Driving Miss Iris

My dog Sweetie, sister Libby, & Dad, Warren O'Brien, Jan 1968, CMU
My quest for independence and higher education coincided with my parents’ divorce fifty years ago. The second of their five daughters, I kissed my mother good-bye and carried my clothes and toiletries to Dad’s 1965 Chrysler.
           My younger sister Libby and dog Sweetie tagged along to CMU. They followed me to my suite occupied with two roommates who hadn’t yet returned from semester break.
Dad nodded to three large photos taped to the wall above a record player. “Looks like you have women of color for roommates,” he said.
“I don’t think so, Dad. That’s a poster of Diana Ross and the Supremes,” I explained.
“Oh.”
Before Dad and Libby left me standing alone in newfound freedom, Nellie, my first roommate other than my sisters or Aunt Goldie, arrived. We introduced ourselves and returned outside Woldt Hall where Libby snapped our photo with Dad and Sweetie. 
Wanting them to linger, I snapped a picture I hoped to remember forever. Dad dressed in a suit holding his car keys. Libby in her camel coat. They look down to Sweetie who looks up to me with her sad Cocker Spaniel eyes.
When Dad drove away, I didn't anticipate the sinking feeling that crashed like a wrecking ball upon my confidence. What was I thinking? What would I do without Sweetie, my confidant?
That separation imposed my first lesson in independence and higher education. Both come with a price.
A homebody without a home, I found a housecleaning job for a professor’s wife. Dr. Kipfmueller arrived at 8 a.m. sharp Saturday mornings before my dorm. Sometimes he brought their little guy John along. We rode in silence to their large house in downtown Mt. Pleasant.

Sweetie, Nellie my room mate, me, & Dad

I worked for Mrs. Kipfmueller during and after her pregnancy with Maggie, one of their six children. My $10 paycheck covered Sunday meals and other necessities.
After we married in 1970, Mel and I carpooled to work in his 1966 Mustang. Three years later, I inherited the Mustang when Mel’s new job with Proctor & Gamble included a company car.
I’ve since lived the typical American upward mobility stay-at-home Mom lifestyle, working part time around our children’s school and work schedules. After the youngest graduated from high school, I drove to Oakland Community College and Oakland University and earned my bachelor’s degree before my fiftieth birthday.

I’ve driven Ireland’s roads solo. I know the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains and the hairpin turns of Italy’s Dolomites.
These experiences meant nothing last June 26 after a three-second syncope episode claimed I shouldn't drive for six months. In other words, I lost consciousness while sitting in my writing chair and Mel became my chauffer—his first unofficial, unpaid job—driving Ms Iris.                   
Six months into his retirement from forty-seven years as an outside salesman, Mel fit the role like a pro. We adapted to my dependency upon him for transport to my plethora of doctor’s appointments and tests, writing groups, and volunteer commitments. 
In the process, we discovered A Taste of Europe Crepes on Auburn Road. And grocery shopping is much more fun with Mel. I’ve grown fond of his valet service.
Dear Reader, the doctors have no explanation for my fainting spell, so I’m on the road again. From my perspective, independence and higher education seem overrated.
I see the need for companionship bound within dependence, an enduring benefit often sacrificed in my pursuit of individuality.
After fifty years, I'm learning the price I’ve paid.

My Calendar Speaks




As a young mother, I kept a large calendar on the kitchen wall. The year belonged beside the phone, a pencil tied to a string and hung from a hook.

Baby checkups, co-op preschool, and elementary school activities occupied the months in my life.


During those four brief years in our Berkley bungalow, our firstborn walked to Oxford school and returned home for lunch. One of our favorites was a fried bologna sandwich with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. When the calendar said Mel wasn’t working out of town, he’d joined us.


In summertime, he took a dip in our above ground pool before he drove back to work. Our middle daughter learned to swim with her Daddy.


After the birth of our third daughter in fall 1976, I filled the weeks with doctor’s appointments before and after her emergency surgery at four months old. Be sure I praised God when I later turned October’s page and anticipated celebrating Ruth’s first birthday November 13.


My four fertile sisters produced a total of thirteen nieces and nephews whose names I scribed on my calendar in their birthdates. There was always a baby shower or birthday in cue.


In the peak of our extended family’s population including grandparents and great-grandparents, every month of the year offered one or more birthdays and anniversaries.


All the stars aligned one special Christmas to gather my entire family within our mother’s Kentucky home. She was in her glory to see her offspring safely lodged in every bed and on each sofa.


In hindsight, it seems that summit of family gatherings lasted a minute. Our children grew up overnight and left home. One by one, names and birthdays disappeared from the twelve months displayed in my kitchen.


In fall 1994, I installed my 386 computer on my firstborn’s vanity table in our kitchen and commenced my journalism career and journal writing workshops. I moved my phone and calendar to the computer table.


March 1995 my father passed. Death claimed our firstborn in July 1996, then Granny the following March. I logged this exodus of beloveds best I could in personal journals. My calendars of those stricken years did not survive.


Yet, meaningful ritual is not easily cast away. We yearn for the truth and life it speaks.


I needed the visual year before me as I had for the assignments of three daughters. The daily frames brought tangible duty to each sunrise, rest upon the Sabbath, and experience at month’s end to revise and achieve my goals.


As I review 2017 from January to December, I am reminded that only two uncles and one aunt remain of my Kentucky kin.


Dear Reader, my calendar speaks who and what matters most to me. Sometimes I am rebuked. Even so, I’m encouraged because I have faith and hope in God’s love to guide me through this pilgrimage.


As an older mother, I keep 2018 before me upon my desk. On it I have written birthdays, anniversaries, and appointments.


God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.