By Hannah Reich Berman

There is a good deal of truth to the oft-used expression “old habits die hard.” But in some cases the expression does not go far enough. While it is true that long-ingrained habits do die hard, there are some that do not die at all.

I made this (not so) astonishing discovery recently. It happened when I walked out of a store and got into my car. As I was putting the key in the ignition, a total stranger walked over to my window and said, “Lady, do you know that you have a flat tire?” My breath caught in my throat. I was already late for a barbecue at my youngest daughter’s house and I then I realized I was going to be a lot later–if I got there at all.

My husband Arnie has been gone for more than six years, but my first thought was to call Arnie. For the nearly half-century that I was with Hubby, calling him was always my first move. Talk about old habits living on! Hubby had a jack in his vehicle, and in earlier years, he would change a flat tire for me. As the years progressed, and as his agility and energy began to flag, he would make the call to AAA for me and then drive to wherever I was stranded to wait with me until help arrived. Arnie, I screamed silently, where are you? I need your help!

But many years have passed since I have been able to expect help from Hubby, so I did what I had to do. I pulled myself together and sprang into action to call roadside service. (For purposes of accuracy, let me acknowledge that I did not actually spring; it was more of a slow-motion movement.)

The roadside service I use is provided through my insurance policy, which is not actually my own. My car–which is also not actually my own–was leased almost three years ago after my old one was rendered useless by Superstorm Sandy. At the time, also thanks to Sandy, I was flooded out of my house and temporarily living with one of my daughters. I tried to lease a car then, but I ran into trouble because there was not a single piece of paper that I could lay my hands on that would show proof of income. I kept all papers and files in a cupboard in the basement, and everything in that basement was floating in five feet of smelly water. There was no heat, electricity, or telephone service at my place, and my cell phone was not working–I would lose the signal right in the middle of a call. So if I wanted to get information, papers, and proof of income, my only option was to make the necessary calls from my daughter’s place.

Without proof of income, trying to get a car appeared to be a losing proposition. To further complicate matters, I had never leased a car before. Hubby had always purchased our cars, so I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it. That was where my son-in-law stepped in to help me. Good-natured soul that he is, he said that he would simplify and speed matters up: he would lease a car for me. He did that, and I have happily been driving around in it ever since.

Because the lease is in his name, I could not insure the car myself, so he had to do that, too. For the last 33 months, he has been paying the insurance, and I have been paying him. He explained that my auto insurance includes roadside assistance, so I did not need AAA. He gave me an insurance card for the roadside service, and I kept the card in my wallet.

Which brings us back to that Sunday I was stranded in the parking lot, with a flat tire and no Hubby to help me. I would call the number on the card and tell them I needed help. “Hmmm,” I thought, “maybe I will get to that barbecue in enough time to have a piece of my (other) son-in-law’s delicious grilled chicken after all!”

And then it hit me: Just the week before, my son-in-law had called to tell me that he was getting new auto insurance. Now panic set in. Maybe I had no insurance right now and could not get roadside service. The panic came about strictly because I failed to use common sense. If my mind, which occasionally fails me in times of stress, had been working to full capacity, I would have realized that he would not have left me with no insurance. After a few hard gulps of air and some deep breathing, I gave it a shot. I called the number on the insurance card and learned that indeed I was still covered. Nobody had canceled anything, and I would have assistance within the hour.

All too often, I bemoan my fate in a situation and I wonder why life has to be so difficult and complicated. This is another of my old habits. And when I do it, I hear Hubby. He used to chide me, telling me to get a grip. I can clearly hear him say, “Your life is neither difficult nor complicated; you make it that way all by yourself.” He was right–and he still is! How lucky that I can hear his voice, the voice that calms me down. That’s one old habit that has not died, and I hope it never will. That’s the way it is. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.



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