The jalopy

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(HOST) It took a almost fifty years, but Willem Lange and Mother are feeling the wind in their hair again.

(LANGE) When you’ve been married as many years as Mother and I, you develop certain shorthand communication that conveys more than words. It may be affectionate (a flicker of eye contact); it may be threatening (a furrowed brow); it may be defensive; it may be preemptive. Young people might assume that the old folks aren’t talking to each other anymore. Actually, they are. After decades of cohabitation, you can say a lot with eyes, eyebrows, glances, and mumbles.

Mother’s been decorating our bedroom in blue and umber. Very nice, but I noticed, as I settled in one night, that the white down comforter of many years had been replaced by a blue one. This is the stealth technique of introducing new purchases. They’re just suddenly there, with no reason given, daring you to ask.

A direct comment would provoke defensiveness or evasion; and it would do no good because the money was spent. So I pretended to notice it at just that moment. “Huh,” I said. “Blue.” Rarely do so few words carry so much freight. They meant that, since I had made no objection, she owed me one next time I wanted something I considered reasonable.

Two winters ago I conceived a desire for a jalopy to accompany me into senescence. I discovered one that was within reach. So quite casually one day I said, “Might be fun to have an old car like the one we had when we were married. Remember?”

How we had loved zooming through the night on lonely Adirondack roads, just a couple of kids with the wind in our hair and the roar of the exhaust trailing behind. So I was chagrined when she said, “Nope. I have no desire to do that anymore.” And a jalopy wasn’t the equivalent of a blue comforter. It was time to let the chips fall where they might.

It’s kind of funky great for running to the post office or the grocery store, and it does bring back those romantic days to some extent. Its radio is useless, and the sun on my head is hotter than I remember it. But I really enjoy it, and after a few weeks I quit hearing comments on its imminent capsize. I think she softened a bit when she saw what simple pleasure it brought me to drive around with the top down.

I was clapboarding one wall of the house last Saturday, almost up to the eaves, when she came out into the yard. “Hey, Mister,” she called up, “can I have a ride in your little orange car?” Thunderstruck, I put my tools away and pulled it out of the garage. We put the dog on her beanbag in the back and headed for the grocery store. I looked over at Mother, smiling in the breeze, and I swear she looked fifty years younger. I wonder if we both did.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

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