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Driving Mr. David

by David Westheimer


One of the reasons my wife Dody and I were so enchanted by the movie, "Driving Miss Daisy," in which Morgan Freeman drove Jessica Tandy, playing an old Southern lady, here, there and everywhere is because thats the way its been at our house for 33 years now.

Well, not exactly, but close enough.

Its Miss Dody, not Miss Daisy. And shes the driver, not the driven.. The drivee is this old Southern gentleman, Mr. David. Thats me. While I may not qualify as a gentleman I do qualify as being old and Southern. If Texas is southern.

The first 23 years of our marriage Miss Dody was content with my driving. I drove her from Houston, Texas to Seattle, Washington and several times from Houston to New York City with nary a complaint from her. But in December 1968 things changed. I had detached retinas and after they were fastened back on, several months passed before I could be fitted with glasses and could see well enough to drive again. (After the operation in Boston my doctors gave me a simple vision test and told me when I healed I would be able to get my drivers license back. And a member of the team said, "But please dont get it in Boston.")

Dody said maybe I could drive again but not when she was in the car. Shed discovered she like her driving better than mine and felt safer when it was her hands on the wheel.

It was eight years before I drove a car again. Thanks to Leo Tolstoy. A more-than-six-hour-long adaptation of "War and Peace" was showing at a movie theater close to our neighborhood. Three hours of it early in the evening, then an intermission, and then the other three hours. Over at about two in the morning. Dody had seen it with our daughter-in-law but I hadnt seen it. She offered to drive me there and then come pick me up. She finally agreed I could drive myself but Id have to phone her as soon as I got there to let her know Id made it. I went by myself, telling her not to wait up. It was kind of scary taking the wheel after eight years but there wasnt much traffic and I drove slowly. And phoned her when I got there. There was even less traffic when I drove home. Got there after two. Dody was waiting up and was so relieved I had made it.

I felt like a teenager.

But she still wouldnt let me drive when she was in the car. When the grandchildren needed a lift and she wasnt available she let take them, though.

I said, "Look, you wont let me drive you but youll let me drive your grandchildren."

"Thats different," she said.

Well, I guess you cant argue with logic like that, can you?

In the years that followed my return to the wheel I drove Dody on only two occasions.

The first one was when she awakened in the night with pain in her elbows so fierce she phoned our doctor in the middle of the night.(I said it was tennis elbow but she hadnt played tennis since she was a girl.) He told her to get to a hospital. In her pain she permitted me to drive her. At the hospital they told her she had had a heart attack. And that the worst thing she could have done was to let me drive her there. We should have called the paramedics. The only good side was that there was so little apparent damage to her heart that her doctor later referred to it as her "so-called heart attack."

The second occasion was after shed had an operation of the sort men never get and a few days after her return from the hospital I had to drive her on a freeway to her doctors office for a follow-up because he had told her she shouldnt drive a car for a while. She was so nervous when we got there the doctor asked her if she wanted a tranquilizer. She said no, it was just the thought of me driving her home. So he didnt give her a tranquilizer. He gave her permission to drive home.

So it was until six years ago. I had a moderate stroke that affected my right side so I couldnt drive at all. Even let my license lapse. Theres no question of me ever taking the wheel again.

And you know something, I like it that way.

And you know something else, a woman friend of ours in her seventies, who among other things in her chequered career was a racecar driver, likes Dodys driving so much she calls her the Wheelman.


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