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Parental Hit & Run

Susan Ashby Mergler March 11, 2015
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“Nancy, no one saw you back into that damned car,” my father is echoing in the background, clearly agitated over my tattletale mother’s insistence in involving his daughter in this ongoing debate.

“Whaaaat?” I hear myself mumbling more than once into the phone as my mother prattles on about small scratches and insurance premiums. Assuring me that no one saw, it was kosher just to drive home, wasn’t it?

My parents, typical middle-class Americans–hard workers, they raised my brother and me to always say ma’am and sir, and instilled in us such common sense things like the importance of changing our underwear daily, respecting others and always, ALWAYS adhering to the letter of the law. Yeah, the letter of the law was pretty important. So important was this detail that barely two weeks into having a brand new drivers license, when I took out a vintage Harley Davidson AND its driver, even though for a split second considering acting upon that flight part of the fight or flight component of stress, I instead channeled my steady upbringing and stayed at the scene of the accident until the police arrived. You could say that my parents successfully instilled in me right from wrong and for the most part, I acted accordingly even when tough life lessons tested me.

So, here I am, decades later with these same parents now on the other end of the telephone asking for my legal opinion on what they should do now that they have rammed a car at the local chicken joint. Oh, and by the way, they are already home, far removed from the issue they now are trying to justify.

Unsure if it is because my brain isn’t processing my mom’s words fast enough, but I am having trouble deciphering whether my parents are trying to get a moral pass from one of their kids they had preached relentlessly to always do the right thing or if they are just trying to make sure that this same kid who at one time kept track of 30-some felons during a previous career choice can tell them that if no one saw the crime happen then well, it actually didn’t. Just put the garage door down on the dented car and go in the house. Sort of along the lines of if a tree should fall in the forest but no one is there to hear it, did it actually make a sound? This afternoon I am positive my father would emphatically say no it did not. End of story.

Except that isn’t the end of the story. The beauty of the call-waiting feature is that when someone needs to get in touch with you and you’re on the other line sorting through your most recent criminal activity, the state police can dial in. And the problem with not having caller ID is that you actually hang up on your daughter who is still holding the phone receiver with a WTF look on her totally stunned face, to now answer the karma that is getting ready to be let loose on your 70-something, would’ve, could’ve, should’ve known better self. That would be my typically unsuspecting mother.

You see someone did see. It’s called a security camera and the owner of the dented Chrysler is waiting at the adjacent local State police barracks because someone now has to repair the damage. And that clearly answers the current question my parents have been asking. There is no more trying to justify what is now classified in the penal code as hit and run. My parents have gone from zero to 60 in a matter of minutes from law-abiding citizens to criminals on the lam.

As fast as they had engaged me in this crazy conversation, my parents are now burning rubber back to the scene of the crime for a little victim witness interaction, leaving me to wonder what the hell just happened and how much bail it’s going to take to get these two jailbird parents of mine out of the brink. My sweet little mother charged with hit and run, punishable by jail and a hefty fine. Somehow I can only imagine how my dad was the impetus behind this brief lack of judgment on my mom’s behalf. Predictable like that, he was.

Mom and Dad usually ate meals at home. They saved restaurant visits for special occasions and since my dad was a man of old fashioned ideals, the woman of the house of course prepared meals. I guess arguing with this man after almost half a century had finally taken a toll on her and the suggestion of a trip to the local chicken joint somehow agreed with my dad. Besides, if you are ever on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Tammy’s and Johnny’s fried chicken rocks. So, even though my father actually hates chicken, this chicken is that good. Yep, good enough to even let my mom drive to get takeout. So I am sure she was elated as they both cruised down the highway to the promise of an evening with no cooking and no dishes to clean afterwards. After many battles over who had the car keys, my mom on this particular afternoon had finally won a bit of freedom from the king of control who exercised his daily right to drive in the middle of every road on the map because he paid taxes on both lanes. Mom was now in control of the keys and which side of the road the car would be on, at least for this afternoon jaunt anyway.

Part of the brewing problem here is that my father who generally doesn’t like chicken of any kind, really likes big cars. The bigger, the better. He actually had that kind of thinking pretty much about everything. My childhood and beyond is a blur of Cadillacs, Lincolns and Buicks that could only be described as large boats. Large iron boats. The second contributing problem was that mom is petite and probably needed a couple of Sears and Roebuck catalogs to see over the steering wheel as she careened the oversized car down the highway with my antsy father urging her to step the pace up a bit. Dad is finally in the passenger seat and mom has her hands on the steering wheel, but she still can’t keep it between the navigational beacons, and let’s face it….dad is still in control even from the passenger side.

Evidently all was progressing well on this particular excursion, except for the fact that mom had to eventually back the iron boat out of the parking spot once the chicken had been bought and it was time to return home. That and the fact that there are other cars in the parking lot. And there’s also that pesky, intrusive security camera. So, really all could have ended well had it not been for a few little annoying details. Damn details.

Hundreds of miles away, but make no mistake, I can see it all playing out as my parents’ questions are rapidly unfolding over the phone. Mom, giving a valiant attempt at getting turned around in her parking space, is being yelled at by my father who just can’t seem to understand why she is having such trouble reaching the gas pedal while trying to see over the steering wheel at the same time. I can hear the jangling sound the keys make, smacking against the steering column as my flustered mother jerks the gearshift back and forth between drive and reverse. The car lurches forward and then jumps to an abrupt halt as she desperately tries to maneuver out of the parking spot, all the while dodging my father’s hot tempered directions of how to do it faster and better. The man grows more and more impatient to get the hell out of there with every intoxicating whiff of fried chicken.

A logical question here is how did my mother remain clueless after hearing the scrape of metal on metal? Not clueless for one second, mom knew the bigger force at work here was a man so convinced that his insurance company was robbing him blind that to admit to a minor fender bender would only punish him further with an astronomically higher insurance premium; therefore, it was only right to flee the scene. Auto insurance self-preservation? Maybe. And let’s face it, Mom never was one to question the head of her household.

So now the chicken boats they had set out to buy which would make for an easy get away from dinner to Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy are getting cold on the dark kitchen counter while they are being interrogated down at police headquarters. Bonnie and Clyde, modern day progressives in search of cheaper insurance rates.

Sure, insurance is a major rip off, charging the average citizen an arm and a leg for annual premiums and only paying for a chipped fingernail when life’s messes necessitate a claim. Not to mention that after a claim, as my dad was soon to find out, you have to practically hand over your firstborn when they raise your premiums. But that’s life, regardless of how Dad could twist just about any issue into a full-fledged conspiracy involving the government. Then there is that letter of the law. You know, the one your parents expected you to follow, the same one you never dreamed that they wouldn’t adhere to also. Even now, years after their brush with the law, I am still left wondering, for God’s sake, why would you ever commit a hit and run adjacent to the State Police barracks?

After “sorting things out,” my phone rings again. This time it’s the normal sound of my mother as if this is any other afternoon chat, discussing the weather, the annoying branches that have fallen in the yard, my father’s maddening habits. Explaining that the very nice, boyish police sergeant had expedited the exchange of insurance information between them and the owner of the dinged Chrysler, everyone is relieved, she continues, that is, except for my father. Don’t get me wrong, I am ecstatic that I don’t have to post bond for Bonnie and Clyde but don’t you think that if my younger self had pulled this crap I would be handcuffed and in an orange department of corrections jumpsuit faster than you could mutter “chicken boat”?

Thank goodness that kind little policeman ignored my father’s conspiracy theories as he ranted and rambled on about the justification of ignoring the grievance done to the lady’s Chrysler because insurance premiums are such a rip-off . While down at the station turning herself in, my mom’s doe eyes caught in the headlights of the law must have trumped his craziness.

You see, Dad very much lived by the classic parenting faux pas of “do as I say and not as I do” which made me want to rebel over just about everything as a teenager. Not sure he even saw that coming. Well, to be honest, he slept through most of my teenaged antics while my mother must have worn the carpet out under her feet wondering where I was and what I was up to. Just proving in my best teenaged way that you really do need to walk your talk as a parent, I suppose. On this occasion, it was me wearing deep grooves in the wooden floor as I waited while my parents attempted to correct their rebellious path. And on this particular day it was painfully obvious that I couldn’t just blink myself half way around the world to Hawaii where the palm trees sway effortlessly and my parents do what parents do…the right thing.

Well, as the saying goes, all’s well that ends well. Despite my father’s irate protests about fairness and overpriced insurance and cars in the way of vertically challenged drivers, my mom gets off with only a warning and a minor insurance claim. And my dad returned to his cold chicken dinner to fume about the injustice of the entire situation until the day he died. Because let’s face it, according to dad, the whole thing was just a scratch on the bumper, nothing that a can of rubbing compound wouldn’t have taken care of. Now thanks to the damned woman who wouldn’t just drive home and let her husband fix the scratch, he was the owner of an overinflated insurance premium. But the principle remains. Walk your talk. Or if you can’t at least do that, have lapses of good judgment where security cameras don’t exist.

 

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