The past week has been rather challenging. Mom’s OCD (which she’s always had, and her shrink didn’t think was serious enough to address. As if he knows; he doesn’t live with her) is feeding into her dementia. Some days she follows me around for literally hours, reading her fairly simple med schedule aloud over and over, fretting that she can’t remember when to take what, and refusing to listen when I tell her I know when she takes what. Did I mention she is also one of those people who always has to be right? Or that she’s never really listened to me? Grrr. Oh well.
The confusion comes and goes; the other night she was up and down every couple of hours all night, ending up with trying to get out of bed and sliding out onto the floor, in an attempt to get to the humidifier and unplug it because it was hurting her. Go figure. Anyway, I turned the darn thing off to make her happy and we settled back down finally. My bedroom is upstairs, but I haven’t slept there in a good while. I honestly get more sleep in half of her big queen size bed in her bedroom downstairs, than dozing with one ear open in my bed waiting to hear her creeping up the steps, and afraid she’ll fall down them trying. So instead of the friendly bubbling of the humidifier, I could hear the faint rush of traffic at 5 AM on the main road just a block and a half from my house. That noise makes a lot of people crazy, I know, but it’s one of the best sounds to me, and the reason has to do with what travel means to me.
When I was five, my grandparents took mom and me with them to visit my uncle, their oldest son, and his family in Las Vegas. Everybody in my family hates to fly, so we drove. This was 1968, remember, and the interstate system was only partly finished, so much of that trip was driven on old Route 66, in a Camaro convertible driven by mom’s younger brother. One of my earliest memories of life is flying across the desert at night with the top down, staring up at billions of stars while the wind whipped through my hair. That was the first installment of a yearly pilgrimage; for the next ten years, later in a big Chevy land yacht belonging to mom’s sister Peggy, every August we headed west, two thousand miles or so, from Tennessee to Nevada for a few years, then California for a couple more, then Arizona. That odyssey deserves a blog post in itself, which I’ll do another time. Right now the important thing is how vividly I recall falling asleep in motel rooms to the sound of cars on the highway outside. My year centered around those two weeks every summer, and to this day that sound makes my heart lift. I just love being on the road! Years later when I discovered Lord of the Rings, Bilbo’s walking song touched my core for that same reason.
“The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began, Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way, Where many paths and errands meet, And whither then? I cannot say.”
When my grandparents were no longer physically able to take that long car trip, my parents and I started driving to Daytona Beach in August. When my dad couldn't sit long enough for that trek anymore (many years of sliding under cars take their toll on knees and hips), we shortened our distance and changed our time, and drove to the Great Smoky Mountains every May. I think those Gatlinburg trips deserve their own entry too, so I'll talk about that another time. The last time we went there was a couple of years before Daddy passed away. I didn't mention the place to mom afterwards, because I knew she would never want to go back without him; but two summers later I woke in tears from a dream of him and the place. She wanted to know what was wrong with me. I told her. She was quiet for a minute and then said, "Well, we could go." She and I went, and took a cousin visiting from Florida. It was the last truly wonderful time I've had. A few weeks later, mom started refusing to take her anxiety meds again, and slid back. As rough as that was, it was better than now. Gatlinburg suffered terrible wildfires last fall, and the place we always stayed was hit hard. I found video online and showed it to mom, hoping to wake some pleasant memories, but she didn't recognize it at all.
I'm kind of going around the block to say, this is why, when I get a quiet moment and my mind needs respite, it goes almost automatically to traveling someplace. It's a peace for me, something I can dream about and hang on to, even now when I can rarely leave the house. It's a bit of what I like to call sanity maintenance, which I plan to talk about a lot more in future blogs!