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My father never drove a  car. Well, that's not quite right. I should say I never saw him drive a car.  He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

"In those days," he told me when he was in his  90s, "to drive a car you had do do things with your hands, and do things  with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk  through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it."

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in: "Oh, bull----!" she said. "He hit a horse."

"Well," my father said, "there  was that, too."

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars -- the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the Van Laninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons  two doors down a black 1941 Ford -- but we had none.

My father, a  newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the streetcar to work and, often as  not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and  brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him  and walk home together.

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I  was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we'd ask how come all the  neighbors had cars but we had none. "No one in the family drives," my mother  would explain, and that was that. But, sometimes, my father would say, "But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we'll get one."

It was as if he  wasn't sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950  Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership  downtown. It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts,  loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn't drive, it more or less became my brother's car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn't bother my father, but it didn't make sense to my mother. So in 1952,  when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She  learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the  following year and where, and a generation later, I took my two sons to  practice driving.

The cemetery probably was my father's  idea.

"Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?" I remember him  saying once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother  was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of  direction, but he
loaded up on maps -- though they seldom left the city  limits -- and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

Still,  they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my  father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage. (Yes, 75 years, and they  were deeply in love the entire time.)

He retired when he was 70, and  nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the  mile to St. Augustin's Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew,  and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish's two priests  was on duty that morning.

If it was the pastor, my father then would  go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service  and walking her home. If it was the assistant pastor, he'd take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests "Father Fast" and "Father Slow."

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he'd sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine  running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio.

In the  evening, then, when I'd stop by, he'd explain: "The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored."

If she were  going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out -- and  to make sure she loaded up on ice cream.

As I said, he was always the  navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he  said to me, "Do you want to know the secret of a long life?"

"I guess  so," I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

"No left turns," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"No left turns," he  repeated. "Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic. As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn."

"What?" I said again.

"No left turns," he  said. "Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that's a lot  safer. So we always make three rights."

"You're kidding!" I said, and  I turned to my mother for support.

"No," she said, "your father is  right. We make three rights. It works." But then she added: "Except when  your father loses count."

I was driving at the time, and I almost  drove off the road as I started laughing. "Loses count?" I asked. "Yes," my  father admitted, "that sometimes happens. But it's not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you're okay again."

I couldn't resist. "Do you ever go for 11?" I asked.

"No," he said. "If we miss it at seven, we  just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so  important it can't be put off another day or another week."

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90. She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102. They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom -- the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)

He continued to walk daily  -- he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he'd  fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising -- and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing  out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news. A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, "You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred." At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, "You know, I'm probably not going to live much longer."

"You're probably  right," I said.

"Why would you say that?" He countered, somewhat  irritated.

"Because you're 102 years old," I said.

"Yes," he  said, "you're right." He stayed in bed all the next day.

That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the  night. He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently
seeing us look gloomy, he said: "I would like to make an announcement. No one in this  room is dead yet."

An hour or so later, he spoke his last  words:

"I want you to know," he said, clearly and lucidly, "that I am  in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone  on this earth could ever have." A short time later, he died.

I miss  him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I've wondered now and then how it  was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can't  figure out if it was because he walked through life or because he quit taking left  turns.

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