Saturday, April 12, 2014

Miles To Go

Today I took a road trip down memory lane. Not my memories, my parents’.

I drove my parents all the way from Queens, NY to Washington DC.  And back.

My mother’s beloved cousin, the one she grew up with like a sister, who is only three months younger, and who was also petrified of her formidable older brother growing up, is, unfortunately, very sick.

It was a good visit, a great visit. Bikur Cholim, as we Jews say, is a big mitzvah. When you visit someone sick, it makes both of you feel better.

The trip started out with a generational imbroglio over the GPS.  My father got into the car armed with printouts, maps and an array of instructions.

I looked at my mother. “What’s her address?”

I typed it in. 225 miles.  “We should be there by 2:30.”

My mother looked worried. “How do you know how to go?”

I pointed to the GPS.

“She doesn’t know,” harrumphed my father, from the back seat.  “She thinks she’s going to rely on that little box.”

I had affixed that little box to the windshield of their white Honda CRV with my own spit.  It was mine. My father, who owns 7 DVD players, 6 televisions, 5 remotes for each one of those televisions, 4 computers of varying sizes, 3 stereos and 2 keyboards, would never have a GPS.

I started to drive.

“Why are you going through the city?” my mother complained.  “The traffic is going to be horrific now.”

“I would take the Verrazano,” my father declared. “But she thinks that little box knows better than her father.”

The GPS did NOT know better than my father OR my mother and we got bogged down in the promised horrific traffic,and my mother was so antsy and anxious that it threatened to overwhelm her.

At least I know now where I get my shpilkes from.

“Tell me about our cousin,” I tried, as the “thru street” snared up, the truck in front of us lit up its “I’m going backwards” lights and the “there by 2:30” turned into 3:15.

My mother started talking, her hands gradually unclenching along with her memory.

I heard about the time the family rented a house for the summer in Atlantic City with a real butler and a real cook.

I heard about the cousin’s family grocery store, and her cool dad (I remember him!) who looked like something out of Guys and Dolls with his cigar and sexy lidded eyes.

How her beautiful, redhead mom (I remember her very well!) also worked all day in the store. I heard about her recipe for brisket. I heard about the fancy stores of yesteryear Philadelphia that she shopped in.

I learned which brothers didn’t get along, and who was jealous of whom. I found out about first wives, second wives, third wives and stepchildren.

Who died young and who was filthy rich. Who liked the ladies.

All fairly usual people stuff, but fascinating when it’s your own family.

And then we got there (4:30!) to the big beautiful house, where buttery daffodils bloomed like crazy and the  buds on the cherry trees were really really pink, and the air finally smelled like spring and new life, and my mother laid eyes on her cousin and they both started to cry.

My mother’s cousin is a fortunate woman, beautiful and comfortably wealthy with a devoted husband, fantastic kids and such cute grandchildren you could plotz, all of which and whom were in evidence.

But it’s really all about time, isn’t it?

Time you still hold onto at any age.

Time you borrow frantically against a relentless disease.

A few more hours of time with the only other person in the world who knows everything about you, because she was there at the beginning.

When it was time, our cousin hugged me and looked into my eyes. “I will never forget that you came to visit me,” she said. “I will never forget it.”

And then, a subdued 225 miles home, agreeing and agreeing again that it was great to see her, great that we all did this, and aren’t those grandchildren delicious?

And I thought that I should stop rushing so much; stop rushing through time.

And I cried because I saw today and better understood how little time there is of time.

And I have so much I still want to do.

And I know I will steel feel this way when I am my mother’s age and her cousin’s age.

And then I turned off the GPS and listened to my father’s directions to take the turnpike all the way to the tunnel, and I still managed to mess up one of the exits and we ended up having to take the long way around and didn’t get home until 1AM.

But we didn’t mind much, my father, my mother and me, because we were together.

Not lost, just lost in time.