What a very special family.

This is a wonderful piece by Michael Gartner, editor of newspapers
large and small and president of NBC News. In 1997, he won the
Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. It is well worth reading, and
a few good chuckles are guaranteed. Here goes…

My father never drove a car. Well, that’s not quite right. I should
say I never saw him drive a car.

He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car
he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

“In those days,” he told me when he was in his 90s, “to drive a car
you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet,
and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life
and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it.”

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in:
“Oh, bull shit!” she said. “He hit a horse.”

“Well,” my father said, “there was that, too.”

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The
neighbors all had cars — the Kollingses next door had a green 1941
Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth,
the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford — but we had none.

My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines would take the streetcar to
work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the
streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three
blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and
sometimes, at dinner, we’d ask how come all the neighbors had cars
but we had none. “No one in the family drives,” my mother would
explain, and that was that.

But, sometimes, my father would say, “But as soon as one of you
boys turns 16, we’ll get one.” It was as if he wasn’t sure which
one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my
parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the
parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown.

It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded
with everything, and, since my parents didn’t drive, it more or
less became my brother’s car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn’t bother my father,
but it didn’t make sense to my mother.

So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach
her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I
learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later,
I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was
my father’s idea. “Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?” I
remember him saying more than once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the
driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of
direction, but he loaded up on maps — though they seldom left the
city limits — and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout
Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement
that didn’t seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of

(Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.)

He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20
years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin’s
Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would
wait in the back until he saw which of the parish’s two priests was
on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go
out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the
service and walking her home.

If it was the assistant pastor, he’d take just a 1-mile walk and
then head back to the church. He called the priests “Father Fast”
and “Father Slow.”

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother
whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along.
If she were going to the beauty parlor, he’d sit in the car and
read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the
engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. In
the evening, then, when I’d stop by, he’d explain: “The Cubs lost
again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the
millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base

If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry
the bags out — and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I
said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she
was 88 and still driving, he said to me, “Do you want to know the
secret of a long life?”

“I guess so,” I said, knowing it probably would be something

“No left turns,” he said.

“What?” I asked

“No left turns,” he repeated. “Several years ago, your mother and
I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in
happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic..

As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can
lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided
never again to make a left turn.”

“What?” I said again.

“No left turns,” he said. “Think about it.. Three rights are the
same as a left, and that’s a lot safer. So we always make three

“You’re kidding!” I said, and I turned to my mother for support.

“No,” she said, “your father is right. We make three rights. It
works.” But then she added: “Except when your father loses count.”

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I
started laughing.

“Loses count?” I asked.

“Yes,” my father admitted, “that sometimes happens. But it’s not a
problem. You just make seven rights, and you’re okay again.”

I couldn’t resist. “Do you ever go for 11?” I asked.

“No,” he said ” If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call
it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can’t be
put off another day or another week.”

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me
her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in
1999, when she was 90.

She lived four more years, until 2003.. My father died the next
year, at 102.

They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and
bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother
and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom — the
house had never had one. My father would have died then and there
if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the

He continued to walk daily — he had me get him a treadmill when he
was 101 because he was afraid he’d fall on the icy sidewalks but
wanted to keep exercising — and he was of sound mind and sound
body until the moment he died.

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I
had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all
three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual
wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things
in the news.

A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, “You know, Mike, the first
hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred.”

At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, “You know, I’m
probably not going to live much longer.”

“You’re probably right,” I said.

“Why would you say that?” He countered, somewhat irritated.

“Because you’re 102 years old,” I said..

“Yes,” he said, “you’re right.” He stayed in bed all the next day.

That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with
him through the night.

He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing
us look gloomy, he said: “I would like to make an announcement. No
one in this room is dead yet”

An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

“I want you to know,” he said, clearly and lucidly, “that I am in
no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as
anyone on this earth could ever have.”

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I’ve wondered now
and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he
lived so long.

I can’t figure out if it was because he walked through life, Or
because he quit taking left turns. ”

Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who
treat you right. Forget about the ones who don’t. Believe
everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it & if
it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they
just promised it would most likely be worth it.”


Blogger Barry: Thanks for your time. Hope you enjoyed. Please
use the comment and follow buttons.

Barry Blomkamp Nd. Bsc (UL)
Professional Public Speaker, Trainer and Corporate Entertainer,
Motivational speaker, Guest & Key note speaker, Seminar &
Conference speaker, Team Builder, Comedian, Master of Ceremonies,

For your Strategic Planning sessions, Management or Sales meetings,
Conferences and/or Seminars, Award functions, Year end parties,
Christmas parties,

Cape Town, South Africa.

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