Driving with the Top Down

In honor of my mom’s 94th birthday on February 28, I’m dedicating this post to her, mothers, daughters

ocean City NJ, Atlantic OceanI am here again, traveling along the same flat road, watching the tall green maples and oaks turn to scrubby, smaller bush and pine. What is it about my primordial need to return to the ocean – the Atlantic Ocean – every year?

As I breathe in the hot humid New Jersey air, a mixture of dirt, gas, grass, asphalt and salt water, I wonder if it’s just a childhood memory that needs to be rewritten and retold yearly.  After all, as a child . . .

“Why is he traveling so closely behind you?  How fast are you going?” my mother interrupts my slow, careful thoughts.

“I’m going 70 miles per hour,” I answer defensively.  Actually, the speedometer reads 69, but I know that will not satisfy her.  On this particular trip, we are traveling alone, my 85-plus mother and me, to Ocean City on a gorgeous sparkling Saturday morning. 

“That’s too slow,” she responds.  “The speed limit is 65. I go at least 75.”

I allow my eyes to leave the road to give my mom a small smile.  She is younger than me in so many ways.  Always has been, and I’ve always been older than she.

“You convinced me to let you drive my car,” she continues, “so don’t give me that look that says I can’t be a ‘front seat driver.’ ”

I just smile a little wider.  We’re enjoying ourselves in her little white convertible. The top is down; the wind is in our hair.  I decide to bite my tongue and not tell her I am behind the wheel particularly because she insists on driving 80 miles per hour when the speed limit is 65.

I look in the rear view mirror. A big black SUV is barely a foot from my bumper.  I’m in the fast lane and can’t move over to the right lane because of a string of slower cars.

“Back off,” I mumble.  I tap my brake lightly, but he doesn’t decelerate.

mother and daughter, at the beach, Ocean City NJ

A once-yearly tradition.

“Go faster,” my dear mother says.  Her short white hair is whipped against her head like a cap.  Her tanned legs are crossed comfortably in front of her, showing off light blue short shorts. Her white tank top accentuates toned arms.

“Mom, I can’t go faster, then I’d be right on the bumper of the person in front of me.  Besides, I don’t want to go faster.”  Why do I feel like the prim and proper old aunt?

She sighs and fidgets for a few more minutes.  Finally, I find an opening in the right hand lane, turn on the blinker, and begin to move over.

“Give ‘em the finger,” she demands.

 “What? Mom!” I respond in shock.

 “Come on, give ‘em the finger,” my pretty, demure mother, great-grandmother of six, insists.

 “No, I won’t.” I’m afraid she is going to make me.  At my age, I don’t need to give in like I did at 6, or 16, or even 26.  I smooth into the right lane and begin to relax until I see my mother push toward me and lean over my lap. She holds her face up high, as high as her five foot two inch frame allows, and she yells to the driver of the SUV passing us,

“J   E   R  K,”  in a long, loud, reverberating scream. 

I stare at this woman and then look at the face of the driver as he stares,too, mouth open.  He looks hurt, that this small, cute, but older, woman is chastising him so harshly. As he lifts his arms and hands in supplication, I begin to laugh, first gently so I make no sound, and only my stomach rises quickly in and out; then I release myself and laugh until it hurts.

“Why didn’t you give him the finger?” she asks when I finally stop.

 “Mom, you are too much,” I answer.

 Her expression is surprised, like ‘what did I do?’

 I think of the times our differences used to bother me: she was always short, cute, and feminine; I felt too tall, awkward, big.  She was the social one; I was the loner.  She was assertive; I stood in the background, watching.

 “Love you mom,” I say just as a big wheeler passes us noisily. I’m not sure she hears me, but she has a small, secretive smile on her elfin face.

Atlantic Ocean, sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, Ocean City NJ

Thanks to Jill Weatherholt and Annika Perry for their “re-blog a favorite post” idea. This post was first published in 2011.

 

72 thoughts on “Driving with the Top Down

  1. Very good!! Makes me miss my Mom and our family trips to the Jersey Shore!! We’d reach a point, just before crossing the Mantoloking Bridge when we’d all HAVE to open our windows and take a deep breath of the ocean air!! Every time!! Even in mid-winter!! Then we’d turn south on Rt. 35, and head for Lavallette!! Later on, Sam and I would take the same ritual deep breaths…..

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  2. I flipped off a “Whistle Stop Wheels” driver today and felt ashamed for hours….until I read this. Now I just wish I could take a road trip with your mother.

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  3. I can actually visualize this whole episode! Your mom is a kick…taught that nasty SUV driver a lesson! You are the proud daughter of a mother who takes road rage to higher levels. Thank goodness she didn’t think of mooning the driver! I don’t know if your closing statement “love you mom” would be the same!!! I loved your comparisons and the feel of childhood memories. It brought back so much for me (plus, I have a wild and crazy mom too!). What a wonderful story!!! Can’t wait to see your mom again!

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  4. Your mom sounds like a real hoot. Mine is too. Don’t think she’d shoot the bird but she’d definitely got a lead foot and a feisty attitude. She says after 70 you can do what you want and people will call you a character. True.

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  5. Pam, I’m so happy you reposted this your favourite post (many thanks for the mention!).

    I’m smiling with tears in my eyes…this is just beautiful. Your mother is amazing, I love her spirit, tenacity, wild free spirit! I love how it must have driven you a bit crazy, how you are so different but now able to look at those differences with fondness and love. What a wonderful woman and how special to travel to the coast each year. You both look great and so close!

    A touching post full of humour and honesty, of love and care, reflection of the past, enjoying the present! Hugs to you both xxxxx

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  6. Hello Pamela,

    I am impressed with you mother 🙂
    I love people with attitude, without fear.And your mother is certainly such a person. I watched some movie, and one guy is graduated and got a job.He worked hard every day, and his mother said to him:
    – Your father would be proud of you,
    – he said, No he would not. He taught me to risk in life , and I,I play safely !

    Say hello to your mother 🙂

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    • I’m like the son in your story here, Ben. I’m not a risk taker. My mom is a go-getter and “take no prisoners” kind of person! We are definitely Young and Yang. And we have a great time with our differences! 😏

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  7. I’m reading this on my mother’s birthday. She would have been 98 today and she’s been gone 10, going on 11 years. I still miss her so. She was feisty, too, though not the speed demon your mother was. What a great memory you’ve shared! ❤️

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    • Happy birthday to your mom, Molly. My mom doesn’t quite remember about birthdays, but we are both Pisces despite our huge differences. We’ve always shared our fish earrings throughout our life! But I wouldn’t let her drive in my hometown when she visited!! 😜

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  8. Goodness I love the idea of you guys driving along in her white convertible. I had to laugh at your conversation. It is strange how some people transform with road rage. My dear sister is another one of them. I sit beside her and just laugh…

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    • Thanks, Teagan, and you’re right. At the time, I was gritting my teeth somewhat. But after a few days and a glass of wine or so, my humor returned and I could write of this driving time with my mom with better insight. However, I never let her be behind the wheel when I was driving with her, that’s for sure!! 🙂

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    • Haha. My mom has always been proud of her legs, and she always wore skirts, rarely pants, if she could get away with it. She’s short, I’m tall; she’s an extrovert, I’m an introvert; but at least I got her legs! 🙂 🙂

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    • I remember hiding behind my mom’s skirts when I was a child, Carrie, embarrassed at her outspokenness and chattiness to everyone and anyone. As an introvert, you can understand. Those qualities of hers only intensified as she aged. ;-0

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    • Despite our differences, my mom and I have an incredible bond. Stronger than Super Glue. And even in her dementia now, she knows me as soon as I walk through the door. Her smile melts my heart. ❤

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  9. What a beautiful post and a wonderful memory. I can just picture your mom yelling at that other driver. I actually expected the next line to say that she gave him the finger, because you wouldn’t. Age definitely has its privileges.

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    • Age has its privileges, and my mom began to use those privileges at a pretty young age. 🙂 However, as much as she would direct me to ‘give ’em the finger,’ she is/was always a lady, and would never do such a thing. (Which adds to the humor, since she thought it would be fine if I did…!!!) 🙂

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  10. She didn’t!!! Oh my what a feisty mother you had. What fun you must have had growing up. I drive like you and I learned long ago to “bless” the people who were tailing me. Refused to let my Type A rear it’s head. It only hurt me. But, I love this story. What a memory! My mother would have been 94 this year! So this brings back some of my own memories and a few tears. She left us 9 years ago tomorrow.

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    • Your mom was a Pisces, Patricia, just like my mom and me. There’s something about those Pisces…. I’m with you, I breathe in and out when I’m driving, ignoring the horrid no-good terrible drivers out there. Unless I was driving with my mom, who shouted and shook her fist at every one. :-0
      Blessings to the memory of your mom. ❤

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    • The older my mom got, the feistier she got. Sometimes “fun” wasn’t quite in that equation for me. I think daughters, perhaps, are a bit more sensitive to their mom’s strong personalities! Even in dementia now, my mom let’s her opinion be known to everyone and anyone. I say – good for her!

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    • Thanks, Kate. The grandkids got to know their great-grandmother and her antics when they were very young, so even though she’s immersed in dementia now and doesn’t remember them, they visit her with heartfelt smiles. The stories about her are family lore. 🙂

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  11. This is just gorgeous, and both amusing and moving. My mother and I are similar; she loves to break the speed limit, I nearly always tow the line. I too feel our ages are reversed – she is younger than me in soooo many ways. She’s a remarkable woman, and I think she might say the same about me – so yes, I’m very lucky. Mum’s driven everything from a huge camper van to a purple Porsche! She loves cars! Yes, the Ocean really is an essential annual (minimum!) pilgrimage. All my love and blessings to you and your wonderful mother 🙂 Harula xxx

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    • What a beautiful description of you and your mum, and your personalities. Somehow, Harula, I’m not surprised that you and I have parallel experiences with our mothers. The Ying and Yang of mother-daughter relationships can be challenging, but also so much fun and incredible. I hope you have many more visits with your lovely mother – she’s got ‘spirit’!

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    • My mom would accept your offer of a beer (or perhaps white wine) in a New York minute, and talk about what she and the ‘gals’ did during their last trip to the city, or the beach, or the newest restaurant. All this would have happened up until she was 89, when dementia struck. But even as her memory fades into gray and white, she is quite a GAL!!! 🙂

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    • An excellent point. When we’re old and gray, we’d like to know that our personality put a spark to our offspring’s stories. 🙂 I wrote my last review on your Amazon page for the final book of your trilogy, Nabatea. Thanks for entertaining me in such amazing ways. You’re quite a writer!

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    • So glad you found this post a joyful one, Ann. Yes, despite the challenges of a mother-daughter relationship in which there are two distinctly different personalities, it makes for an amazing ride together through life. ❤

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    • My mom has incredible spunk, and was playing tennis still at age 84, AND working as a sales clerk at the Gap until she was 85! She sold more clothes than anyone else. 🙂 Now in deep dementia, she still finds a way to tell the staff at her memory care unit “what to do,” and they follow her instructions as much as they can. She’s what we call a “strong-willed women.” I saw that same determination and spunk in the photos of the women you’ve shown on Instagram. Inspiring.

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    • Most people found my mom to be quite entertaining and a ‘hoot,’ as they liked to call it. As a daughter, sometimes her antics weren’t as funny at the time, but in hindsight, our time together was hysterical. 🙂 Now that she’s suffering from dementia, I certainly miss our times together. xo

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  12. Your mom sounds wonderful, Pam! A real character. “Go faster” – love it! You too look so lovely together in that photo. So sad she can’t travel to the beach anymore but your pictures and stories will bring it all to her.

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