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My Mom in the Driver’s Seat

After earning her licence later in life, Mom made the most of her next 30 years behind the wheel.

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Left: Bonnie's mom Anne in later years, during harvest time. Right: Anne in 1966 with a friend.Photo: Courtesy of Bonnie Donily
Left: Bonnie’s mom Anne in later years, during harvest time. Right: Anne in 1966 with a friend.

“Mom’s independence came into its own.”

Shortly after I turned “Sweet 16,” I made it my mission, like so many other teenagers, to pass my driver’s exam. I was not the last in my family to try. My mom, Anne Bober, who was 39 years older than I was, joined me in the chase.

As I near the age that she was then, I can imagine what made it suddenly so important. Her youngest would soon be leaving home and my older brothers, who farmed with her and Dad, were busy enough with their own families. She had relied on Dad and everyone else long enough for necessary rides—life was changing and she wanted her independence, too.

I took it in stride as my mother and I competed for our prize. I think she had long had her learner’s permit because I don’t recall her studying for any written exam between milking the cows and weeding her acre of garden. Mom took to practising alone on the back roads and I pestered my sisters-in-law to let me drive whenever they were going to town. After my second and her fourth try at the exam, we were finally both drivers.

Neither one of us had our own car, so Mom and I begged our turns for the family sedan, usually on the evenings when Dad was home. I probably got more practice. But when Dad passed away five years later, Mom’s independence came into its own. Thank goodness that ’50s housewife had asserted herself in good time.

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A 15-year-old Bonnie (left) on a family trip to B.C.Photo: Courtesy of Bonnie Donily
A 15-year-old Bonnie (left) on a family trip to B.C.

“Mom owned three cars of her own in all.”

Mom enjoyed her solitude and her freedom, and she really enjoyed driving. Living in a small town such as Derwent, Alta., meant you needed to travel to Vermilion or St. Paul for nearly everything from bananas to baby chicks. In time, the local garage closed and it even became necessary to remember to fill up with gas on your way home from one of these destinations.

Mom owned three cars of her own in all. The first was a blue Taurus—she rolled it on a gravel road on the way home from a function at a country hall. She emerged unscathed but the car was a write-off. Her second car was a burgundy Tempo and became the car her grandchildren most remember her in. The little purple-haired troll that one granddaughter gave her stood on the dashboard beside a St. Christopher’s medal, both doing their part to keep Mom from another mishap. They succeeded. Mom’s last car was a silver Fusion, her allegiance to Ford true to the end.

Mom moved the 30 miles from Derwent to Vermilion, where I lived, when she was 85 and still driving. The road between the towns had become overly busy with oil-truck traffic and we were happy she would be travelling it less often. She reserved her right to transport the last few important things by herself in her own car in the week after we officially moved her. And she could return “home” to Derwent to attend church whenever she wanted.

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Anne in 1957 with her first four children (Bonnie was born in 1967).Photo: Courtesy of Bonnie Donily
Anne in 1957 with her first four children (Bonnie was born in 1967).

“It had been a pretty good ride.”

It wasn’t meant to be too many times. Within the year, Mom was diagnosed with a sinister kind of cancer and she knew she was beyond treatment. But she got to stay in her home as long as possible, her car allowing her to maintain her fierce independence, if only to drive to the grocery store or to the church down the street.

One autumn day, she was to get a home visit from the palliative-care doctor and I drove over to be in on it. I listened as he asked questions and assessed her situation. She relayed to him how she had driven downtown earlier that morning and didn’t recall how she got back home. Her silver car must have remembered the way on its own.

After the doctor left, I asked Mom gently, “You realize you can’t drive anymore, right, Mom?”

“Yeah,” she replied. It had been 31 years since we had passed our exams together—it had been a pretty good ride.

Next, read about the mother and son who went on the kayak adventure of a lifetime.

Originally Published in Our Canada