Fairbanks, Alaska Friday, October 12
Sometimes, journeys that cover the least amount of physical distance are the most difficult. For example, take my mother, whose 90th birthday today we are in Fairbanks to celebrate. The following is a brief list of some of the journeys she has undertaken over the course of her 90 years:
In January 1955, at 32 years of age and with three small children, she packed up her lifelong home in Auburn, California, waved good bye to her mother, father, ten siblings, many nieces and nephews, aunts and all of her friends, climbed into an overstuffed Pontiac station wagon, and, with her husband, headed north to begin a new life in what was then the territory of Alaska.
In 1958, she moved from a little rental house “in town” into the basement of the beautiful log home that she and my dad were building, log by log and nail by nail, five miles “out in the country.” The family lived in the basement, using an outhouse for a toilet and galvanized tubs for baths, for several years until the upper part of the home was ready for occupancy. During this subterranean period, our little brother Doug joined the family.
Throughout our many growing up years, our family’s vacations consisted of wonderful car camping/fishing trips. Fabulous trips with mom doing everything that she did at home except hunched over a camp stove, heating water to do the dishes, and keeping four kids semi-clean while they rolled in the mud, tangled in the brambles, and mashed mosquitoes in their hair.
In 1963, mom packed up her four kids, assorted camping equipment, waved goodbye to her husband, climbed into the family Greenbriar van, and headed south over the Alcan highway for a summer visit to her extended family in Auburn, California . . . then repeated the exercise when returning north at the end of the visit.
Mom made a number of journeys to emergency rooms over the years: When John badly sliced his little finger (while chasing a babysitter around the house); When Cathy had meningitis; When Doug (never the brightest bulb in the pack) drank Chlorox thinking it was Kool-Aide: When Cathy’s index finger got smashed in the hinge of the front door (playing who-can-get-their-boots-off-and-into-the-house-quickest-and-then-slam-the solid-wood-front-door-closed-on-the-loser game); and, When dad was so ill at the end of his life.
Mom also made a number of joyous journeys with family: Road trips with dad to California and other places in the lower 48 after they had retired; Bus trips with her sisters to various parts of the United States; Trips to Oregon for Thanksgivings with Ginny and Michael and Margaret and Bessie; and, Overseas trips as part of the Vanderbilt, Garrison and Landry Expedition.
All of these journeys had their ups and downs and all created memories that make up the substance of one’s life. But the most difficult journey that mom ever made was the one she made this spring when she packed up that beautiful log home of 54 years and moved the now, very short five miles back into town and into an apartment at Raven Landing, a new, independent living apartment complex for mature adults.
Although the complex is “independent living,” everyone knows that it is an independence of a different sort from what one has experienced previously. But, at 89 years, mom was able to make the decision to move and to see it through. It was extraordinarily difficult making the initial decision and then making the thousands of decisions that resulted from that first decision.
We used to tease mom about her inability to decide how many pairs of shoes to pack when she went on a trip. “Mom, you’re the only person we know who takes a suitcase just for shoes and purses.” Imagine how much more difficult it was for her to decide which of her possessions, each of which represented some special moment of her life, to take to her new, dramatically downsized home. During the garage sale that we had after she had identified all the things she wanted to keep, mom kept saying, as people bought the remaining stuff, “you are selling my life.” It was heartbreaking but the people who bought the stuff were so appreciative and so happy to hear mom tell them about the provenance of each and every piece that I think it was a cathartic experience, as well.
But in the end, the same spirit that got mom the thousands of miles from Auburn to Fairbanks as a young woman got her the five miles from Dale Road to McGown Street as an octogenarian (as of today, a nonagenarian).
She is still settling into her new home and is still having difficulty finding things that she knows she brought with her (just last night we located the packet of specialty sewing needles she was looking for a couple of months ago. Good news, because now she can reupholster a chair or sew a leather jacket using the proper tools). Her old friends have found her at her new place and she has made new friends of her neighbors.
We all think, mom included, that she has found an excellent place to begin yet another journey in a life filled with them.