Four Women Drive Together for Eleven Years…Over a Bridge

In 1976, we four women going back to work were the outliers. Most of the other mothers were at home, with their children.

We had no cell phones. Between us, however, we did have husbands, bills to pay, monthly periods and nine kids. When we started our carpool, the oldest kid was seven; the youngest, was learning to walk.

We were returning to full time teaching from maternity leave. We did not know each other before we met on that September day in 1976.  I was the oldest at 31, and Ellen was the youngest at 29.

For the next eleven years, our merry carpool crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge from our homes on one side of the Hudson River to the school where we all taught on the other side. On a good day, it would take us 40 minutes. On a bad day, it could take two hours.

On our daily ride, when we weren’t sleeping, sulking or squabbling, we talked to each other. We became friends.

Things change. Our carpool ended in 1987, and then, we all drove to work separately until each of us retired.

I am writing this because I read that The New Tappan Zee Bridge when it is finished in 2018 is going to probably have only electronic tolls. What fun is that? In 1976, when we carpooled, we paid $1.50 to cross and we actually touched the hand of another human being at the toll!

Technology changed. You may be reading this, now, on your phone or pad or whatever. I can’t keep up. You may also have children, husbands, bills and monthly periods, or not, if you’re old like me.

It’s hard to be a working mother. I know. It’s also hard to be a stay-at-home mother. I know that too. Now, because of technology, some of you can do both at the same time.  How’s that for a change? I think it’s for the better, but I am sure there are those of you who will disagree. Let me know.

When they tear the Old Tap down and replace it with the New Tap, it will be a celebratory event.

I, however, will be remembering those eleven years when I rode to work with my friends…

…even that time when one of us, in a snit, drove over the bridge while furiously pounding her hands on the steering wheel, and screaming in exasperation at me, the one with the fear of driving over the edge into the Hudson below.

But, for now, that’s all water under the bridge.

Excavating Gums and Memories

Photo Credit: peasap via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: peasap via Compfight cc


Don’t you just hate it when the dental hygienist cleans your teeth? I’m not talking about the polishing. I’m talking about that horrible scaling and excavating of your gums.

Liz, my dental hygienist, stopped her scraping long enough to wipe my face, allow me to sit up, rinse my mouth, and spit out.

“You wipe like a mother,” I said.

“I am a mother,” she said quietly.

I sat back in the chair and Liz continued with her cleaning. Liz was a no nonsense hygienist. She continued to probe and scale my gums, I closed my, eyes and probed the reasons for my comment to her.

Liz did wipe like a mother… my mother.

The rasp of the drill was the only sound in the room as Liz worked. She had stopped talking. I worried that I had offended her with my stupid big mouth. She’s a really great hygienist, and when she’s not gouging my gums, I really like her.

I leaned back, and Liz continued her relentless probing. Her drill screeched, but she was silent. She scaled my gums and some of the water sprayed my face, and some of it escaped the little suction thingy in my mouth, and headed south toward my neck. Again she stopped and swiped the paper towel across my face in that same quick back and forth motion. Liz was definitely not tender; she was efficient. Neither one of us spoke.

Her strictly business swipe of my wet face activated long forgotten sensations from my childhood. I closed my eyes and allowed the memories to play out. I was a little girl again, a little girl with chocolate ice cream all over her face. My mother wiped my face just like Liz did.  Swipe, swipe, done! If no water was available, my mother improvised with a quick spit into her tissue. Swipe. Swipe. As I replayed the feeling of my mother’s hand on my dirty little girl’s face, I forgot my discomfort with the whole dental cleaning process. I was in the hands of my mother.

Other mammal females groom their young by gently licking, patting and caressing.  We, female humans, approach our child’s dirty face with ferocity. We do not caress our kids’ dirty faces.  If our kid’s face is dirty from ice cream, snot mixed with sandbox dirt, or drool, or a mixture of all of the above, we, human mothers, dispatch the dirt efficiently, even roughly.

Our kids scrunch up their sticky faces, try to resist, but they don’t even bother to cry.  They endure the rough swipe of our hands because they know they don’t have a choice. It’s the easiest kind of tough love.

As they get older, our  kids will get into dirt much more ominous than snot and sand. They will have to make difficult choices. We parents will pine for the old days when our tough love was instinctive, incontrovertible. We will agonize.

Liz was finished with my cleaning. I sat up and she handed me the cup to sip and rinse. She stood in front of me, instead of behind me, and she smiled. “Thank you, Rose,” she said. “That was one of the nicest compliments I have ever received.”

“You’re welcome,” I said. “I meant it that way. Happy Mother’s Day.”

“Happy Mother’s Day to you too.”

Old People Buying Cakes in the Supermarket Bakery

The woman was in front of me on the bakery line at the supermarket. She was with a man who I assumed was her husband because he was old too.  She was deeply engaged with the bakery salesgirl.

“It needs to be fresh,” she said. “We might have company this week-end.”

“Taste this cupcake,” said the bakery salesgirl as she offered a chocolate cupcake. “It’s got the same inside as the cake.”

The elderly woman broke off a piece of the cupcake and shared it with her companion. The bakery salesgirl smiled at me, because she knew I was patiently waiting to buy my usual two biscotti while the couple were making their decision.

The old woman’s hair had once been layered and colored. Now, its coarse clumps, tangled in dull shades of orange, yellow and gray, lay wherever they had settled when she got out of bed that morning.

She reminded me of the older women who get wheeled into the beauty salon by their children or their care givers because someone thinks a color, a cut and a blow will be just what they need.   Often, it is difficult for them to maneuver into a comfortable position to have their shampoo. I wish that beauty salons had special seats (maybe some do) for elderly arthritic people who need someone else to maintain their hair.

“Mmm, delicious,” she said after tasting the cupcake.  “I’ll take the whole cake.  Thank you so much. You have been so kind.”

As their cake was boxed and tied, I waited in line behind the couple. I’m old, but they were older.

Her hunched shoulders were hidden in the worn collar of what my mother used to call a “spring coat.” It was made of some kind of black wool and they were a few loose threads that stuck out oddly. The pills and naps in it told me that, if it could talk, the coat might have great stories to tell, perhaps about the forties.

I don’t know. It was just a coat worn by an old woman who was with an old man.  They were buying a cake, in case they got some company that weekend.

I hope they did.