My father-in-law, Melvin, was an accomplished scientist. He remains one of the more highly published researchers at the Oregon State University’s school of Agriculture. He has traveled the globe collecting rare plants and was instrumental in setting up the National Clonal Germplasm Repository network; a virtual Noah’s Arch of plant genetic material. The first was in Corvallis – there are now repositories all over the globe.
But this great mind at age 88 is being ravaged by the early stages of Alzheimer's. Mel can recall the intimate details of how he discovered the treatment for the plant disease “Pear Decline” but he cannot remember what he did yesterday… or even earlier that day.
Mel learned to drive his Dad’s Model-T as a kid. As he tells it, the old rig wouldn’t make it over Utah’s LaSalle mountains in one run. He and his brother would sit in the back of the truck with a big rock between them. As the T chugged up the hill and over-heated, steam boiling from the radiator, the brothers would jump out and put the rock behind the back wheel to keep it from rolling back down the hill. Once it had cooled down, they would grab the rock and chug up the hill as far as they could go, repeating the process chocking the tire of the overheated T with the rock until they reached the summit.
Two weeks ago while on his way back from his monthly Hort department coffee meeting with other retired professors and technicians, Mel was involved in a car accident. Fortunately for all involved, nobody was injured. But Mel’s car was totaled; too old to be repaired, it ended up being scrapped. Mel later received a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles – he would need to be tested for his continuing ability to drive or lose his license.
Mel recognizes his mental faculties are in decline so after a day of mulling it over, he decided the best thing to do was surrender his driver’s license. This decision was a monumental one for Mel; it marked a milestone in his life… and a blatant reminder that he doesn’t have many more milestones more to go.
In many ways the decision was an easy one for him. Mel's“world” has been rapidly shrinking; he could no longer see to drive at night and he only remembers how to get to a few places like his church or the university campus. He doesn’t remember how to get to our house or even to his wife’s grave site.
Despite the stereotypical metaphor of the DMV as an example of inefficient government bureaucracy, his business with the agency went smoothly and courteously. No long lines or horrendous wait. A few minutes later, when Mel handed the clerk his paperwork with the box checked that he was voluntarily giving up his driving privileges, he told her: “I’ve been driving for seventy-three years and four months.”
He will get his new color picture state ID card in the mail.