Hanging on to the Remnants of Independence

The state trooper was following a Buick whose driver seemed a bit skittish as he proceeded along a winding rural, two-lane roadway wending through the scenic landscape of northeastern Pennsylvania. The car was driving along at inconsistent speeds, occasionally meandering off onto the shoulder of the road. It looked as if it may be a drunken driver, but the driver turned out to be an elderly man. There was a front-seat passenger, the driver’s wife, and there wasn’t the slightest suggestion that alcohol had been imbibed.The policeman decided a traffic citation for careless driving was warranted, but when he asked for a driver’s license, the plastic sheathed photo card revealed that it had expired on Jan. 9, 2009—more than 11 months before. Citations were issued and the driver ordered to go directly home, park his car and desist from driving.I had to piece together that part of the story based on incomplete information. The driver was my father, who cannot hear very well, and the passenger was my mother, whose short-term memory has eroded. Both are teetotalers with no use for alcohol, though they might be more accurately described as coffee-totalers. My mother doesn’t remember being stopped at all. She does recall sending the citation back with a check for $101.50, which is the same as pleading guilty. Dad recently turned 89 years of age and it was his first traffic ticket. He was proud of his driving record and being ticketed was a source of embarrassment. I might not have even known about it had it not been for the matter of the expired license.“I was told never to drive again,” my dad reported sheepishly when I stopped by his house the next day.He was pretty sure his driving days were over, though somewhat confused about being so excessively penalized for weaving on and off the highway. His impression was his driving privileges had been revoked due to his age.It didn’t seem to me that someone should lose his license for one violation after so many years of perfect driving with no accidents. I suspected Dad misheard what the trooper told him and mom didn’t remember. I didn’t know about the expired license date at the time, and he apparently hadn’t understood enough of what had been said in the roadside encounter. He had heard clearly, however, that he was to park his car and not drive it.Mom showed me a copy of the citation for careless driving, which she had immediately forwarded with a check to the Magisterial District Judge.“I don’t think a policeman can just take your license away, on the spot, for something like that,” I assured them, though I don’t think Dad heard what I said and Mom quickly forgot it.That’s when I checked his photo license card and saw it had expired. Now it was starting to make sense. Let me pause here to point out that being able to go out for drives most days and stop for lunch or an early supper at any number of establishments throughout the rolling terrain of this part of Pennsylvania and adjacent New York State is an important part of my parents’ existence. They’ll drive an hour or two just to try out a restaurant, or return to a handful of a favored few, and  to absorb the passing countryside. They have been fortunate enough to have quality retirement time together as a couple since my father retired from a local industry some 28 years before, but neither can do much physically anymore, though Dad could pass for someone in his seventies. He’s been relying on me and others for general maintenance, as well as mowing and raking the lawn and other household chores he had been doing himself just two years ago. His role as Mom’s chauffer is important to him, and it looked like he was going to lose that, too.I was hopeful Dad might be able to renew his driving privileges if I went on-line at the PennDOT website and initiated a belated license renewal. I was somewhat concerned that with about a year expired that he might be forced to start from square one, including taking written and road tests, but it was worth a try. I got the necessary ID numbers and set about to restore his driving privileges.It cost a few bucks to pull up and print out the status of his license, as well as the past three years of his driving record. What I discovered was quite a surprise. There were no violations or accidents on his record. That I expected. What I didn’t expect to see was that his license had been renewed for another five years in November of 2008, and his license was good until January of 2014.Shortly after I made this discovery, I intercepted another fine for Dad in the mail—this for $250— for driving with an expired license. PennDOT’s own records stated otherwise. What he was guilty of was failure to display a valid license, which is far less serious than driving illegally. His mistake had been not taking the temporary license returned in the mail and securing a photo ID card at a PennDOT licensing center. I still don’t know what happened there, but the point was that there seemed to be some light at the end of this strange tunnel.The folks at the driver’s license center, after hearing my story, said I just needed to bring him in on Thursday of that week and he should be back in business with a photo license. He was. As for the fine, the mystery of why nobody bothered to check on his driving status was cleared up by the District Judge. Dad had pleaded guilty to driving without a license. It made sense. The combination of factors—poor hearing, embarrassment and confusion over his license—convinced him he was guilty of whatever they said he did.With the license in hand, proof that he was not driving illegally, the the biggest fine was subsequently waived and the impact on his driving record remedied.That’s the good news. The bad news is he won’t be taking Mom for a drive soon. She fell and broke her hip on Christmas Day. The surgery was successful, but the recovery has been slower than hoped, though she is now at home with home health support and nursing.My parents have been blessed with the gift of each other for much longer than most of their contemporaries. Endings are not always happy, and the aging process is not often kind. All things considered, even with concerns for the immediate future, I think they have done just fine.(Just a Note: If you have been reading any of these essays, you’ll know that my mother died on Jan. 13 at the age of 84. I wrote the preceding shortly before she died, and withheld publication because I did not want to appear insensitive during the time of her funeral services and subsequent mourning period. Thee weeks later I feel it is appropriate time and I think Mom will get a kick out of it.)

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About Wes

Wes is the sole copywriter/editor at SkillUnlimited and provides copy-editing services for internet marketing, website copy, book editing, and more.

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