Driving Miss Daisy
In my father’s hometown, there is a grand old theater which features a notable film each month preceded by a catered dinner to match the theme of the entertainment. This month was Southern fried chicken, slow-roasted beef tips, Creole mac & cheese, tomato cucumber salad and various desserts followed by 25 years of relationships in America’s Deep South.
When I saw this film years ago, I focused on the social inequities: Miss Daisy Werthan’s dismissive rebuffs of her chauffeur Hoke, the various affronts to people in positions of servitude, anti-semitism expressed in a bombing of her synagogue, and law enforcement officers expressing prejudice against both people of color and Jews.
This time around my attention went to the issues of aging. There have been many “Miss Daisy”s on the Elder Concerns’ client list. Rather than see her as a difficult snob, I see her as a strong, common sensical, independent woman confronted with the losses that come with age. In the first scene, she is forced to recognize that she cannot drive her car anymore. That leads to a world of dependence which she resists vehemently. When her son hires a chauffeur for her, she is offended by the need for a driver and offended that she is to be seen as someone so affluent as to have a chauffeur. My heart went out to her. She can’t get around town alone anymore, she can’t drive her friends, and she has a “useless” employee eating her food and taking up space in her kitchen. She complains to her son that she has lost her privacy. Much of this story seems to be Miss Daisy’s attempt to hang onto her lifelong values in the face of personal losses, all within a larger framework of societal upheaval.
Whereas on my first viewing, I understood that Miss Daisy and Hoke became compatriots by being both of oppressed social groups; now I see them becoming friends in their mutual paths of growing old and needing each other as individuals. When the household cook dies suddenly, both Miss Daisy and Hoke agree the cook was “lucky” to have died unexpectedly while at her job. Soon Miss Daisy slides into advanced age and Hoke’s eyeglasses thicken. Miss Daisy eventually admits that Hoke is her best friend, something they have each known for years. Neither loses their sense of humor, nor their sense of humanity.
In the profession of social work, we say that the relationship is everything. This movie is Relationship Building 101 for geriatric social work. As well as darn good theater.D