By Catherine Hedge
Anyone who believes that a good road trip needs to be finely scripted to be successful has never traveled with my mother. She and her patron Saint Christopher have the ability to take a lump of chaos and turn it into magic.
My mother loves to travel. I do believe her internal calendar is determined by the trips she has planned. My mom, two cousins, and I just finished a seven day journey to Montana and back. On the day we returned, she was on the phone arranging to go to Los Angeles in two weeks. My dad, Joseph Hedge used to say that he had to be careful to park the family car with the nose pointed toward the garage. If it was pointed toward the road, she’d ask, “Where are we going?” Then, within 48 hours, they’d be on their way to somewhere…usually at an incredibly discounted price and with four or five other relatives woven into the plan.
Case in point: My Canadian cousins spent a summer with us when I was twelve. When it was time for them to head home, they planned to go by way of Colorado where other family lived. My mom sighed, “For fifty cents, I’d go along with you!” Once the fateful words were uttered, we knew we were on our way. A day and a half later, Mom kissed Dad goodbye and packed the five of us in the Rambler along with borrowed sleeping bags and a cooler full of bologna sandwiches. She gave us each a Red Chief tablet and a box of crayons. I still have mine somewhere, a journal of the trip inscribed with her favorite saying, “Just imagine you were in a covered wagon crossing this desert! (or river, or mountain, or the great salt flats) I rolled my eyes at her, but now I must admit I say exactly the same to my children. I’m sure they will say it to theirs. Immortality in ten words or less.
When I travel, I order AAA maps in advance, reserve my hotel rooms, peruse city websites, and get time schedules for mass transit. My mom does none of this. She doesn’t need to. She’ll just point the car in some cardinal direction with the destination vaguely in mind, asks St. Christopher to protect us, and turn on the engine. Then, like tumbling dominoes, the world falls down in perfect order before her.
Case in Point: On our recent road trip to Montana, my mom insisted we stop at Thunder Mountain, a fascinating monument of folk art sculpture. As we approached it, she said, “Joe and I have some wonderful pictures of this from the Seventies. I wish I could find someone who might know something about this place so I could donate them.” The site had suffered serious neglect and vandalism over the years and is now being preserved, but much of the art was destroyed. We stopped for a short break and brief glimpse as it was almost closing time. Within five minutes, we found the caretaker, a close friend of the artist’s son. He met my mom, gave her his card, and they arranged the donation. Not only that, but he told us the history of one of the artist’s daughters who had formed a bond with my grandmother forty years earlier.
If we need a parking space, there will be one three stalls or less from the front door. If there is rain, it will last only long enough to clean the windshield. Wherever we land, people will say, “This is the nicest weather we’ve had all year!” If we get lost, which we did twice, the route we end up traveling will be gaspingly beautiful and end up where we intended to go anyway. We walked into a casino and Mom put $20 into the nearest machine. Immediately the bells and lights went crazy and she won thirty free spins and $8. Once she rented a motor home for another family trip to Colorado. It was beyond their means, but she was determined. And there is no refusing my mother. At their lunch stop in Reno, she made three quick bets and won $1000, enough to buy gas for the whole trip.
We visited the tiny hamlet where my grandmother was born. The local history museum, where Grandma went to school, was closed. Mom was disappointed. She turned around, saw a man peeling bark from a log pole in his yard, and approached him. His wife was the keeper of the keys. He opened the museum and showed us the blacksmith’s tools that used to be my great-grandfather’s.
She stopped by unannounced to visit a reclusive relative. Not only was her cousin ecstatic to see her, but her whole family, whom Mom hadn’t seen in twenty years, was there as well. When we went to swim at a hot springs, Mom sat next to a couple from Dad’s home town. They knew him as a child. We celebrated the Fourth in Mom’s birthplace. The parade strolled by less than half a block from our hotel room. There was a Walgreen’s across the street where we bought folding chairs on sale for $7.00. The fireworks were incredible. They celebrated the centennial of the state, an extravaganza the community had been saving for for years. We found a perfect, sparsely populated viewing site that highlighted the very spot where my dad proposed to my mom over six decades ago.
This is how life goes for Mom and why she is one of my favorite traveling companions. I’m not too sure about the Hereafter. All I know that is when my time comes, I want my mom to lead me there. Wherever it is, she’ll take me to someplace wonderful.