I once told my Mom that traveling with her was like traveling with myself. She pursed her lips and cocked her head and shot me a look that said, “really?” I meant to say that we had so many similar likes and dislikes that if I suggested an outing, restaurant, or museum (or vice versa) nine times out of ten it was something that we both wanted to do. Travel strife or tension that can arise, rarely crept into our adventures. For these reasons, she is my favorite traveling companion. Of course, there is a possibility she was only humoring me and consenting to doing a myriad of activities she would never elect to do if she were in charge. She willingly agreed to my suggestions with nary a complaint, although getting her to approve of a harebrained adventure in the first place was the more challenging part of the proposition.
“Mom, do you want to go to Kenya to see the great migration?”
“What if we go and see the great migration and in return, I will come home for Christmas. We can go to Maine…”
“Great, it’s a deal,” I would conclude and immediately schedule the trip before she could clarify that maybe.
My mom exposed my brother and I to food, dance, art, and culture of other countries. I think we attended every cultural fair in a 50 mile radius of our home. She encouraged our wanderlust and more importantly ensconced in us an understanding that we were global citizens and protectors of our planet. And yet, as my Mom got older she had little desire to travel. When I moved to South Africa, I suspect she thought she would visit annually. Actually, when I first told her I had accepted a job in Johannesburg, she refused to visit at all, but three months after I arrived she came. Since then she has somehow found herself boarding a plane two or three times a year to see me. She groused every time noting that she had travelled to Africa more times than she had ever wanted to when all she really wanted to do was spend her holidays in Italy or Paris, but she kept coming back to join me on adventures to Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya.
“We could meet up in Ethiopia,” I would suggest “Or Croatia, I have always wanted to go to Croatia.”
She would smile and suggest we go to Maine. Maine is her happy place and nothing would please her more than having her entire family gather on the coast for lobster bakes and sundowners on the dock.
“Mom, we can always go to Maine,”
I would roll my eyes and propose that we meet-up in London for a long weekend instead. Dutifully, she would meet me there, flying ten hours for a four day holiday. She never complained because the place hardly mattered for her. Seeing me did.
Since her stroke, I wonder if we will continue our far-flung holidays. We have trips to Namibia and South Africa planned in 2018. We don’t know yet if she will be physically capable of going on safari in remote locations. Even if she is able, I don’t know if she will even want to go. I suspect not.
Maine is the place that she wants to go to more than any other. Digging in the dirt of her vegetable garden while watching the lobster boats cruise by, she is in her element. For years she has boarded planes, eaten at restaurants chosen by me, and trudged along on forced marches to find the perfect baguette in France. She has consented to weekends in Ghent solely because I wanted to see the altarpiece at the cathedral. She accompanied me in an ambulance to the hospital in St. Remy. She rode a local bus to the taste wine at vineyards near Santiago. She has been a part of so many of my great travel adventures. Together we have unfolded and refolded maps, gotten lost, and interpreted menus in languages we did not speak. We have had lost in translation moments, fits of laughter, and through it all we created the most incredible memories. She has always been my favorite traveling companion.
Now is the time for me to listen to her and accede to her wishes to go to Maine and perhaps Italy, if she is up to it. Now is the time to hold her hand and stare at the sea. She travelled to places at my insistent prodding because she knows that traveling makes me tick. Now is the time to stay still to make her happy.