Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Imaginary Vacation.

A long marriage is two people trying to dance a duet and two solos at the same time. ~Anne Taylor Fleming
Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then. ~Katherine Hepburn

I am approaching the first anniversary of my husband's death and I decided to write about him, and our challenging relationship. I know some of our relatives will be reading this and I hope I can paint the picture of our lives together with a palette of truth without the brush of rancor. I am going to write as the things come to me without any chronological order.

James was a dominating, type A, take-charge personality and when he was young and handsome, he could get away with controlling quite charmingly. I was a timid introvert, who always did what she was told. A match made in heaven, right? It would have been if he had been the cowboy with the white hat, or the knight on a white steed. I would have followed him to the ends of the earth. Truth is that he was a complicated man with a whole lot of issues. And he drank.

As years went by--when he failed to live up to the white knight role--I was forced to think and act for myself and my family. I became more and more independent. This created conflict between us, because he accepted the changes in me at a slower rate than I was changing. I was no longer the sweet docile girl he married, and that often rankled him.

When he developed Parkinson's, with other health issues, and became more and more home bound, he attempted to orchestrate our lives from his wheel chair, which created challenges for the whole family. Oh well. It gave him something to do between episodes of Forensic Files and Judge Judy. It was his hobby. This brings me to the imaginary vacation. I call it that because the trip only happened in my dreams and plans. Oh, I tried to pull it off with everything I had, but--well, read on.

My daughter and I were going to the Pacific Coast to camp. I had it all worked out down to the last detail--organization is one of my assets -- or faults. I had reserved the campgrounds and paid for them, planned the menus and bought most of the food and gathered all the gear we'd need. Brenda's son Brad, my niece Whitney were going with us. We were so excited; I haven't had a real vacation in a long time. The first indication that things were going awry, however, was when Brenda broke her ankle 2 weeks before we were to leave--that was a really big red flag! When I suggested we cancel, she insisted that she would be fine and really wanted to go. Not wanting to be disappointed myself, I only made a half-hearted attempt to talk her into cancelling, so we continued on with the plans. I spent hours loading the station wagon just right and we left bright and early one July morning. The second sign that we should call the trip off was when we got to Spokane 70 miles away; the transmission in the car started slipping. I stopped at a station with a mechanic, who gave me the sad news that the transmission fluid was black; since the oil had been changed a few days before, it meant that the tranny had burned up. We limped the car back home.

But I did not give up! I called my son, who agreed to loan me his Explorer. It took all day to get the Ford serviced and packed with our stuff--which wasn't packed quite so carefully as before. But we were on our way again.

We were cruising at 70 MPH on Interstate 90 somewhere east of Moses Lake; we were happy and the only concern on our minds was if the campground would hold our place at our first planned stop. I heard a pop in the engine and glanced in the mirror and saw smoke pouring out behind car, so I pulled over. The engine was on fire. I am not the right person to have on hand in a crisis because my reactions are dumb! I asked Whitney to open the hood. She tried but it was too hot. Uh, Maxie!! It's on fire! I got out, and forgot to undo the child safety locks so everyone else could get out. Uh, Mom? Could you unlock the doors? By this time engine is fully engaged causing the hood to buckle and I am sort of wandering around. Good news is that other motorists knew the car was on fire before I was aware of it and they pulled over when we did and I thank God for them--they took charge. One fella pried opened the hood with his golf club, ruining it. These guys put the fire out with their beverages, including a gallon jug of iced tea, and case of bottled water--they were quite jovial, like rescuing damsels in distress was welcome break to the monotony of the road. I swear, after a guy emptied a bottle, he crushed it before tossing it to the ground--must be some kind of male reflex.

OK. This is the third--and final-- message we weren't going to make it to the ocean. And it was bitter defeat. Even though the fire was out we still had to wait for the fire truck, the State Police and a tow truck. During this time we engaged in a flurry of phone calls to Hubby, and my son. My son said he didn't want the car to be taken to the impound yard, he wanted it left at the truck stop--so he could tow it home the next day. Brenda and Brad rode with the tow truck driver and Whit and I rode in the back of the patrol car. The officer opened the back door to reveal narrow bench with little leg room--I guess the comfort of prisoners is not a high priority to the state. Whitney, who was small said, "Wow how do they have room for prisoners?" And I said, "Yeah, especially fat ones." But we squeezed in--a more difficult feat for me than for little ole Whit. We were taken to a hotel next to the truck stop, where we secured the last available room; I am grateful for that. It was 11PM, none of us had eaten anything for hours, and all the restaurants had just closed, so I sent the kids to the truck stop to forage for food in the convenience store. Then James called. He gave me instructions about how to have the car fixed so we could drive it home. Uh, James, it's toast! The wires are fused together --and to the engine and the console is ruined. "No," he said, "just do what I say." I didn't promise anything, I told him good night.

We were rescued the next day by my daughter-in-law. The things that had been so meticulously packed a couple of days before were tossed into her car like trash bags in a garbage truck. A gloom settled over me as we traveled--we were going in the opposite direction of the Pacific and two vehicles and a golf club had been ruined in the attempt to get it there. I especially regretted the loss of my son's car, even though he never thought it was my fault. I was feeling low enough to play handball against the curb.

When I got home, James was very angry with me for not following instructions. (Somehow, even after all those years, he didn't get that I don't follow direct orders very well.) "Honey," I said, thinking I came up with the perfect argument, "One day you may be gone, and I have learn how to handle things myself." His response? "That is why you need to listen to me now to learn how to do things right!" Sigh.


  1. Wow, what a compelling story! I was widowed at a very young age and know that the grieving process is just that, a process, regardless of the state of the relationship. It's good that you're writing about your husband, a great way to deal with your feelings.

  2. Thank you Diane. I am glad we are getting to know each other now. And that you know about that path of pain. (((((((((hugs)))))))))

  3. It seems Dale Carnegie said - in the final analysis Art is autobiographical in nature! Your notes are always inspiring & touching Maxie. Was reminded of a famous expression from a leading revolutionary figure "Freedom is my birth right!" Its for all of us to figure out what "freedom" means to us. Came across a book "Letters To Sam : A Grandfather's Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life, by Daniel Gottlieb" & liked it a lot. has the link. Thanks again