Jerry Underwood was opening his fifth beer in thirty minutes. Despite having always heard one cannot find any wisdom in the bottom of a bottle, Jerry was determined to find out for himself. He had been anticipating–and dreading–most events of the day. Wrapping his brain around those unexpected and unpredictable ancillary events was the hard part.
Gazing at the 1986 Lincoln Town Car parked in his driveway only exacerbated his cornucopia of emotions. Doing so found him becoming that much thirstier.
At age 43, Jerry was the only one of the three siblings to stay near their parents. The other two, twelve and fourteen years older than he, had left for other pastures whereas he had stayed close to home . As Jerry’s father Isaac was now 87, all the unsavory tasks involved with aging parents now fell onto Jerry’s lap.
Isaac had been in a few minor scrapes in his Ford pickup, all involving either the back wall or the doors of his garage. After a very heated discussion, Isaac had agreed to sell the pickup and keep his Lincoln. Jerry had used this approach as a ruse to keep his father from driving, hoping Isaac wouldn’t want to jeopardize the condition of his cherished eleven year-old Lincoln. It had mostly worked.
Jerry had agreed to accompany his father to get his driver’s license renewed. Since Isaac was older than 85, state law dictated an eye-exam as part of receiving his license. As Jerry had feared, Isaac failed the eye-exam lending credibility to his suspicion cataracts were entering the picture.
As they were getting back into the Lincoln, Isaac exploded when Jerry hit the starter. “Pure bullshit! I can see; I’ve been driving for seventy-five years. They make the damn signs on that test so small and dim nobody can see them! They don’t want people driving. I see just fine. They said if my eye-doctor signed off I could get my license renewed; by God, I’m going to call him as soon as we get home. I’m not taking their crap, I can drive just fine.”
Jerry calmly replied, “Dad, I know you are mad. Let’s get some lunch and talk about it back at your house.”
At lunch, Jerry was surprised Isaac had not yet steered the conversation in that direction. Jerry knew the rub was that his father knew him better than he knew his father. Isaac had been unable to read the menu to order; as they were finishing their food, he became introspective.
“Sonny Boy, it’s only fair to warn you: Getting old sucks. Yes, I’m eighty-seven and I have accepted that I am eighty-seven. However, being eighty-seven sneaks up on you. The other morning when I was shaving, I looked in the mirror and it startled me. ‘Who is this old man?’ I asked myself. I wasn’t exactly expecting to see a thirty year-old in the mirror, but seeing all the wrinkles on my face is disturbing. I’m not vain; I’ve earned every one of them.
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately and have realized I’ve never told you kids a whole lot about me. Well, your older brother and sister don’t give a tinker’s damn about me anymore, but you do. Your coming along when I was forty-four meant you missed out on a lot, but you helped keep me young a long time. I guess this whole driver’s license ordeal is a reminder I’m no longer as young as I thought.”
Jerry was correct; he knew his father but not nearly as well as his father knew him. This conversation was quickly going in a direction Jerry was having trouble predicting.
“Sonny, I was born in 1910; I’ve been driving since 1922. The first car I drove was your grandfather’s Model T. The first car I bought was a 1929 Nash when I was twenty-four years old. I paid $30 for that car. Sonny, that made me so happy I thought I could conquer the world, but it only lasted a short while. That was the car my wife was driving when she was killed in that wreck.”
Upon hearing this, Jerry was dumbfounded. “Dad, I never knew you were married before. Why didn’t I know?”
“Do you like revisiting the horrors in your life? Would you tell your kids about a previous wife? Besides, has not knowing affected you in any way?”
Jerry felt he was being subjected to the sporadic “You-are-the-youngest-child-what-the-hell-could-you-know?” mindset.
“Anyway, yes, I was married and we had just learned she was pregnant when the wreck happened.” Isaac’s voice cracked upon saying this. He quickly regained most of his composure.
“Jerry, let me tell you something,”–Jerry knew it was important if his father was calling him by his first name–“life is like a novel, with one chapter leading into the next. Sometimes the chapters are pretty distinct, sometimes they aren’t. Either way you need to enjoy them and not wish away for the next one. You even need to savor the shitty ones so you can better appreciate the good times. Roll with the punches when it’s lousy and hope things don’t get worse. When it’s good, do everything to make the most of it. Your kids are teenagers now, so enjoy them while they are at home. One day they will be gone and you’ll be sitting in a restaurant with your grown son trying to avoid the obvious subject that needs to be discussed.”
Looking at his father, Jerry’s left eyebrow lifted, giving away his intrigue.
“Sonny, I’m not blind. You’re sitting there wondering what your old man is about to say. You have completely avoided saying anything about my eye-exam so I will say something about it: I will let my license lapse until I can get my eyes figured out. Do you really think I’m going to risk killing somebody’s mother? It was an old man who couldn’t see shit that killed my wife and baby. Do you think I would risk putting another man through the hell I went through?
“Now, you drive me home and take the Lincoln back to your house. Drive it a little for me so it stays limber. Hell, you may finally admit you like it more than that damn little Honyo, Toyda, or whatever the hell that little tin can you drive is.”
After dropping his father off, Jerry visited the drive-through liquor market for a couple of twelve-packs. He needed it.
Pulling into his driveway, Jerry’s wife Patricia met him at the door. She seemed quite emotional, but it was hard for Jerry to determine if it was positive or negative emotions. Jerry had had enough emotional drama for one day.
“Hi, Jerry! I hope your day with your father was pleasant–oh, I have news you’ll want to hear! Would you believe it? I’m pregnant–we’re having a baby!”
Thinking about it all again, Jerry opened another beer.