In Memoriam

The doctor is not in. He is no longer accepting new patients. He is gone. There will be no referrals. You’re on your own. It’s just as well. No one could fill his shoes anyway. His title was honorary. He wasn’t really a doctor. He was a pipe-fitter, master mechanic, automotive hobbyist. He was known as Dad, Uncle Tracy, Mr. Tracy, and Honey. (His grandkids call him Honey.) To me, he will always be Dr. Tracy – the brain surgeon who earned his title teaching his teenage daughter how to drive a 3-on-the-tree manual transmission pick up truck as I sat between them. “If this truck is in first gear, then I’m a brain surgeon!”

When Dr. Tracy called me back in January to let me know that he was terminal, I was at the high school doing volunteer work. He seemed matter of fact and could just as easily have been telling me that he’d sprained an ankle.  Being the walking Kleenex commercial that I am, I sat down and started to cry.  He got upset that he’d upset me. I guess that’s always the way with any terminal disease, isn’t it? The person who is doing the dying always spends his last days consoling those who aren’t.  He said, “Now see? I shouldn’t have told you. I knew you were at the school, and I’ve gone and upset you. I didn’t call to make you cry or beg sympathy.” Well, then the tears were replaced by anger. (Yeah, I’m an emotional funnel cloud some days.)

“Look here, Old Man!” I told him (without shouting because he is still my elder.) “I love you almost as much as I love my own daddy. So, you’ll allow me the privilege of crying for you.” Aside from my dad, husband, and brother, there is no other man I’ve loved more.

It took a few weeks to arrange things here in Texas before I could get down to see him. While my five children are mostly grown, there are still 4 in high school, one of whom is “special needs.”  My siblings took turns heading from here to Mobile to visit with him. And then it was my turn. And I think for each of us it was similar. We arrived at the house and had something to eat at the kitchen table with him. Then we held down that kitchen chair talking to him, laughing with him, reminiscing with him until it was time for us to head back to Texas. Our cousins from Alabama, Mississippi, and even New York, traveled down to Mobile to sit on that chair and love on him these past few months.

Aunt Ginger and Wendy have both told me how “tickled he was” that we took the time to come visit with him. And I think that I speak for all of us when I say that we wished we could have done more. You see, Uncle Tracy was not our “blood relative.” He married our Aunt Ginger more than 54 years ago and he seemed to think that he was an “in-law” to all of us. He seemed genuinely surprised by the number of his nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews whose lives had been touched by him. Most of us had known him as long as we’d been alive and had gotten advice from him about various mechanical issues, or home repair issues, or just chewing the fat. He’s family. However it was that he joined it, by birth or by marital bond: He’d been part of it longer than any of us.

Our family is short by one tall member today. And while we mourn our loss of him, we rejoice that he is no longer suffering the pain that he endured for these last months. The good doctor will always be with us in spirit and in memory. And every time I start to drive after accidentally putting my car in third gear rather than first, I know that there is a brain surgeon smiling down from Heaven at me.


The Doctor is In

I’ve known him all my life. And after my dad, he’s the “adult male” that I would turn to for car maintenance advice, a kind word, a belly laugh in the form of some hilarious anecdote that had  happened that week. Uncle Tracy has been a comfortable constant in my life no matter where the Army sent us throughout my childhood.

My cousin, Wendy, was my best friend/pen pal during all that back and forth moving overseas to Texas to Alabama and back overseas, etc. I felt grounded reading her letters and a sense of normalcy writing back to tell her all about my softball season, how much I hated Algebra II, and which boy I had a crush on that week. I always sent love to her parents and she always sent it back to mine. And for us, there was never any awkwardness. Even though she wasn’t a military BRAT like me, we would pick up right where we left off three years before. We’d run out to play on the zip line that Uncle Tracy had built using the tallest trees in the backyard or play basketball or throw pine cones at each other or at night, jump out from behind a fat bush on the side of the road to scare the crap out of teenage drivers who were speeding up the street and then take off running as they slammed on brakes and cussed at us out the open windows.

When I spent a week with them during the Summer Wendy had gotten her learner’s permit, Uncle Tracy earned a new nickname. We were in his pick-up truck. Wendy was driving. We were in the left only turn bay and she was having trouble with the 3-on-the-tree. Uncle Tracy was patiently bellowing directions from the passenger seat. I was the quiet moron in the middle; head turning left then right then left again as the conversation continued across me. After about 4 light changes from red to green and back to red, Wendy was beyond frustrated as the engine choked and died again. Uncle Tracy stated loudly, for the tenth time, “Wendy, you’ve got to put the damn thing in first gear!”

“It IS in first gear!” she shouted back, red-faced.

“Wendy, if this damn truck was in first gear, we’d already be in the driveway by now. Put it in first gear.”

She violently pulled the shift bar from where it was to neutral and then back to where it was. “It IS in first gear, Daddy!” The light turned green again. She let up off the clutch again. The truck jerked forward and died again. The car behind us started honking again as he was too close to go around us like the cars behind him. The light turned red again.

“Wendy, you’re in third gear. Put the truck in first gear!!”

“Daddy, it IS IN FIRST GEAR!” she shouted back.

Uncle Tracy actually yelled this time, “IF THIS TRUCK IS IN FIRST GEAR THEN I’M A GODDAMN BRAIN SURGEON!”

The dumbass in the middle, sensing the tension and trying to show solidarity with her cousin waved and said, “Hiiiiiiiii, Doctor Tracy!”

They were too pissed off at each other to laugh. She finally found first gear and we went home. When we got  back to their house, I figured I should make myself scarce and then I heard my aunt laughing in the kitchen. I went to get a glass of tea and she handed me a tall cup to take to “the good doctor.” She and Wendy howled with laughter.

I handed him his tea and he just looked at me. Then he laughed and said it was in third. I  told him that out of all the pipefitters in the world, he made a fine brain surgeon. He’s been Dr. Tracy ever since.



Being Used

I have a “friend” who only calls when she needs something. She never calls to just say hello or to check up on me or the family. I have known her for about a year and a half. I offered to help her fill out some paperwork for immigration because her English is not very good and my Arabic is nearly fluent. She came back the following week and asked me to help her at her bank. She had an account at one of those Mega-Banks that was overcharging her for everything. A teller also printed up and gave her a copy of another customer’s account by mistake. I interpreted for her when she explained to the bank manager that this was a huge problem, both for her and for the other customer whose privacy was violated. She withdrew her money and closed the account. I drove her to my credit union and interpreted for her while she opened her account there.

And so it went. Her child’s medical insurance was in need of updating so she called me three months later for help. Another month went by and she called for help filling out visa information for her husband to join her here from overseas. I didn’t hear from her again until April of this year, when the person who did her taxes inflated the numbers and the IRS contacted her for verification of income. This time I drove her to the IRS and sat in the waiting room with her for over 6 hours. They gave her a form to file a correction. We then met the next day while I re-figured her taxes properly and filled out all of the forms. Of course, she was at work and I just mailed the forms after she signed them and provided her with the copies.

We invited her to our oldest son’s graduation. She never responded, showed up or even acknowledged his graduation. We invited her and her daughter to a religious celebration (Eid al-Fitr, following Ramadan) and they did not come or call. In fact, she did not contact us again until she needed to fill out an application for a passport in order that she and her daughter could visit her husband who is still awaiting his visa. I helped her with the form which required a trip to the library in order to print all of the documents for a visa application that I wasn’t even told about until after I had completed the passport forms. My printer was on the fritz. It still is.

Anyway, I didn’t hear from her again until yesterday, a month after the last time, she called and I didn’t hear the phone ring. My son brought me the cell phone and told me who’d called. I just erased the voice mail as I am tired and busy with a life of my own. My husband came home and said that she’d asked if I could help  her print out her eTicket and he told her to go do it at the library.

I know that she was using me from the start. I guess what kept me helping was that I remember being alone with my children in a foreign country and how difficult it was not knowing how or where to do things and having to figure it out on my own. I suppose I was just trying to pay it forward and help her to not have to go through that frustration. I also believe that whatever help I provide others is a blessing to me and not just them. But last night, I decided that I didn’t want anymore blessings through her. I cut the string and walked away.

And look. The sun came out today and I’m still blessed.

Driving Privilege vs Driving Right

Driving in America has turned into a sort of right of passage. It’s not a new one or anything. Kids in all 48 contiguous continental, as well as Alaska and Hawaii, have for decades been jumping up in front of the issuing offices of their states’ Department of Motor Vehicles in excitement, holding proof of their official welcome to mobility in the form of a 3.5″ x 2″ card with their worst photos ever taken and the last time their true body weights are given sealed under laminate. And here I am, just now teaching my son to drive at the age of 20.

Most who know us assume that it is because we lived overseas for so long. When we got back to the US, my oldest son was 18 and we just had more important things to deal with. Not so. I consciously chose to not get my kids licensed at 16. My second son is 16 and he has begged and pleaded and cajoled and whined for his license. NOPE. He finally told me that it was his right to drive now that he is 16 and I told him the truth. It is a PRIVILEGE to drive at 16. He has no rights until he is 18.

At 18 they have the right to drive. They also have the right to buy their own damn cars and pay for the gas, maintenance, and…*BIG WORD HERE*…..INSURANCE on said cars. My 16 yr old said that my policy comes back to my being a cheapskate. Maybe. But I have rules. And when it comes to driving, these rules are going to make my kids the safest drivers around. You know why? I don’t stop at a 2-year delay.

Did you know that in the state of Texas, in order to obtain a license to fly a single-engine airplane, you have to complete a minimum of 40 hours of flight training including 20 hours of flight training with a licensed instructor pilot with a mandatory 3 hours of cross-country flight instruction and 3 hours of night flying instruction with 10 take-offs and 10 landings for each, and 3 hours of instruction on flight by use of instruments, plus solo flight hours? All this is prior to taking a flight test for the actual pilots license. Usually, that 40-hour minimum is ignored as the average pilot completes between 70 and 100 flight training hours in order to get the experience needed in order to pass that test. With statistics for traffic accidents on the ground being so much greater than the statistics for single-engine airplane accidents, wouldn’t it make sense to have a required number of training hours behind the wheel with a licensed driver as instructor prior to letting our kids drive these 1-ton + pieces of metal, glass and rubber?

Well, that’s the rule in our house. And while I sat in the passenger seat of our van in the parking lot of a closed-down bar in our city last week, explaining to my 20 yr old behind the wheel, why I believe that proper training and confidence in the drivers seat is necessary, he agreed with me. He knows he’s not a young kid anymore and that he needs to learn to drive since he is going to start college in the fall. But he knows that it isn’t about “freedom” to get away from the house and hang out with his friends. He realizes that he is responsible for the control of this large piece of equipment that can harm him and others if he doesn’t take it seriously. And he knows that he is 4 years behind his friends in learning to drive and if he’s embarrassed about having me drop him off or pick him up from hanging with his friends or from the college or from wherever, he doesn’t show it. He always seems grateful that I don’t mind taking him places. He also takes the whole driving thing very seriously and actually thanked me for taking the time to require him to log in “drive time” hours for instruction because he wants to know that he is competent as a driver before being allowed to just take the wheel and go wherever he wants without experience.

The 16 yr old calls him a suck up and thinks that my driving rules are part of my being a control freak since he is fully capable of driving thanks to all the years of practice behind the keyboard playing a PC version of video games like GTA. Pffft. Yeah, right.