"Mom! What are you doing up so early?!?"
The clock read 6:35 as I stood in the kitchen wiping my eyes while Charlie-Bear bounced around me, anticipating his morning bowl of Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice. Once my eyes slowly focused, I saw Mom there, dressed in her travel clothes, shoes all tied, and coffee cup in hand.
"You know me," she smiled as she made her way to her Activia blueberry yogurt atop the placemat on the kitchen table. "When I have something to do, I like to get an early start and ease into the day."
"Mom, we said we weren't leaving until 9:00." I was still dragging from the previous afternoon's endurance test of a full of day teaching and an evening of parent-teacher conferences. Thank God I had the sense not to go to Pickles to unwind with my fellow teachers.
I don't blame her, though. I actually should have seen this coming. After all, we have had this road trip planned since late September and had drawn a tiny gray Explorer on the calendar and had written " John and Chris" to remind us of this special day.
"Well, I have to eat, walk Charlie, and shower," I muttered, thinking I had already screwed up her day.
"You go right ahead. I am just taking my time and pacing myself."
An hour or so later, I was hustling my 92-year-old mother down the stairs as I carried her cane, purse, and additional travel bag behind her. I opened the Explorer passenger door and gently shoved her across her seat as a bit of sweat dripped down the side of my head. I had read the entire day's weather forecast. Rain. Lots of it. I was zipping around the back-side of the vehicle when Mom called out to me, "My cane! I don't have my cane!"
"Shit," I mumbled when I realized I was still carrying it with me. I rushed back around to the passenger side to lodge the cane beside Mom and the door. "I am so sorry. I guess I am just excited to get on the road."
"I am, too, but just slow down, please," she demanded, flipping some 92-year-old shade at me as I smiled while shutting the door.
An hour later, we pierced the downpour as we drove north up Route 7 along the Ohio River. The misty, cold fog enveloped us while the seat warmers kept us cozy from the elements. Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars played as a glorious backdrop to the GPS woman who politely requested we take the next exit that would lead us to more rain, more fog, and less coffee in my CCHS insulated travel cup.
Road trips offer a respite to a soul which has traversed a long and hard life, to a soul looking for comfort atop spinning wheels on the highway's pavement, to a soul searching for meaning in the tranquility of an ever-changing landscape.
This road trip was all about Mom; I was chauffeur and passenger. My eyes were fixed on the blurry road behind the swish-swash of the windshield wipers. My hands gripped the steering wheel firmly as I anticipated the occasional larger-than-normal, send-us-sliding wet spot. My heart listened to her unspoken thoughts which drove the purpose of this road trip.
Two wet hours later, Mom and I arrived somewhere between Cleveland and Roger's Flea Market - Twinsburg, Ohio. We drove throughout a city I never dreamed we would have visited. While Mom adjusted her clothes, sipped some Gatorade, and folded the Mapquest directions she used to track our trip, I searched for the home of her friends John and Chris Hannig.
Mom and Chris used to take long walks up and down the road in front of our homes in Bellovedere for longer than either of them could possibly count. Every morning the two would tie up their shoelaces, stretch their calves on the wall beside the sidewalk of our house, then begin their trek up and down the hills. The talks about family, life, 18th Street Center, and the church would become their own road trip of friendship which would continue for decades.
To be closer to their ever-growing family, Chris and her husband moved to Twinsburg a little over two years ago, right when the Covid pandemic began. Back then, we were so isolated as uncertainty gripped our world. Mom and Chris never really had a proper send-off, one full of tight hugs and "love you's."
Over the past few years, Mom and Chris have kept in contact through numerous phone calls and Hallmark cards. John and Chris have been back to visit friends in Wheeling occasionally, but that long drive is not easy to undertake as often as they would like. This past summer, I had asked Mom if she wanted to visit John and Chris when the weather would be milder than the oppressive August heat. She smiled and said she would love to do that.
We spent the afternoon at Chris and John's new home. John gave me a tour of the house, showing me his workshop, Chris' craft room, and their beautiful backyard with a gorgeous rocky hillside. Mom and Chris spent nearly an hour "girl-talking" as they savored the time to look at furniture placement, the organization of the kitchen, and the pictures of the family both she and her husband treasured.
We broke sourdough bread over a meal together. We enjoyed warm apple pie and ice cream while reminiscing about the past, catching up on "Wheeling" gossip and family news as they continued a friendship that has transcended the years and miles in between.
We left late that afternoon, hoping to avoid the darkness which arrived so soon in the fall. The rain had begun to subside to a soft drizzle as I transported Mom's purse, travel bag, and Chris' care package of muffins, pie, and leftover sourdough bread to the Explorer. Mom and Chris hugged more than once before John gently helped Mom across the driveway and into her seat.
"Hey, Mom. Do you want that blanket now? It is going to be a long ride home, and I want you to be warm."
"Oh, yes. Give me that blanket. That'll be nice." She pulled my dark blue Doctor Who tardis blanket up around her as I turned on the motor. I started to back out and reminded Mom to wave goodbye to John and Chris who stood at the top of their front stairs waving back to us.
"That was really a nice visit, Mom," I said as we all waved goodbye to one another.
"Yes, it was."
Sometimes the worst part of a road trip is the inevitable return. When the trip begins, a sense of adventure enraptures the soul. Still, the road back wraps itself in the unknown, offering a feeling of contentment, a sense of loss, or something more hovering invisibly in between the gas tank fill up and bathroom breaks.
The rain disappeared completely as Mom and I headed back home from her road trip. Nearly halfway home, somewhere amid a mountain area of Ohio, the sun began to sink but left a remnant of the day. "Mom, look," I pointed to a collection of clouds that sought to hide the setting sun, a sun we never saw that day until now. "It's a rainbow. Isn't that beautiful?"
Mom peered up from her quiet seat beside me to smile.