Traveling With Mother

Karen Radford Treanor 


© Copyright 2023  by Karen Radford Treanor

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

My mother was an inveterate armchair traveler, but rarely left the small country town in which her husband had stashed her while he went off to do his bit to ensure the settling of enemy hash in 1944.

Pete had been building warships in the Fore River shipyard, and the government was happy for him to continue doing so. However, the exploits of his much younger brother in France stirred Pete to a more active participation in the war effort. Off he went to the Pacific Theatre of Operations, apparently to have a whale of a good time, to judge by the letters he sent home, which Gini carefully preserved and promptly answered. Pete was one of the lucky ones who didn’t have to kill anyone, or be killed by them. Other than having several leather watch straps rot off his arm due to rain, heat, and microbes, he got through pretty well unscathed.

Pete came home from the war to greet the 4 ½ year old who hardly knew him, and at once sired another daughter. He and Gini looked at various housing options but his widowed mother’s apron strings proved too tight to break, so the couple stayed put in the big old farmhouse on Elm Street. Hope of adventuring somewhere simmered away for many years until 1964 when Pete went to Alaska as part of the earthquake reconstruction team. Gini joined him for a month or two, and they toyed with the idea of staying on. Real life intervened and they both returned to Elm Street, from where both daughters were married. Grandchildren arrived. The first one rechristened her grandmother “Gigi,” by which soubriquet she was known for the rest of her life.

A decade passed; the elder daughter went off to work in southern Africa and the younger one moved to California. Gini once again travelled in her mind’s eye to exotic climes, but despite offers of airline tickets, never herself saw the places from which the colourful postage stamps originated.

The mother-in-law was safely stowed under a mossy wall in the old graveyard, but now Gini had an aging and ill husband to consider, not to mention the increasingly demanding repairs on the 160-year-old house. Travel consisted of short journeys to grocery shops, hardware stores, and medical clinics.

In 1995 Gini was suddenly widowed. After years of suffering things no doctor could pin down or cure, Pete was gone. The big old farmhouse was gone too; sold to younger people with deeper pockets, who could give it the attention it needed. Gini settled into a modern ground floor apartment in a small development, and learned how to send emails. The elder daughter by now had settled in Australia and made attempts to get Gini to visit, but it all seemed too difficult now—every invitation was rebuffed. Even the drawcard of six great-grandchildren at the bottom of the world could not move her. The younger daughter now lived close enough to lend a hand when needed, and the elder kept in touch by phone.

In 1996 the daughters got together and arranged a trip to Nova Scotia. The elder flew in from Australia. Not giving Gini any choice, they carried her off to the ferry in Portland, Maine. After a token protest about the expense, Gini started to enjoy herself. Driving around the beautiful island where her own mother was born, she relaxed and expanded and told stories about the family members such as the wicked step-grandmother who “made off with Grandma Dunn’s cut glass bowls”. The graveyard where she was buried was filled with lichen-encrusted stones whose letters were barely legible. Gini stood back and using the tip of her walking stick, scrubbed away at the headstone until the lichen fell off. “Nobody else will come to do it,” she grumbled. Even wicked step-grandmothers are entitled to be memorialized.

The trip was the only time all three of us went anywhere together, and it has been a warm memory for many years. Not long after this trip Gini’s health began to fray around the edges and eventually unravel until in 2008 she was sick and tired of being “tethered like an old dog” to her oxygen machine. She spent less than a fortnight in the terminal care hospice before taking wing for parts unknown, the ultimate travel adventure.

A few months later I found a carefully wrapped package in my mailbox on the other side of the world. Inside was a half-pint bottle which had once held Balvenie whisky. It was one of a trio I had bought as a present for Gini during my last visit. The bottle now contained what looked like salt and pepper. “I thought you might like to take Gini travelling with you,” my sister’s note said.

So it was that my mother’s ashes, a pinch at a time, went to Margaret River, Western Australia; the Indian Ocean; the Archbishop of Canterbury’s garden in London, and Stonehenge. A small sprinkle also rests on the turf of the ancient Irish burial mound at Newgrange. Gini joined the black sand beach at Raglan, New Zealand as well as the bubbling volcanic mud at Rotorua. She moved with me to Tasmania and another pinch of ash slipped down the Plenty River, behind the local whisky distillery, which would have amused her.

She is also now reposing in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris where many of her literary heroes lie, as well as in the Seine near Notre Dame, and in Monet’s garden at Giverny. 

I like to think she knows about her afterlife travels, and approves.

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