My favorite Mother’s Day memory involves a red Solera, a cell phone, and the Interstate highways. In 2013, our daughter, Megan, newly returned to the states from eight years in the Middle East, was graduating from a radio documentary program at the Salt Institute in Portland, Maine. Our delayed celebration coincided with her institute showcase and required a flight to Maine. My husband, Michael, returned to Wisconsin alone, because on the Monday after graduation, Megan and I began our epic Mother/Daughter Road Trip. She had accepted an internship in Marfa, Texas, 2,377 miles away, and needed me to drive with her. It’s great when your adult child professes a need for your company. Since I was newly retired from teaching, I enjoyed ample free time, so I jumped at the chance to travel with my daughter.
Very early on a chilly morning, we set off from Portland, hoping to reach Virginia by nightfall. It was mid-May and we had to be in Marfa on June 1st. As we drove together, I felt the little ache from so many years apart disappear, replaced by the joy of cruising the highway with my girl. (See car selfie)
Michael and I never traveled cross country without our faithful Rand McNally, so I was uneasy when my daughter drove, cell phone in hand, constantly checking that little map, and trusting the disembodied voice telling her where to go. I learned a lot on our road trip. Not just about cell phones, but about this darling girl, now a woman, who grew up in so many ways during the past eight years. She was very competent, not just in driving.
We set some ground rules. Megan would drive through the large cities, since she was fearless, and I would drive over the boring country side, since I was not. We’d look for motels that included breakfast, so we could get an early start. When we relaxed at night, we’d turn the tv to reruns —SVU high in her list, Fraser on mine. We decided which cities to visit on the way. I chose San Antonio and New Orleans, two of my favorites. She chose Savannah.
A little foreshadowing– upon arrival in Maine in January, we celebrated with a bottle of wine and a lobster dinner. When we discovered we could ship a lobster any where in the US with a next day delivery, we sent one to Michael at his office and immediately called his coworkers so they would be ready, cameras in hand, when it arrived. This was the beginning of the great fun we created together.
We were determined to make our second trip even more fun. However, a disabled truck caused a huge traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge in NYC. I regaled her with the plots of every Masterpiece Theater show broadcast on PBS and she told me about living on a houseboat on the Nile. Stuck in more traffic on the New Jersey turnpike, we gratefully turned off in Maryland calling it a night.
The second snag happened in Richmond. Megan was napping in the car after her stressful drive through New York and New Jersey. Suddenly we were in Richmond with overpasses and cars going every which way. No time to wake her up, nowhere to pull off and change drivers. I prayed as I gripped the steering wheel white-knuckled and anxious. I kept following the I-95 signs and made it safely through the city and on to Georgia.
We went thrift store shopping in Savannah. I made her go on a hop-on hop-off city bus tour and she made me go on a ghost walk to the cemetery featured in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We discovered we both loved Savannah’s broad boulevards lined with giant oak trees and Spanish Moss and decided to stay an extra day. We continued the family tradition of posing for goofy photos at every stop. (See example) Laughter bubbled up continually as we roamed the city. How much I had missed my clever, funny girl!
New Orleans was the first city Michael and I visited together in 1974. I eagerly ushered Megan to Tujague’s Restaurant, a historic French Quarter institution which I remembered as very elegant. In the intervening 40 years, it definitely was on a downswing. The bar was chipped, the floor cracked, the patrons looked seedy, and although the waiters still wore coats and tails, they were decidedly dingy. As a cockroach scuttled over my foot in the rest room, Megan scoffed, “I can’t believe this is one if the best restaurants in New Orleans.” I replied, “Didn’t you notice the cockroach was wearing a tux?”
I dragged her to historic sights, like the Alamo, and we went on every ghost tour that was offered, but we never saw an actual ghost. We discussed love, careers, dreams, and future possibilities. She would do radio journalism and after I finished my Mavis Beacon typing course, I’d finally finish that book.
Her unfailing good humor carried us through traffic jams, backwoods roads, and streets deluged by downpours. We tried exotic food like fried green tomatoes, collard greens, shrimp and grits. I discovered my beautiful daughter was just as beautiful inside and out, with her kindness to an elderly Iranian ex-pat and her careful concern for my comfort. Her problem-solving skills were superb. After a water spill on my last pair of clean underwear, she figured we could dry my panties on the dashboard as we drove in the southern heat.
The only real argument was where to eat after the cockroach refused to serve us at Two Jack’s.
Unlike Thelma and Louise, our road trip didn’t end with a free fall over a cliff. It ended in a hot Texas town, in a little casita that would be her home for the next few months. Our journey of discovery and renewal was a touchpoint in our mother-daughter relationship. I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to ride that section of life’s highway with her. I’m a braver person because of her.