July 16, 2012
Alice arrived in Portland and moved into The Place four years ago.
Even though she always says she doesn’t like it here, she still wants to celebrate this anniversary. She suggested going to the Dollar Store. We may do that Wednesday or Thursday.
But today I’m going to revisit a post about how she got here:
The Reluctant Traveler
For years after my father died, every time Alice and I talked about moving her from Iowa to Oregon, she claimed there was no way to get her here. Planes were out, she said; she’d traveled by airplane only twice, back in the 1980s, and both times she’d been removed via ambulance. Panic attacks.
She really didn’t want to move at all, but she knew the time was coming. Now and then she’d try on the idea of a train, but I’d picture her with her cane on a train lurching west, trying to get to the bathroom without falling. “Not the train,” I’d say. “Why not by car?”
“Car!” She coughed out the word as if I’d floated out some crazy, untested invention. “I have to go potty too often. We’d be out in the middle of nowhere. I’d have to go…”
“Okay, not a car.” Sometimes I considered reminding her that her great-grandmother had crossed an ocean in steerage at the age of eighty-one.
And then worked as a cook in a lumber camp in Wisconsin. Imagine:
Months would pass. Then I’d try again.
My friend Thalia suggested that she and I go pick Alice up in an RV. We got excited thinking about the big picture window on the West, the king-sized cup holders and giant comfy seats. We tried to ignore the part about the tank chugging piles of dead dinosaurs.
In any case, Alice nixed the idea. Too much like a bus. Buses made her carsick.
Whenever Alice and I edged up to a plan—stopping once an hour if we traveled by car, for example—she vetoed it. “That’s silly. No. Huh-uh.”
This went on, as I said, for years, and meanwhile her life shrank down to leaving the house only when my cousin drove her to medical appointments. One summer when I went to visit her, she mentioned that every morning at around eleven she sat in her recliner with her eyes focused on the driveway so she wouldn’t miss the Meals on Wheels delivery.
She had to watch, she said, because she couldn’t hear the doorbell any more. When I learned the delivery people weren’t due until noon, that was it. This was not the life Alice deserved.
“You haven’t been on a plane since 1987,” I said. “They’ve changed. You’ll be fine.”
For some reason, this argument—the new kind of airplane that didn’t exist in 1987—worked. I recognized success the moment she said: “What will I wear? People on planes are always so dressed up.”
Only in 1960s TWA commercials, I thought, but I told her we’d pick out something special.
I’ll skip the part where we packed her things so she could leave the house she’d lived in for forty-three years. All you have to do is think about leaving your own house forever and you can imagine what that was like. Add to that leaving your long-time friends (even though you rarely see them), your grandson, your niece, your last remaining sister (in Wisconsin, yes, but still in the same region). Good-bye to Roger’s vegetable garden, overgrown now but still planted with a firm memory of him—tanned and happy playing in that rich Iowa dirt and carrying armfuls of bounty into Alice’s kitchen at harvest time. Good-bye to the cemetery where several family members lie, the grocery store around the corner, the smoky sports bar that makes the best deep-fried shrimp in the land, according to Alice, a bucket of which Roger would occasionally order while at work and pick up on his way home. Good-bye shrimp and back yards and Ames, Iowa, and 246 South Franklin, ranch-style home, full basement, two bedrooms, needs a little work.
Alice was finally on her way to Oregon.
(See Alice Bin-Laden for how the journey went.)