Half of the country is traveling today, the rest will travel tomorrow, and a travel log is essential to capture our trips. My brother traveled to Philadelphia Monday so we could drive together to my sister’s today. He likes to visit here. He is inordinately fond of one of my cats, James Bond. My house is filled with free food, abundant coffee and he does get to hang out with me. There was no reason for us to leave at dawn for a three hour drive; we leave later today.
From 1988 until 2010 I traveled (almost) every Thanksgiving to my parents’ house in North Egremont, Massachusetts. There were a few years we celebrated elsewhere, but not many. When I worked for Whole Foods Market I would leave either late Wednesday or early Thursday to get there. The week of Thanksgiving was always a crazy week at work, and I would arrive at my mother’s house exhausted. In my memory it was always very cold, and there was at least a little snow on the ground.
My mother’s house had a huge kitchen with a couch as well as a table and chairs, and a large work island. There was lots of room on the floor where the kids could play and hang out. The kitchen led to the dining room, and off both rooms was the screened in porch where we’d lounge in the summer, and stash the Thanksgiving leftovers for the weekend. The dining and living rooms shared a two sided fireplace. Always
cheap frugal my dad objected to the heat loss caused by lighting fires, but sometimes we could persuade him.
My mother was a great pie baker, and she would often have made the pies in advance, and would bake them Thursday morning. My brother-in-law usually ran a race in the morning. The rest of us trickled down to the kitchen for breakfast over several hours. We’d sit at the table catching up, and gossiping, until it was time to start cooking. For many years it was all hands on deck. My father didn’t help, but he’d wander in and out singing, making annoying jokes, and wander out. The last Thanksgiving we had with him was in 1998, the same year I moved to Philadelphia.
Not long after my father died my mom got sick. She was diagnosed with breast cancer that had already metastasized to her bones. The diagnosis sounded dire, but she lived another ten years. Over the years she grew more tired and weak. At first she’d still cook with us, then she’d sit with us while we cooked, and eventually we did the cooking, and she’d come to the table to have dinner with us.
In the summer of 2010 too tired to fight any more my mother started Hospice. We knew it would be our last Thanksgiving with her, but she was so weak she couldn’t make it to the table, or eat anything. She died the following Wednesday, and I’m sure she was waiting to see all of us one last time. Her decline was rapid that last week. She was ready to let go, and I believe she wanted to say goodbye to all of us. We needed to let her go too. It was hard. The end of one trip, perhaps the beginning of another.
I had planned to return home Saturday, but we decided our mother could no longer be alone. My brother and I stayed with her until Wednesday. They were the most intense and grueling days of my life. Wednesday morning I dropped my brother at the train station and headed back to Philadelphia. I left my mother in the hands of one of her two caretakers, until my younger sister Connie arrived. When Connie called to say she had died I was still driving. I felt the universe exhale with me; I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath.
During that last week with my mother I kept a detailed journal, writing as much as I could. I knew I would want to look at it one day, though I still haven’t. All the deaths I’d experienced had been sudden. I wasn’t equipped for this. It was a trip I hadn’t reckoned on and I felt unprepared for. I was grateful for Hospice, they took as good care of us as they did my mother.
All of us are traveling roads with potholes and detours. People (including our parents) will die, our children will grow up and leave us, and even for those lucky enough to be successfully partnered we essentially travel alone. We are alone in our heads, in our skin, in our lives. We want our travels to bring us joy, exploration, good company and good food. Many trips we take are planned, and we have a map to guide us. For some trips there is no map. We rely on the experience and understanding we bring on our journey, and the willingness to stay present.
Whether you are traveling or staying home this Thanksgiving, consider that we’re all on a journey. If you want to hold on to those memories the good, the tough and the dull, a travel log is essential.