Trip at age 40 with my mother, age 72
February 17, 1989 @ 3:00 AM —Atlanta suburbs are still sleeping which is what I should be doing. But crazy me! Here I am alone on a stupid highway south of Atlanta. I’m on my way to pick up Mama for her long-awaited, many-times-promised trip to visit Aunt Lois in Florida.
9:00 AM — We are somewhere in Florida on I-75 headed for the Gulf Coast. It takes about four hours to go from the Atlanta airport area to the Florida state line. We are traveling a little behind that average, because we ladies have to make a lot of pitstops. I think I’ve already had breakfast twice or was it three times? We stop to fill up and a few miles down the road, we have to stop and empty.
11:00 AM —I think we are near Gainesville Florida, and yes, we stopped for a breakfast snack and a gas fill-up for my new car. I am so sleepy that I am afraid to drive any further without a quick nap. So I reluctantly relinquish the wheel of my new Mazda to my mama, who only ventures out in her 1976 Monte Carlo to go to the store or beauty shop. Boy! Talk about riding at your own risk! I decided not to try and explain what ‘cruise control’ was to her for fear I’d wake up holding the engine of my car while sitting in the trunk o someone else’s!
1:00 PM — I stayed awake only long enough to make sure she could handle my car, then I dozed off. In fact, I dozed for about two hours. I enjoyed the peace and quiet. Ha! When we travel, she always insists I bring a notebook and pen so she can talk to me. Since I’m hearing impaired, I can understand her better if I read her lips. That’s difficult to do while I’m driving.
She opened the new notebook and started to play school. 1 + 1 = 2. I laughed and said, “Very good! Now practice your ABC’s.” So she wrote A B C. Then she wrote, “School’s closed.”
Mama wrote, “Ask me a question.” She knows I always use our trips to find out about her past life…when she was a school girl, when she fell in love with Daddy, her first job, and sometimes secrets my other sisters might not have thought to ask her about.
This morning’s topic is “old sweethearts”. Yes, she had one other special guy she always dated when she broke up with Daddy. His name was Dan Combs. She said Daddy’s other sweetie was a girl named Lisa Sunday, whom Daddy said he would have married if he hadn’t chosen Mama.
Next question — “Mama, I used to play games like Hide and Seek, May I, Simon Says, and Red Light. What did you play?” She wrote down her answer and stuck it in front of my face “Post Office all the time!” She makes me laugh so hard my side hurts!
“Mama, I met a man recently, and he had an unusual name. Davey Crockett.”She must have thought I was joking, so she shot back with one of her own. She wrote, “Well, there’s a weatherman on TV named I.P. Rainwater.” I needed a break from the talking and laughing. That’s another reason I took a nap.
Rest area, just outside of Tampa, Florida — I woke up when Mama pulled in for a pit stop. She apologized. “I wanted to surprise you and be able to drive the rest of the way, but I’m tired and sleepy.” I went to the ladies’ room to wake up and comb my hair. An elderly man came in while I was there and another lady told him that he was in the ladies’ room. Bless his heart, he was so embarrassed. He kept apologizing as he backed out the door with his walker.
When I got back to my car, Mama was carrying on a friendly conversation with the couple in the car next to mine. She has never met a stranger.
I took over to drive the rest of the way, and we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch in Sun City, Florida. Ninety percent of the people inside were senior citizens. Most of them were in Florida for a winter vacation, but good old McDonald’s also has the good sense to employ senior citizens, too. We sat down at a counter with high stools. Mama never finished her salad because she and the lady sitting across the counter talked through lunch and shared pictures of their families.
When we got in the car, she commented, “I just don’t understand it, but everywhere I go, people want to stop and talk to me.” She’s so friendly and outgoing that people find her easy to get to know.
2:00 PM — I-75 South, approaching our destination. I’m reading the road signs and love the names of Florida’s cities. Fruitville, Osprey, Venice, Punta Gordy, and Flamingo Bay. Finally, after we pass the Ft. Myers sign, we exit at Estero onto Corkscrew Road. This road goes up to Highway 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail.
We turn into an orange grove beside a small, red hotel sign. Slowly, we wave and pass a couple of silver-haired bikers on 3-wheelers. Not ATV’s but like bicycles complete with baskets on the back.
I pulled up in front of my aunt and uncle’s winter home. They have a mobile home with a screened porch surrounded by 13 fruit trees loaded to capacity with nature’s bounty. Orange, tangelo, lemon, tangerine, grapefruit, and avocado trees abound. Even a tiny grapefruit tree was bearing fruit already. Florida still amazes me!
3:00 PM — Gosh, I feel so old and tired. I’ve been up and riding for almost 12 hours. I need another nap. I’ll leave these two girls to talk. Poor Uncle Lloyd! He has to sit and listen unless he can find an excuse like I did. These girls are 72-years-old now and have been friends since the 5th grade. That was 62 years ago. They used to take turns spending the night at each other’s house and walked to school together. Lois introduced my mama to her brother (my daddy), and my mama ended up married to him for 43 years before he passed away.
February 18 @ 2:00 PM —The girls and I have gone to Fort Myers Beach for a little sun and sea. Uncle Lloyd complained it’s too hot on the beach, so he stayed home. My mama has still not stopped talking since we arrived.
I’m tired of listening, so I take my hearing aids off. The ocean breeze is wonderful, and I believe my lack of hearing makes my other senses much more aware of my surroundings. The sand on every Florida beach is different. Here in Fort Myers, it is a mixture of fine white sand and crushed seashells. Seagulls walked up to within a few feet of us, so I got out my camera. When I aimed at one seagull, he wobbled toward me for a close-up snapshot.
I must have dozed off in the peaceful surroundings. Mama tapped me on the shoulder. She and Aunt Lois were going to watch people dance to the rock music played by a band on the beach. I went back to sleep. On the way home from the beach, we stopped to buy fresh shrimp for dinner. I was happy someone had already “dismembered” the little creatures for us!
Mama wouldn’t rest until we finally found a copier. She had to give my aunt a copy of her two-page food list from the doctor entitled “How to Lower Your Cholesterol.”Then she gave my aunt a bottle of Niacin and proceeded to write her a prescription on how to take it. When we got back to the trailer, they sat down to talk some more. They have talked nonstop now for two days. I decided to sneak away and pull some air plants out of the tree to take home.
Saturday night after the shrimp dinner—Uncle Lloyd and I decide to take a spin around the neighborhood on the three-wheelers. I said, “How many times around?” “Oh, about 10,” he grinned. I winked, “How about two times?” I could barely keep up with him. He zoomed over the speed breakers. Not me! I tried to go around one and ended up in the grass face-to-face with a tree. As I ambled off the bike with every muscle in my legs cramping, he boasted, “Pretty good for a 75-year-old man, huh?!”
We all got in the car later and rode to another trailer park to meet some of their friends. Most of them were Yankees with big, fine cars like Uncle Lloyd’s. He has a 1987 Cadillac Fleetwood Limited Edition with leather interior. They like to talk about Medicare, doctors, and compare foot surgery. I hadn’t much in common with them, so I just sat and smiled a lot.
February 19 @ 8:30 AM —Breakfast time. Every meal here starts by joining hands around the table to say grace. Each person takes a turn so one person says the blessing for each meal. Boy! Was I rusty. Quietly to myself in preparation, I said, “Lord, teach me to pray. Yes, Lord, again.” Then He helped me with words from my heart to bless our meal together.
Aunt Lois has made biscuits from scratch almost every morning for the past 50 years. That’s quite a few biscuits! This morning she is serving eggs, sausage, biscuits, gravy, and her own raspberry jam. She and Uncle Lloyd have six rows of raspberries growing at their other home in Tennessee. She makes raspberry jam, while he makes raspberry wine. We have fresh brewed coffee and my aunt’s version of fruit punch. I affectionately refer to her concoction as “Florida Brew.”I’ve helped her make it before. Get a jar of fresh squeezed orange juice, pour in a little tangerine and lemon juice. Then, add a little grapefruit and any other juice you can find in a Mason jar in the refrigerator. If it tastes a little sour, add a handful of sugar. She cooks just like Mama never measuring ingredients but always pleases my taste buds.
I inquired about Uncle Lloyd’s free time we gave him yesterday by going to the beach. He handed me a large bag with more air plants than I know what to do with. If these things multiply, I’m in big trouble. I set to work matching air plants with shells of appropriate size. My uncle went out to his shed three times and gave me more shells. When I asked him where he got all the plants for me, he whispered, “I climbed a tree.” I believe he did. Pretty good for a 75-year-old man, huh?!
3:30 PM —I’m trying to get the girls out of the kitchen to take little me back to the beach. They want to shop for shells, and I want to get a tan. Mama is still talking. It seems that last night, Uncle Lloyd introduced Mama to a man named Clyde Grayson from Michigan. He is a neighbor and became a widow about eight months ago. I wasn’t there, but I can picture my mama tuning on her southern charm. Pity that poor Yankee gentleman! She told me she let him know she is a widow, too.
February 20 @ 7:00 AM —We’ve said goodbye with hugs, kisses, tears and a promise to come back soon. We’re leaving 80 degree weather to go home to freezing rain. We feel somewhat sad and solemn now that our trip is almost over. I know that because of their ages, every visit may be the last we share, so I have learned to cherish every moment.
I remember 10 years ago, my oldest sister was privileged to take a trip back to Tennessee with Mama and Daddy. They looked up all the relatives and had a grand time. When she brought my parents home, Daddy dropped dead of a heart attack while unpacking his suitcase.
I guess if there’s a moral to the story that came from my Florida diary, it is this: A family is a treasure, and life is full of simple pleasures for us to enjoy. We need to make room in our lives to experience the special moments. Enjoy these blessings while there is still time.