s slow today.  Look around.”

So I took a deep breath, paid the fee, picked up my test and sat down in a row of  school desks lined up for test-takers. Really?  Couldn’t we have lounged on sectionals, munching popcorn, lazily choosing a, b or c? The pressure was killing me.

I have to say my days of study and quick perusal of the Rules of the Road as I stood in the short line for the cashier paid off.  I finished quickly, only missing one.  The picture taking was a blur of post-exam relief.

As my son in law said at dinner a few days later after he had also taken the test to reestablish himself as an Illinois resident, “Even a chimpanzee could pass that thing.”

Averting his gaze, I peeled my banana and reached for the next limb.

And you thought you were having a bad day?

Movin’ on!

So for the conclusion of sappy week on (I promise to move on to higher ground next week) after five months of cohabitation, elation, frustration and mostly infatuation, the troops are moving on.  My grandsons that came here at four months and barely over two, are now practically grown men at nine months and two and a half.  And their parents are ready to fly the coop to their new home.

I thought I had been living for this day but now that it is less than two weeks away, I am facing it with very mixed emotions. Like anything, we seldom appreciate what is sitting in our lap until it is empty.

The thought of no pitter patter of little feet, knee high hugs or the sound of, “Is that you, Yaya?” when I open the front door is a void I can already feel.  The upcoming silence is palpable and their absence as real as them still in the house.


On a brighter note, they are only moving less than a mile away. (I know. Seriously.) I can pop in and out of their lives at will and I will still be nursery school bus driver number one. But as close as that all feels, I realize it will not be the same.  All too soon they will move beyond the thrill of a Yaya visit to hockey sticks, soccer balls and after school dances. High school football pep rallies, college applications and marriage proposals.  And before I now it, I will not be, “Is that you, Yaya?” but the obligatory phone call or Sunday visit at the old folks home.

I know I am rushing ahead of myself here and life doesn’t move at the pace of one paragraph.  But then again it does.  So my hope is that in the recesses of their little brains, they will see a picture, recall a story and think of a time that they lived at Yaya and Pops’ house.

And remember it fondly, with affection, as I will.


Photo courtesy of:   Bill Hale


Life, death and Grandpa Kyle

While I’m on the subject of West Virginians, my mom who I have spoken of before, taught me many things about living, dying and all the stuff in between.

Especially pivotal moments to go into action were life and death. She’d remind me there are two things you can’t do for yourself, bring yourself into this world or carry yourself out, and those are times we need to pitch in and help others.

Since I was the baby of the family, I don’t remember many dinners we made to take to new mothers but I do remember the funerals. Whether you knew what to say or what to bring, the main thing was to show up with something–a pineapple upside down cake, potato salad, deviled eggs–hug a lot and talk about the person who died.  Preferably remember a funny anecdote they were involved in or something they said.



Nothing sad people like more than remembering someone they’ve lost with a smile.

My mom’s dad, Grandpa Kyle, was the king of telling a good tale on someone.  Even himself. He would start in about some “old boy” who was probably half his age since he lived to be 103, but to him everyone was always older.  Probably why he lived so long.  He always had an old pal to catch up with.

Anyway, he would begin a story and before he could get to the punch line, he would start laughing.  He would try to keep the rhythm of the story but the point was garbled in his chuckles that soon led to tears.  He was a laugh until you cry guy. My mom’s whole side of the family is. It’s a very endearing quality actually.

He’d hike himself up on his right thigh and pull out the hanky he always kept in his left hip pocket, remove his wire rim glasses, carefully one ear and then the other, wipe his tears and then shine his glasses, since they were already off and in his hands, and keep on going until we had all lost the point of the story but were all caught up in his tears of laughter.

Toward the end of his time on this earth, he asked my mom’s sister, Aunt Mary, why the people in the assisted living (which he didn’t go to until he was over 100) all called him Ed.

The tale he heard went something like this:

“Because, dad, that’s your name.  You are 103 years old.  You were born in 1886 and it is now 1989.   You saw a time where there were no gas powered cars, you witnessed the First Transcontinental Railroad and lived through eight states being added to the union. You and your brother, an architect, built many of the finest buildings in this town including your church, where you spent 80 some years in the choir.  You lost a wife and your mother in one week during the flu epidemic of 1918.  Left with four children, including a six week old baby, you moved in with your sister and allowed your architect brother, who was childless, to adopt your baby daughter.  She calls him Dad and you Pop and feels equal affection for you both. You went on to marry two more times and have three more children. You have outlived all your wives and a few of your children.  You are a carpenter and have worked on your own, for yourself, most of your life. You can still hammer a straight nail and strike a plumb line.”

When she finished, Grandpa, who had never cursed a single word in his life, crossed his hands on his chest, shut his eyes and said, “Well, I’ll be damned.”

My brother, who spent many hours with  Grandpa in his workshop or just shooting the breeze,  spoke at his funeral.  I am sure he thought about that idea carefully and assumed it would not be a daunting task as Grandpa had lived such a full and and unnaturally long life. He had planned, I am sure, to tell tales of Grandpa’s escapades, his joy for all things great and small, and his sincere interest in anyone and everyone that no doubt kept him around so long.  I’m sure my brother thought he, too, might bring tears of laughter channeling the Kyle gene and being a great storyteller himself.

But he surprised himself because he cried tears of grief remembering this wonderful and unusual man.  And I learned a couple things that day.

Unexpected tears are the best, most honest you will ever shed. And no matter how long you have someone in your life, it is never so long you are ready to give them up.

My sweet mama is inching up on 90.  My brother can be an old curmudgeon but I know I will miss him terribly if I am still around when he is gone. I just had a big birthday that had a “O” in it. And I don’t know how I became a grandmother when I still feel like the grandchild myself.

I’m not sure if I want to laugh or cry at this moment. Maybe in Kyle style, I’ll do a little of both.