The PRESS BOX
A Small Fib
How do you take the car keys away from someone over 18? From someone who has been driving longer than you have been alive?
It seemed like only yesterday that Uncle Johnny’s strong arms were tightly holding this frightened little girl as the waves at Jones Beach came crashing over us. I can still see him patiently teaching my young sons how to fish; I can recall their excitement as they rushed home to tell me all about their adventures in the little rented rowboat on the Great South Bay.
And I will always remember the warmth and pride in Uncle Johnny’s eyes as my boys regaled me with their tales of the monster fish that always got away.
How could I snatch away the keys from this man, someone so dear to me, taking with them both his pride and independence?
But, even more important, how could I afford not to?
I felt like a traitor and immediately decided that I had to be 100-percent certain that this dastardly deed was the right thing to do. So I discussed my concerns with my now-adult sons, and they agreed that the time had come. But their support certainly did not make things any easier on me.
A week before, I was stopped at a red light on Montauk Highway when, suddenly, the car in front of me, for no apparent reason, went through the still-red light. It took a minute for me to realize that it was Uncle Johnny in his bright yellow circa 1970 Pontiac—the very same car that he had proudly showed my sons when they were still in preschool.
My father, who had recently passed away, always drove, and Uncle Johnny felt at the time that it was his responsibility to chauffeur my mother and Aunt Millie around. I had gently suggested otherwise—to no avail.
A trip from Islip to Massapequa took Uncle Johnny all day, because he went via Huntington. And when my mother once described how “friendly” everyone was as they exited Sunrise Highway, a chill came over me after I realized that the “nice” people weren’t waving and saying “hello.” They were warning them that they were exiting the busy highway via an entrance ramp.
To make matters worse, neither my mother nor aunt drove, so they never understood the stress or the mechanics involved.
So, you could imagine my panic when, while making a trip to the doctor, my mother chattily offered: “I’m glad that you have such a nice car and that you don’t need a flashlight to start it.”
A what? A flashlight?! Could it be that Uncle Johnny’s octogenarian eyes could no longer see the driving gears on his Pontiac’s steering wheel without the aid of his flashlight?
I couldn’t wait a minute longer to do the unthinkable. And I needed more than moral support; I needed one of my sons with me. But which one?
All families have their little idiosyncrasies, and mine is no different. The minute my blue-eyed northern Italian mother saw my son Tommy’s Irish blue eyes, she fell in love with him. Tommy was unquestionably her favorite.
Aunt Millie, a kind, sweet lady, secretly loved bad little boys, and it was no surprise that Bobby quickly became her favorite. By the time Michael came along, I ran out of relatives. Michael was mine, and he didn’t mind that at all!
So, by default, Bobby won this faceoff. And when Uncle Johnny ruefully gave us his keys—a poignant moment forever etched in my memory—Bobby wasted no time telling him our little white lie: that he had a very special vintage car collector who was willing to pay top dollar for his immaculate yellow Pontiac.
The $3,000 I gave Uncle Johnny—probably about what he had paid for his car new—was worth every penny. It most likely saved someone from suffering a serious injury and, almost equally important, kept Uncle Johnny’s pride intact.
Maria Daddino writes the “From Fourth Neck” column for The Southampton Press Western Edition.
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