“The lady could get lost in a phone booth!” I jokingly said of my mother.
It was true. Mother had no sense of direction, and my referencing comment was born after I had lived in Swinford Hall on Ball State University’s campus for several months. When Mother would visit, we’d leave my dorm room and she would inevitably turn right instead of left, retracing her steps. Then, at the first cross hall that led to the bathrooms, she’d try to enter through that door believing she’d already made it to the stairwell.
For as long as I can remember, I was the human GPS whenever Mother was driving. I quickly and easily memorized landmarks in unfamiliar locations and served both my parents when they were driving. I can still recall, after 50+ years, various houses or buildings that were landmarks on vacations in Boston, Virginia Beach, St. Louis, St. Petersburg, and Myrtle Beach.
Before she had surgery on her nose that she’d broken when in high school, Mother often went to Carl Brosius Sputh, MD, a nationally respected otorhinolaryngologist (ENT) on the northwest side of Indianapolis. I often traveled to Dr. Sputh’s office in the late 1960s where I was proud to demonstrate my enunciation skills by repeating “otorhinolaryngology” and announcing to the receptionist, “My mommy is here to see the otorhinolaryngologist, Dr. Sputh whose middle name is Brosius.” I loved Dr. Sputh’s middle name and hoped, if Mother were to give birth to a second son, she’d name him Brosius.
One morning, Grandma Donna joined us on the journey to Dr. Sputh’s office. I was elated because I knew that with Grandma joining us, we would visit Lafayette Square Mall and then lunch in a nice restaurant. South of Noblesville, Indiana, Mother turned the steel blue Pontiac Bonneville onto I-465. I sat in the backseat, watching out the passenger side window, half-listening to Mother and Grandma yammering up front.
“One more exit, Mommy.”
Mother did not hear me.
A few minutes later, I intoned a little louder, “Here’s your turn.”
The conversation up front allowed no interruption from the voice in the backseat and my eyes followed the exiting path as we slipped past it. I repeated, several times, “You missed your exit,” but the enthusiastic conversation did not heed my alerts.
Two exits later, Mother said, “None of this looks familiar.”
“It’s not because you missed your exit about three miles ago,” I offered.
Laughter erupted up front. I was not amused because I had been practicing “otorhinolaryngology” under my breath.
Another adventure that ended up in a bit of a road trip was when we were heading to a particular store on the south side of Castleton Square that required us to take I-465. Mother and Grandma were so busy talking that neither realized we were already on the southeast side of Indianapolis near Beech Grove.
In 1979, Mother and I ventured down to Castleton Square Mall to get a new shirt to go with my suit that I would wear to the 8th-grade dance with Loris Foley. As we left the Castleton Square parking lot, I asked Mother if she remembered how to get home.
“Don’t be a smartass,” she said as she confidently turned the red and black Pinto Pony onto westbound 82nd Street to meet I-69 north. I kept my smart-ass mouth closed as Mother aimed in the opposite direction.
“Hmm, I don’t remember needing 465 before.”
She continued onto I-465 and eventually veered off the exit onto I-65 N.
“CHICAGO??” Mother yelled as we passed the sign that indicated Chicago was 170 miles away. “Why didn’t you tell me we were going the wrong way?”
“Because I have a smart-ass mouth…”
OFF TO CLEVELAND
We were excited to be taking a big family trip in July 1979 to attend the wedding of my cousin, Gary Scheffer to Janice Bogucki. Grandma Donna’s large black car was filled with Grandpa, Grandma, Mother, my younger siblings, Dena and Destin, and myself. In the two cars following us were Aunt Norma, and my mother’s youngest brother, and his fiancée.
Grandpa Leroy’s memory was astounding and his ability to estimate travel time and remember the exact roads still impresses me. He could remember the smallest details, even in the most desolate locations that he deemed, “areas that God had forgotten.” I was fortunate to share some of his super-power in traveling but he was the best.
Grandpa Leroy started out as the driver for Destination Cleveland but after several hours, he was tired and requested a quick nap. After retiring from the Elwood Police Department, Grandpa drove a semi for Steel Slitting Company in Elwood. It was the best job for his post-retirement as he loved to drive long distances.
We pulled over to the side of the road for Grandpa and Mother to trade places. Naturally, Mother’s self-deprecating jokes began with her getting us lost. Grandpa Leroy laughed, agreeing, but assured his daughter that there was no way she could get lost if she stayed on the road. The journey resumed and Grandpa laid back his head.
Fifteen minutes later, Grandpa stirred, raised his head from the headrest, and asked, “Where are we?”
Mother thought he was joking and replied, “I have stayed on this same road.”
I am not remembering the exact details, but within those fifteen minutes, there had been a jog, or the main road veered without many indications. It was an easy fix but for once, Mother got us “lost” and it was not even of her own doing.
THE DAYTON YEARS…
Mother’s driving adventures amusingly continued once I moved to Dayton in 1990. I don’t know how many times I’d hear her get out of the car upon arriving and say, “Naturally, I got lost.”
Mother hated the interstate and often took the back or country roads which resulted in a three-plus hour trip that only took me ninety minutes. Many times, she’d stop to use the restroom or get something to drink and turn in the opposite direction as she continued her trek toward Dayton.
I can recall five times when it passed her arrival time that I began to worry. Before long, I would get a call from a phone booth and hear, “I don’t know what exit I took but I am at ____.” She was usually within three to five miles of my home, and I would hop in the car to escort her back to The Haasienda. Every time I pass Grismer Firestone on the southwest corner of South Patterson Blvd. and Stout Street, I chuckle remembering the two times I drove there to fetch Mother.
“I thought I was taking the right exit,” she’d say as she gave me a hug and kiss.
“Obviously you weren’t.”
Several times, I suggested that when she thought she was taking the correct exit to not take it.
With Mother’s earthly record for getting lost, I like to think St. Peter or another heavenly Sacagawea intercepted her journey to heaven.