Category Archives: Travel
I think one very basic human trait is wanting more of whatever we need or value most. The “what” varies greatly from person to person, but we always want more of it.
Some people want things you can see and touch. Whether it’s collecting unusual or expensive things, or something as simple as recipes, or tools, or books, or even as someone once said to me, ” I just want the land I own and all the land that touches it.”
Other’s collect people: friends, lovers, fans, followers, students, or people to help in some way.
Quite a few collect power whether it’s over family, fellow citizens, employees, soldiers, clients, or even animals.
Many want visible accomplishments, whether on a grand scale like city planing, building sky scrapers, or simply working with our hands at a craft or garden. It’s the being visibly productive that appeals.
Others seek experiences, like travel, extreme sports, or the arts, nature’s beauty, even food.
Then, there are the challenges of developing skill in things as varied as golf, or dance, or photography, or writing poetry. Then it’s the always trying to become more proficient.
And the lucky ones are focused on collecting knowledge, which is something in abundance and variety all around us.
And of course,there’s collecting wealth for its own sake, like the story of King Midas.
I guess failing to achieve in any of these, there’s always indiscriminate hoarding.
But what we all have in common is that we always want more.
And maybe that is what old age, even illness, is about. It can free us to stop and let go. Then we can be still enough to open our hearts and minds to the greatest treasure, the glory of God,. And that is what all these things have in common. They are tiny tastes of the glory of God.
An opulence of travel visions:
Paris, London, Lisbon, Prague,
beauty rampant with history and art.
Yet etched forever in my mind
the beaches and cross-crowned cliffs
above the shores of Normandy.
A cliff face sheering from the ocean,
Pointe du Hoc, where Army Rangers
climbed point blank into German guns.
Now, just empty bunkers on pitted earth
and beaches, wave washed innocent
below silent sentinels left behind.
Row on row of small white crosses
guarding fields of blood-rich ground,
Old Glory whipping, snapping in the wind.
During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.
Heartbreaks that have brought grace:
The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.
Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.
Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.
Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.
Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.
Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.
Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:
The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.
These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life.
When my Mom was growing up in Jackson, Mississippi in the nineteen twenties, her public high school was next to the one Catholic Church and school. She believed that the nuns wore headdresses to cover their horns. Most of the Catholics in Jackson were immigrants from countries in Eastern Europe that she had never heard of. And their languages seemed strange and scary to her, as were any Blacks that she didn’t know. She ended up with a job in New Orleans and married to a Catholic newspaperman, who also happened to be a strong advocate for integration. She was a naturally kind person who cared about people, so she gradually adopted my Dad’s way of thinking. Though she remained Methodist, she was one of the most active mothers in my Catholic school and became great friends with the nun that taught me in first grade. But when my Dad went away in the army in the nineteen forties, Mom and I went to live with her parents back in Jackson. I went to a public grade school near by. As a new and very scared second grader, I experienced everyone in the school gathering in the gym and being separated into groups by religion. I have no idea why. But out of several hundred children, I was the only Catholic. Not a comfortable experience for an eight year old child.
In the mid-nineteen-fifties, my Dad, now a newspaper editor in Houston, Texas, endorsed the first black to run for a position on the school board. The schools were still separate, but the black schools had never had any representation. Late on the night of the election, the entry hall to our apartment was bombed. The bomb was primitive, but strong enough to make sharp pieces of slate and even the confetti packing all stick in the door and walls. Fortunately, I stopped on the way downstairs to answer the door when the bell rang. It was long after midnight and my dad wasn’t home from covering the election yet, so I stopped half way down just as the bomb went off.
In the sixties, now living in my husband’s home town of Nashville, Tennessee, one of my social friends proclaimed furiously and proudly that as a hospital volunteer, she had refused to carry a black baby out to the car that day. She had done this right in front of the parents. I was horrified that a Christian mother with a college degree would be so cruel. So, I decided to volunteer at a black grade school as a tutor for children having trouble reading . As I grew fond of these delightful small children, I began to consider how limited their future would be, even if they learned to read. So, I joined the NAACP and worked in their offices trying to find employment for blacks in the white community. I happened to be working there on the day the Poor People’s March on Washington came through Nashville. Young blacks, who were in the more extreme Black Protest movements, came through the office where I was working that day. They obviously hated whites and made sure I was very aware of that. I went home stricken by my experiences of the extremes of hatred between the races. How could we avoid a bloody race war? But God sent Martin Luther King, Jr. and his message of non-violent protest. Thanks to him and many other brave Christian Blacks, we live in a different world now and my grandchildren have friends of all colors.
In the early seventies, my husband and I and our five children moved to a very rural area of middle Tennessee. One day, as I came into the little neighborhood grocery that had chairs around a potbellied stove, I overheard one of the men sitting there say, “Yep, If someone hadn’t of killed those Kennedys, we’d have a Pope running our country now and those Catholics you think are your friends would be killin’ us in our beds.” No one argued the point.
Don’t assume that because you are a law abiding white middle class American, you will never experience prejudice.
In the eighties, I had to use a wheelchair because there was no medicine yet for a condition that made walking excruciatingly painful for my feet. About that time, one of our sons went to work for an airline that allowed him to take us abroad for only the tax on tickets. So, we began years of traveling with the challenge of me in a wheel chair. America had already become mostly handicapped accessible, so we were not really prepared for the differences in Europe. In many countries the only accessible bathrooms were in a McDonalds’. In the German speaking part of Switzerland, in Vienna, Austria, and in the Czech Republic we met with open hostility. And the hostility was not just from skin heads. In Prague, when trying to get across a road in the rain and onto an awning covered side walk, wide enough for a wheelchair and other people to walk, several middle-aged, middle class looking women standing together chatting, not only wouldn’t move even slightly to let us get out of the rain, but one scowling, turned and literally hissed at me. I cried that night. I considered myself a kind middle class woman of reasonably pleasant appearance. Why would someone hate me without even knowing me. We learned it wasn’t because we were Americans. Now that the communists were gone, the Czechs were welcoming westerners with open arms. But until that year those with any kind of handicap had been kept inside, sometimes in attics.The new President’s wife was just starting a campaign to help them become an accepted part of the society. Shortly after we returned to America, we read that a German family had sued a restaurant in Germany for allowing a handicapped person to be seated where they were visible to others. They claimed that having to see this person while they ate ruined their vacation. The saddest part is that the court agreed and they were awarded $20,000.
Don’t assume if you are a liberal Democrat, that you aren’t prejudiced.
My assumptions about my lack of prejudice were knocked silly when I was substitute teaching a seventh grade English class in my small rural town. I called on a young black man and just stood there speechless with my mouth hanging open when he answered in an upper class British accent using four and five syllable words, that I had actually never spoken, only read. I had been totally unaware of my preconceptions, because of my limited experience.
I realized that I had some prejudice against Germans from WWII and years of movies and books about the Holocaust. Though I knew not all Germans agreed or participated in persecuting the Jews, I had not read of many Germans that risked their own their lives for them, except the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of the book The Cost of Discipleship. At first, my experiences in Europe reinforced my prejudice. But, when reflecting back on the many experiences of kindness and generosity by Germans, Austrians, and Czech’s while in their countries, I realized I was focusing on a minority because of my long unchallenged prejudice.
We can and will survive our current fears and prejudices, if we commit to working toward a better America for all people, including both whites and blacks, who cannot afford college or have different gifts more suited to vocational education and also for immigrants seeking sanctuary for their children from wars not of their choosing.
When in my fifties, I was confined to a wheel chair. Sometimes even the weight of a sheet on my feet caused me excruciating pain. I lived way out in the woods and my driveway was a challenge to anyone fond of their car’s muffler. It was a difficult time.
But, two new friends began to come to see me twice a week, bringing lunch and sweets and laughter and even taking me places in my wheelchair. Each Christmas we did a shopping day at Cool Springs Mall, starting with a macadamia nut cookie, shopping, then lunch at Red Lobster, more shopping and a lush caramel cappuccino to cap the day off. By the end of the day, my wheel chair and I were buried under packages.
Soon our nephew brought me a computer and he and my granddaughter taught me to use it, so I was connected to the whole world, as I sat watching a doe with her fawn playing outside my window.
About then, I also watched a Canadian movie called, Strangers in Good Company, which helped me realize that I had all the best things in life: love, friends, nature and a connection to the outside world.
A few years after that, a son that worked for an airline started taking me and my husband to Europe every year. I spent months researching and planning our trips on the computer. Once there, my husband and son pushed me up steep cobblestone streets, down paths in the woods on mountains, and through the amazing storage areas of art museums like the Louvre, that weren’t easily accessible. There were challenges and limits, but again such wonderful experiences that there was no way I could feel underprivileged. Once we accept our circumstances, even our limits, we discover a flood of blessings all around us.
Then a new medicine became available that controlled my problem enough to allow me to walk reasonable distances on my own. About then one of my friends moved away and the other became crippled and in a wheelchair. So, we recruited my teen aged granddaughter to help us stay mobile. When helping someone in a wheelchair have adventures, it’s best to have a pusher and a door holder.
Miraculously an arts and science center was built in our small town and the next ten years were filled with marvelous art, pottery, and music classes and both professional and community theater. So, I got to return the kindness of my friend until she died.
Soon God brought other women into my life, including the friend that moved away, who had become home bound. I have been able to help free them as my friends and granddaughter did me.
Whatever your situation, watch for the love of God in it and watch for a way to pass it on.
My friend of over forty years, Norma Parham, died last week. She was a very interesting, talented and paradoxical woman. I miss having her to call and laugh with about aging. For the last year she had been a resident in a nursing home in rural Hickman County, where she played the piano for the residents and had just bought a ukelele to learn to play. She was the only Republican I ever knew that subscribed to Communist magazines in the 1970’s. They were delivered in brown paper wrappers. She grew up Church of Christ and converted to Catholicism. Though getting a Masters in Religious Ed made her a skeptic about taking scripture literally, she loved the psalms. Her mind was analytical, but at heart she was a mystic. She wrote poetry, painted, sang, and could tear up a piano playing everything from Boogie Woogie to Beethoven. She loved shooting my Pollyanna ideas down. She taught for 36 years. When I started teaching, she advised me to not smile for the first six weeks. When asked what it was like in her first years of teaching with several grades in one classroom, she said it was like herding cats. She spent summers either traveling or studying abroad on her own. She grew up in Hickman County in the country without indoor plumbing and with heat from a wood burning stove. After teaching about thirty years, she had a rather cynical opinion on the direction education was headed. So, when the new principal, a hardly dry behind the ears coach, called a meeting for all the teachers, she sat in the back row reading a newspaper. After a while the young new principal suggested that she might learn something if she stopped reading and listened. She carefully folded the paper and took out a pencil and pad and took notes for the rest of his talk. When it was over, she gave him her “notes,” suggesting that he might find them informative. The paper was completely filled with his grammar mistakes and her corrections. She was one of a kind. I miss the possibility of her.
A: Age – 78 ½. Favorite ages: 35– after doing miserably in college, I went back finally actually wanting to learn and got my degree Summa Cum Laude. 60 – Took up painting and loved it. 75 –started my blog and did my first stand-up comedy gigs.
B: Biggest Fear – Losing my voice. Stopped smoking cold turkey after 3+ packs a day for 28 years after noticing a lump in my throat. Fear of death never motivated me, but the possibility of not being able to talk did. 🙂 C: Current Time:– 11 pm. Should be sleepy since I woke up at 5 am and never got back to sleep.
D: Drink I Last Had – A Sprite Zero, no caffeine, no sugar, why do I even bother?
E: Easiest Person to Talk To: Myra, my best friend from high school and college. We’ve stayed connected across long distances for 59 years by mail, phone, a few visits and for the last 15 years by face-book and e-mail. My husband is the easiest person to just be with, without talking.
F: Favorite Song – Dream, Dream, Dream by the Everly Brothers. It was my husband’s and my song when dating in college. (Our teen-age daughter was very outraged when she found that out, because it was her and her guitar playing boyfriend’s song. 🙂
G: Grossest Memory – Had an unexpected visit from a General , who was a friend of my husband’s family in another state. As our toddler was running back and forth in the living room, I nervously served coffee from our seldom used silver tea service. I realized to my horror that he was dropping small balls of poo all around the coffee table. I grabbed him under my left arm while scooping them up as quickly and casually as I could with my right hand and excused myself quickly to change his diaper. Unfortunately, before I could wash my hand, my husband called me to come say good-bye to the General who needed to get to a ceremony in his honor. Of course, he held out his hand to me and I couldn’t think how to avoid shaking it. I often wondered if anyone got a whiff of poo when he was standing in the receiving line shaking hands.
H: Hometown – New Orleans, Louisiana – Lived in the French Quarter in the Pontalba Apartments on Jackson Square until I was four. Would love to have my funeral in Jackson Square with a Dixie Land Band. (Not going to happen.)
I: In Love With – My incredibly kind and low maintenance husband of 57 years who helps me laugh about the challenges that come with getting old.
J: Jealous Of – People who can write beautifully and touch other people’s hearts.
K: Killed Someone? – Not that I know of, but I did once have a confused looking pedestrian simply walk straight into the front of my moving car. I was driving very slowly and stopped immediately, but he sort of bounced off the car and my heart stopped for a moment, until he just rubbed his arm a little and walked on down the street. I still remember the horrible sick feeling though.
L: Longest Relationship – My husband: we dated off and on in college for 3 years and have been married 57 years.
M: Middle Name – Fatherree, which was my mother’s maiden name.
N: Number of Siblings – One, a brother almost 10 years younger than I am, who treated me like a princess when I went to visit him in Houston last September. It’s amazing when you’re the last two people in your family of origin how much more you appreciate one another. All those bratty little brother and bossy older sister memories just fade away. Another one of the few perks of getting old. O: One Wish – That I and all those I love and they love will become the people God created us to be. I know it sounds hokey, but it’s true.
P: Last Person I Called – A friend, to invite her over for homemade soup on Wednesday, when the snow is supposed to finally all be gone from the streets.
Q: Question You Are Always Asked – Are you Julian’s wife, Chris, Mike, Julie, Steve or Tommy’s mom?
R: Reason to Smile – 11 smart funny wonderful grandchildren and 7 smart funny delightful great-grandchildren whom I either see in person or on face book frequently, and even when I don’t , I have thousands of marvelous, often hilarious, and many very touching memories to pull out and savor.
S: Song You Last Sang – “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I sang it to try to show a friend from Norway what the Dixie Land Music I want at my funeral sounds like.
T: Time You Woke Up – 5am…….not my normal time…. Woke up mentally struggling over problems I’m having with a piece I’m writing for try-outs for a stand-up comedy show.
U: Underwear Color – plain old lady white. (I really wanted to lie about this!)
V: Vacation Destination – Took a challenging, but very scenic trip to the South West of France in October. One of our sons drove us and since we had a wheel chair, a walker, two CPAP machines and six suitcases, we had to rent a large SUV. It was a lovely car, but not really sized for narrow winding roads in medieval mountain villages and along cliffs and river valleys in the forests. I’m afraid when we returned it, it was a smaller car than when we started out. My favorite city is still Paris, but I also love the visual beauty of Salzburg.
W: Worst Habit- snacking – absolutely terrible about it. In fact, I think I’ll go scavenge through the cabinets after I finish this, even though it’s almost midnight! I’m sure I hear some chocolate calling me.
X: X-rays You’ve Had – (MRI’s, CT Scans, Mammograms included) Brain, sinuses, carotid arteries, various fingers, chest, breasts, gall bladder, stomach, left hip, lower back, knees, ankle, feet. (Does that leave anything?)
Y: Your Favorite Food – Lobster, but I don’t get it often, so fresh artichokes are a favorite that I get to have more frequently.
Z: Zodiac Sign – Cancer, which sounds so awful…..I think it used to be Moon Children or something equally strange, but not as sinister sounding as Cancer.
I read about a Psychology 101 behavior experiment today that raises some interesting questions.
You start with a cage containing four monkeys, and inside the cage you hang a banana on a string, and then you place a set of stairs under the banana.
Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana.
You then spray ALL the monkeys with cold water.
After a while, another monkey makes an attempt. As soon as he touches the stairs, you spray ALL the monkeys with cold water.
Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.
Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, ALL of the other monkeys beat the crap out of him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.
Next, remove another of the original four monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment – with enthusiasm — because he is now part of the “team.”
Then, replace a third original monkey with a new monkey, followed by the fourth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.
Now, the monkeys that are beating him up have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs. Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. Having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the banana.
Why, you ask? Because in their minds, that is the way it has always been!
My thoughts on this.
Unfortunately this is true of many, if not most, of us human beings. We don’t seem to have made the leap from monkeys.
This is why I so admire the human aspect of Jesus. He responded to the challenge to outgrow his prejudices and even his convictions about the limits of his ministry. It was painful (we see him weep as he has to accept that the people he loved and thought he could save from their blindness reject him). Over and over we see him change and grow beyond both the limits and misunderstandings of his traditional religion, beyond his own followers, his era and even beyond his own previous assumptions. Often the challenges to His traditional religious attitudes and limits come from disreputable sources: women, gentiles, Samaritans, the military of the hated conqueror, sinners, and the sick.
That kind of openness is pure grace! And that’s what it takes to become fully human.
A cartoon on Facebook along with my recent immersion in the history of the Cathars while traveling in South Western France resonated powerfully for me along with the story of animal behavior.
The cartoon showed a Knight riding a horse and holding a flag with a cross emblazoned on it while leading long lines of armed soldiers. One of the soldiers says to the man next to him, ” I hear it’s because we’re right and they’re wrong.”
The Cathars were people who began to question some of the priorities and beliefs within the Christian Church of the 13th century. After failed attempts to convince them of the error or their ways, Pope Innocent III with the support of the armies of the King of France mounted a crusade aimed at completely eliminating the Cathars. It took many battles and involved burning down cathedrals while the Cathars seeking sanctuary were inside them and burning thousands of others at the stake. Some pious Catholics attempted to save their Cathar neighbors and friends and were ruthlessly wiped out along with them.
Who do you think were Christ like in this scenario?
Though one of the most positive aspects of reaching retirement age is the opportunity to travel, I wish I had photos of the incredulous expressions on airport security personnel when my husband and I show up. They look like, “Why don’t people like you, just stay home?” Their feelings may be justified since they spend twenty minutes patting down my husband, whose pacemaker can’t go through the x-ray machine, and about fifteen minutes examining my wheelchair as I limp through, at the same time others are dismantling our sleep apnea machines. I’m not sure what terrorist profile we match, but believe me, you are safe from us.
Back in our youthful sixties, we each took only a small rolling suitcase and backpack for eleven days abroad. This meant we could take it all as carry-ons and not risk the trauma of lost luggage. Now, in our seventies, we need an extra suitcase just for medicines, heating pads, sleep apnea machines, current converters, and outlet adaptors. The upside of my wheelchair is that we customized it to carry both me and the luggage. Of course, we look a lot like a traveling circus act. But that’s one advantage of being over seventy, who cares? One small warning to other wheelchair travelers however; all those lovely little bridges, that you have to cross every two blocks in Venice, actually consist entirely of stairs. A wheelchair with pontoons and a paddle would be my suggestion for Venice.
Traveling late in life has given me a new twist on the old joke, “What do you call someone who only speaks one language? An American.” My version is, “What do you call someone who can say, ‘Where is the bathroom?’ in six languages? Any woman over sixty ,who travels.” And I am currently creating a coffee table book of photos of my husband waiting patiently outside loo’s, el banos, il gabinettos, and badezimmer around the world and including a warning about the sale de bains in France that are ecumnenical.
I remember callously laughing years ago, when hearing about two young men on one of those farcical thirty minute tours of the Louvre getting on either side of an elderly woman and literally hauling her like luggage, as their group raced from Winged Victory to the Mona Lisa. That’s not quite as funny to me now, but I do try to bring a bit of lightheartedness into having to use a wheelchair in countries that lack accessibility in their transportation systems. When I have to stand up and struggle up long sets of steep stairs, I sing out, “I’m healed. I’m healed.”
Since I’ve never been compulsive about seeing every single thing there is to see, I don’t mind sitting in sidewalk cafes or under shady trees, while my husband and son are climbing castle ruins that are too much of a challenge with the wheelchair. Being a devout coward, I declined my son’s suggestion that we ask if there was a catapult available. Besides, I have memories of the time my husband and son, energized by several glasses of beer, attempted to run while pushing me up Mont Saint-Michel over its large cobblestones. We threw a wheel about halfway up. I decided then that the view from the bottom is just as interesting and tasty as that at the top.
One surprising travel experience was sitting in a row of white-haired, rosy cheeked Miss Marples in the theater at Stratford-on-Avon. I was the only little old lady to gasp aloud at sudden full frontal male nudity on the stage. It would seem that the English are at least a verbally reticent race. Or perhaps the Miss Marples had been coming to the play every day since it opened.
There was another experience that’s funny now, if not then. We stay mostly in clean, but literally ancient, B & B’s or small hotels that have lots of atmosphere, but limited plumbing. Once, at three in the morning in Vienna, I spent fifteen terror-filled minutes locked in a tiny bathroom down a very dark hall, listening to heavy breathing sounds outside the door. It turned out to be my husband’s snores echoing out the bedroom door that I had left open for a hasty return.
I confess that planning trips seems a tad less fun now that we tend to choose the countries we visit by the quality of their medical facilities. And shopping for insurance that will fly us home dead or on life support conjures up some daunting scenarios. Recently, just my husband was planning to visit one of our sons, who was staying in London for a month. Since I do most of the practical preparations for our trips and I’ve also reached the age where funerals are a frequent part of my social life, I checked out the pros and cons of return by urn, rather than by casket. When I suggested to my son that should the need arise, he bring Dad home in an urn, he responded with great outrage, “That’s a horrible thing to say. There’s no need to be morbid.”
I decided right then to make the trip with my husband, figuring that one of us would survive to deal with any morbid decisions. When we both returned, sans urn, from what felt like the best trip of many years of traveling, I began to wonder just what made it feel like such a wonderful trip. That’s when I realized that there’s an upside to imagining worst-case possibilities. This particular trip seemed so delightful, at least partly, from sheer relief that nobody came home in an urn.
Mt. Pilatus at 7,000 feet is accessible by a small train, a cable car, and chair lift. We used them all. The train was the scariest!
The much smaller Mt. St. Michel defeated us when my husband and son, emboldened by a couple of beers, tried together to run pushing me up the cobblestone road. The rubber rim of my right wheel went flying off about a fourth of the way up.
I settled for coffee in a sidewalk cafe at the bottom. My son and husband were gone so long, the waiters were huffily removing my cup and setting my table for the next meal. I resorted to writing a note in French saying my son and husband would be back soon to join me for dinner.
Under threat of abandonment by my French speaking son, I am not allowed to attempt to speak French in France. The French are very proud of the beauty of their language. He thinks deportation is a serious possibility, if I do my usual “language deaf” mangling of even a foreign language that I have actually studied.
I must admit, I think that’s a real possibility in Paris. They are nasty to everyone, even non-Parisian Frenchmen, who often asked my son for help with the Metro and directions. And I helped young Japanese women finally get service in a cafe in Paris by besieging the waiters with written notes. I think the waiters feared I would fill the room with notes like confetti.
If you do not know French, at least carry a written note asking, “Where are the bathrooms?” But, beware, in Paris many of them are ecumenical.