I am an only child. My parents divorced when I was eighteen. Now my mother is 87 and I alone am left to make sure she is safe, takes her medications appropriately and manages to live independently in an apartment in a retirement building. My husband Dave is the second of seven boys who have committees of siblings in charge of various aspects of their elderly parents’ lives. I am the committee for my mother—from 150 miles away. My cell phone allows me to speak with my mother every evening and the medical alert system I pay for to sleep at night except when she falls at 2 AM and they call me. And then there are the bimonthly trips to take her shopping. Sometimes she doesn’t have the energy to actually do the shopping and will sit in the car or maybe even stays home. The trip from our home in Gig Harbor, Washington to Ilwaco where she lives in an apartment six blocks from the little old Victorian house we hope to retire to one day is a mixture of blessing and curse. I love the Long Beach Peninsula and have my whole life, but the frequent trips are hard on my budget, family and car.
I know I am not alone. As we Baby Boomers are aging our parents, those stalwarts of the Greatest Generation who saved the world when it sorely needed it, are growing frail and dying. Many of the people I grew up with have already lost both of their parents. Many of us now care for those who once cared for us. We watch their steps as anxiously as they once watched us take our first tentative steps. One friend gave up her live in Hawaii where the weather suited her health problems to move back to Oregon to care for her father when he no longer could care for himself. Her mother and three brothers gone and her sister battling her own demons, there was no one else. The situation has created resentments on both sides. Most of the time I do not resent my trips to the coast, but sometimes when I am very tired or my mother is very cranky, I long for a sibling on whom to lean. Sometimes I resent being a committee of one.
This is my weekend to see about my mother. When I leave of a weekend depends on the time of year, the weather, and who may be coming with me. If it gets dark by 4 PM and is likely to rain I wait until Saturday morning. I’d rather get up at 5 AM and hit the road than drive in the dark and the rain. Sometimes, if his rotating days off land on the weekend, Dave comes with me. Sometimes my daughter Amy comes which was the case today. The route I take depends on the things listed above and to a great extent my mood. Today, because the days are getting shorter and I wanted to get as far as possible in the daylight, I spent a bit more time on freeways than I would normally. I hate freeways and will go out of my way to avoid them if reasonably possible. Unless there is snow on the ground in Mason County I never go down I-5; instead I head up highway 16 to Purdy and then take highway 3 to Shelton. From Shelton I have a number of routes.
Where and when we stop in route is determined by when we leave and how hungry we become. Today I had proposed to Amy that we go to Montesano at Gepetto’s Pizza. Friday is pizza day as far as Amy is concerned and having Down’s Syndrome she can be routine bound, but today she chose stopping in Shelton at Vern’s Restaurant for the best clam chowder in the State of Washington. Well, maybe we haven’t sampled all the chowder in the state, but I figure we’ve come pretty close and Vern’s has won awards so we aren’t alone in our opinion.
From Shelton we hopped on 101 to the McCleary exit, but before getting to McCleary we turned off onto the Elma Hicklin Road that bypasses McCleary and its 30 mph speed limit. I love tooling down these back country roads, passing by houses who after hundreds of trips have become old friends. I don’t know a soul along the way, but I notice when a house has fresh paint or new roof, when it goes up for sale and when the Christmas lights go up. There’s a house about 2 miles outside of Raymond and near Elkhorn Creek that decorates the outside for every season and holiday that comes along. Had there been lighter and had they gotten more fall decorations up I would have stopped and taken a picture. I may on my return flight.
We observe all speed limits in and around South Bend, which is the county seat for Pacific County. They like nothing better than stopping tourists. A new scheme they have is that if you pay your speeding ticket immediately and don’t get any more in Pacific County for six months they will take the ticket off your record. If you chose to fight the ticket and lose all bets are off and it will stay on your record for years. I sent them the money the last time I got one for going 46 into Raymond. I was slowing down, coasting down the hill actually, but by the time I passed the cruiser the speed limit had dropped to 35. I would have, too, eventually, but the officer wouldn’t budge. The ticket has since dropped off.
When I make these trips I am never alone, even if no one is with me. One of the delightful features of my yellow Dodge Neon, affectionately known as the Zonker for Screaming Yellow Zonkers which you have to be of a certain age to remember, is that it has a four disk CD changer. I can load a book on tape or music and be set for the trip. Today I chose a mixture of old radio programs and WWII big band music. I collect old radio shows and love big band so we made the trip with the likes of Fibber McGee and Molly, Glenn Miller and the Dorseys, Marlena Dietrich and Doris Day.
Because I don’t care for driving in the dark or the rain and if both are present I won’t leave the garage at least not for a 150 trip. I have deer whistles mounted on the front bumper, but deer frighten me anyway and we are getting into that part of the year. Actually, on the route to the coast deer are likely to appear in the middle of the highway any time of year. Today sunset was late enough and it was sunny enough for me to feel like making the run into the setting sun. By the time we made the turn off 101S onto the Bay Road just enough pinky orange hung on the horizon to back light the Douglas fir trees against the darkening sky. We crossed Bear River, my personal exhale spot, as the last of the glow slid into the sea.
Amy wanted to rent videos. We don’t have cable at the house and movies are the other form of entertainment, sitting on the porch being one as well. So after a stop at Sid’s, the local grocer, to get supplies like milk and snacks, we drove through Long Beach to the video store. Downtown looked like they’d rolled up the sidewalks. I know summer is officially over, but the weather is still nice, but for a warm Friday evening it seemed deserted. On the way home we figured out why. As we made the bend in highway 103 toward Ilwaco we saw the lights from Ilwaco High School’s football field. I asked Amy if she wanted to drive by the school and she grinned. She attended school there for three years when we lived on the Long Beach Peninsula and even though she spent as long at Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor (Special Education students can stay in school until they are 21) she still considers Ilwaco her school. When we made the turn into the drive at the school we realized where everyone was. High school football and basketball are the end all and be all for this community. Our house is near enough to the school that some Fridays we can hear the band from our yard.
Making this run every two weeks affords me the opportunity to watch the landscape change with the seasons. As we drove onto the Peninsula tonight Amy said, "It's a lovely evening" and it is. Were it freeway driving I probably would have found some other solve before now, but one more trip down the road is notched on my belt. Tomorrow the shopping in Astoria. For now I am going to wander off to bed with Loki the dog. He’s been standing at the doorway as much as to say, “Why are we still up?”