‘Back with wheels’
Alright, I will admit I was nervous.
Yes, my palms were sweaty, although I really don’t know why. After all, I had done this a million times or more. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t felt this way since I was a teenager.
Slowly, I slid behind the wheel and using my sometimes dependable right arm and hand, I turned the ignition and the car roared to life. I edged the transmission into drive, pressed the accelerator and the car moved forward. After a long, long five months, I was actually driving, though I will quickly admit that it was in an empty parking lot. I felt the joy and, yes, a bit of apprehension as I slowly guided the car around the lot with my long-suffering wife by my side. I knew the great feeling of driving again even thought it was just practice.
The driving lasted just a few minutes and was the first in a series of ongoing practice sessions. I have been on the city streets a small amount of time under the watchful eyes of my wife. She had helpful suggestions for me, although that is nothing new. To quote Herm Edwards, the former Chiefs’ coach who quipped during a speech, “My wife isn’t a back seat driver, she’s right up front where all the action is.”
Since my stroke, Jean has done all the driving and I guess I have become a front seat/back seat driver. As much as I promised myself that I wouldn’t do it, I will admit that I also have helpful driving suggestions. Maybe it just can’t be helped if the person who is a passenger is an experienced driver, they will inevitably make “helpful suggestions.” Possibly it‘s simply human nature, or survival instinct, to try to help the driver — or at least that is a good excuse.
Before I attempted the car, I used my riding lawnmower. I discovered that I could do about the same amount of lawn work with the rider as I did before the stroke. What was the most thrilling for me was that my right arm and hand responded normally; they were handling the speed control and were able to engage the mower blade just like the old days. Now to most folks that doesn’t sound much, but to me it was a major event and breakthrough.
I was having a blast as I rolled round the yard. I could easily handle the rider and had no problems. One of my neighbors commented that I was smiling while I was mowing, and he was right. I was hoping the grass would grow faster and the leaves would accelerate tumbling. While most people curse a carpet of leaves, I was rejoicing since it gave me a reason to hobble to the basement and start the lawnmower. Suddenly it occurred to me to try to drive the car. Maybe it was time to test one of the final frontiers of my recovery.
I have always enjoyed driving. I have said that if I weren’t in the newspaper business, I would liked to have been a bus driver. Over the 51 years we have been married I suspect I have done 95 percent of the driving. If we went to Texas to visit our daughter, I did all of the driving. I have made driving trips to both coasts, family vacations and, certainly, all over Kansas. For that reason, handling all of the driving has been a big change for Jean, which she has handled extremely well even though she doesn’t particularly like it.
Maybe my love of driving is because I got a late start since my father did not own a car. I was one of the millions who learned to drive in a driver’s education course in high school. My wife, on the other hand, was a farm girl and her father taught her to drive in the cow pasture.
Now I am back to square one, trying to master the skill again. No, I’m not there yet, but with a lot of hard work and practice I am sure it won’t be very long until I am cruising the streets in Bonner Springs. So watch out, I’m on the way back with wheels.