Note: This was originally published in 2013, before most of you were following. A complex series of minor events brought me back to this post yesterday and I decided to edit and rerun it.
When I was growing up, family vacations were to two places and we drove to both. That’s where the similarity ends. My mother would load my brother, me and her parents into the car for a leisurely drive to a cabin on Lake Erie that began at what normal people would call early. My father would load my mother, me and my brother and our maternal grandmother in the car for an 8-hour ride to Virginia, at whatever time he happened to be done for the day. He said “driving at night helps you beat the traffic” but I think he just wanted to use of every hour of his vacation.
When I was six, we left for Virginia at 2:00 am, after he finished bowling in a tournament; he tossed me in the back of our station wagon with a pillow and packed the luggage around me. He would probably be arrested for traveling like that today, but I remember it as being a pretty sweet ride. Remembering this helps me to understand why my brother and I chose to move my mother to Iowa in a rental truck, towing her car behind us, and why we decided to leave right after packing-up her apartment – it’s in our genes.
Making things more complicated than they need to be is also in our genes; for this trip, the complication was a snow blower. I had one, my brother didn’t and I was planning on getting a new one. The math on airfares and truck rentals worked out so that renting the truck and trailer in CT and driving it and the snow blower to Pittsburgh didn’t cost much more money, it just added 10 hours to the road-trip. It also added two days to the time we would have the truck.
In the future, I should remember that “when you get to the point where adding difficult things to an already complex project seems like ‘no-big-deal’, you’ve passed the point where what you’re doing can be called a good idea.”
We never tried putting this move into the “good idea” bucket; this was always in the “something that has to be done” bucket. My mother had to be near one of her children and my brother was the better choice. These are the things you do with family and close friends while telling other people who do them that they are crazy.
While I can report that the move “went according to plan,” that’s because we had set the bar pretty low. We didn’t expect that our then 88-year-old mother would have packed her entire apartment, even with a lot of help. We didn’t think she would have thrown enough stuff away, even with a visit from my niece for that purpose. Every single thing in her apartment could invoke a memory, a story, and sometimes a tear.
No, the final cleaning, sorting and tossing was left to the cold calculating minds of the sons who had to schlep this stuff halfway across the country. We were also driven by geometry; that truck (not to mention her new apartment) only had so much room. We were aided by the decision to fly mom to Iowa early on the day of the move. With her gone, decisions about what to toss lost their emotional content. We were also aided by three wonderful helpers. These women were friends of my mother and knew her well enough to know what she could eventually “get over” not having and what had to be in that truck at the other end, even if it would be tossed out in Iowa.
One woman worked at a thrift shop, so she took anything that could be resold. We felt better telling ourselves “someone can use this,” not to mention how good we felt about throwing something away that a thrift shop wouldn’t want. Other euphemistic phrases included “she deserves a better chair than this” and “she shouldn’t have to arrange her new apartment around this” as well as our favorite: “this has been (behind the couch, in this closet, under the bed…) for so long that she probably doesn’t even remember owning it.”
We finished packing about 5:00 pm, and had the car loaded on the trailer by 6:00. My brother said that leaving at night would help us beat the traffic. He’s made the trip dozens of times, so he should know, but our rig wasn’t likely to be “beating” anything and I knew exactly why we were leaving. In addition to the genes passed down from our father, putting that last box in the truck and cinching her car to the trailer provided a huge energy boost; we were truly ready to roll and we just wanted to be in Iowa.