I knew you’d want an explanation, so here you go. My intent, as I rolled out of bed this morning, was to make it to the ladies retreat. I really wanted to hear the speaker, Kathy Ferguson, share about her life journey. From my house to the retreat center, is at least two hours. I figured, if I time it right, we can be there easily by the morning session at 9:30.
I say “we” because my plan was to rendezvous with my Mom so we could go together. We’ve had precious little girl-time since she and dad moved to Brush. I was looking forward to non-stop chatter as we drove up the mountain. We decided niece Tonya’s house north of town would be the perfect meeting place. From my house to there is easily forty-five minutes.
You should know that five-forty in the morning is much too early for me. I took a quick shower, combed my hair, and threw on a denim skirt and comfortable turtle neck sweater. As I bolted out the door I told myself, I’m ten minutes off schedule but traffic won’t be bad this time of day. I should be able to make up the extra time enroute.
Two blocks away I realized that the cell phone I’d sent son Andy to retrieve from his car the night before, never made it to mine. I did a quick u-turn in the intersection and headed back home to find it. O.K. add four minutes to that make-up time. I can do that. Just put the pedal to the metal and go.
The First Complication
I stopped at the Bradley’s near our house for gas. It won’t take long if I just whip in, and whip right out. Only one other brave soul was out in the crisp morning air. Autumn’s my favorite time of the year, but who has time for colors before the sun is even up? I was beginning to feel pressed for time. A stubborn pump, and a sleepy attendant tested my sanctification. “The pump won’t work,” I tell him peeping through the door.
“Won’t work?” he repeats in broken English.
“Yes, it won’t work.”
So, I tried again. Nothing.
I muttered under my breath, “I hope this isn’t indicative of the kind of day this is going to be.” A new pump fueled my tank to the top, and cold, and frazzled I settled behind the wheel of the car. Well, add ten minutes more. At this rate I’m really going to be late. Still, if traffic isn’t bad I might be able to make it.
Traffic was bad!
Oh, and did I forget to mention getting lost? Dacono’s not all that big, but big enough if you don’t know where you’re going. I should have gotten directions since it had been awhile, but I really thought I could find my way. I couldn’t.
A harried phone call pointed me in the right direction, and say another five maybe ten minutes and I pulled up in front of the house. Nephew Dennis, met me at the door. “If you’d come more often,” he gently scolded, “You’d remember how to get here.”
Cute. But, he was right. Since I was late arriving, Mom had gone inside to visit. I found her waiting decked out in a stunning blue dress and high-heeled shoes. Every hair was in place, her make-up perfect. She looked really, really good. And, I felt really, really bad because I’d forgotten to tell her that attire for the day was casual. “I’m not going like this!” she said. And, I couldn’t exactly blame her, I wouldn’t have either . “Don’t worry,” I say, “We’ll find a Wal-Mart on the way.”
Things Get Worse
Dacono is not Denver; and there’s no Wal-Mart’s there. We’re bound to find one somewhere. A fervent prayer, many miles and many minutes later we came across a K-Mart. She jumped out, dashed inside, and in less than ten minutes was out again new clothes in hand. We both knew she’d have to go from formal to casual while we were tooling down the highway. The morning session was to begin in forty minutes, and we were a long ways from there.
I watched the mirror, and she began disrobing. Bottom first…. so far so good. Top next, “O.K. Mom, there’s no one coming, go for it!” We giggled as she wiggled confined in her small space. A mental picture imprinted itself on my mind - I’ll never forget my very modest mom in her white bra trying to be proper at sixty miles an hour. When she finished, I had to admit she looked stunning in her new slacks and sweater.
We were having so much fun that we missed our turn. We’d didn’t have time to take the circuitous route- the clock was inching closer to nine thirty. I made a u-turn and we headed back the way we came. We lost another twenty minutes. Our conversation now changed from “when” to “if.”
"Let’s keep going," I said, "and see what time it is when we finally get there." Maybe we’d at least be able to hear Kathy speak.
You may or may not know that it’s twenty-five miles up the canyon on a winding, twisting road. Forget going seventy-five miles an hour. We did good to go forty. By the time we found the camp we were embarrassingly late, but figured we could sneak in and sit toward the back. Ha! A tour of the camp was lovely but we never found the ladies. Hungry we decided to skip the retreat, and headed into Estes Park for breakfast.
The waitress complimented mom on her lovely sweater, and I choked back a snicker. If she only knew! No longer watching the clock, I relaxed. Our plans had changed, but that was o.k. We were together, and that was all that really mattered. Maybe we weren’t supposed to be there for some reason. Tummies full we wound back out of the mountains, chatting non-stop as we went.
Mom reminisced about her early days as a bride. Those were not easy days. Driving into Loveland she told me that the motel where we lived when we were a young family was still standing. We hadn’t lived there long- just a few months- while dad did seasonal work at the local sugar plant, and mom at the neighborhood Laundromat.
“Is that little building still out front where we used to play?” I asked. That A-frame structure was one of, if not my earliest memory. “Was the last time we were by here,” she said. Missing turns had become protocol for the day, and I did it once again. I whipped back west, and with the turn of the wheel, I was four years old again. I pulled to a stop in front, and was amazed at the accurateness of my memories after all these years. The A-frame was locked; I wished I could see inside. What was it about that building that had become a part of me? I couldn’t believe that it was still standing.
A New Appreciation
I felt a new appreciation for where my folks had come from. “When dad first started working there, they held back two weeks worth of wages. When he finally got paid, it was only for four days. We were desperate. One of the ladies in the church told some of the others. They gave us a grocery shower, and I will never forget it. I remember looking at one sack, and thinking I’d never seen a bag of potatoes that big, After Dad was done there,” Mom said, “we moved to Denver where he worked at a boat repair shop for a dollar an hour.”
"What shall we do now? I asked, neither of us ready to end the day. We decided to head toward Greeley. On the drive there I listened as Mom remembered. I was loving every minute of our time together. We couldn’t connect with one of her friends, so we decided to look up my cousin, Karen. Her mom, my mother’s sister Illa, had died a couple of years before.
Karen had worked for many years at a nursing home in town, so we started our search there. As I turned the corner, and the nursing home came into view, I suddenly remembered that this was the place where Mom’s mother, Granny Pippitt had lived out her final days. Neither Mom nor I had been back since her death. I hadn’t even thought of going back. At exactly the same moment both of us were hit with the wrenching pain of grief. I looked at Mom, and she at me and tears simultaneously filled our eyes. I told her, “Even though I’m grown, my heart is still tied to yours.”
Detained by a call on her cell phone, Mom encouraged me to go on in. A fresh flood of grief washed over my heart as I saw other grandmother’s sitting where my granny once sat. The smell, the sights were so familiar. Even though I wanted to see Karen, I was relieved that she wasn’t there. I couldn’t get back outside quick enough. A part of me wanted to protect Mom from walking through that door. “I don’t think you want to go in there, Mom,” I said. Maybe on another day, but not today.
We talked about shadow grief as we headed back down the street- that grief that rears its head, even years after the fact, when there is a reminder of the one who is gone. A block from the home Mom saw another familiar building, “That’s where I used to take Illa for her radiation treatments. I don’t think this is a very good place to be. Let’s get out of here.” Our hearts were heavy as we headed toward the interstate.
Laughing seemed out of place given the mood of the moment, but it didn’t matter- I couldn’t have stopped myself if I’d tried. It wasn’t a “funny ha-ha” kind of laugh. It was one of those, “I can’t believe that just happened” laugh. A large SUV in front of us tangled with a frightened young squirrel. The poor little fellah didn’t know what to do. He ran in circles, legs going every which way. Given the frustration of the morning, I felt instant empathy with him. I watched in my rear view mirror as he regained his equilibrium, then made a dash for safety.
So, there you have it. A root beer float at Sonic finished off the day, then we headed back for mother’s car. “Well,” I said, “this hasn’t been a particularly spiritual day, but it was fun.” On second thought, I decided, it’s been a deeply spiritual day. Missing the retreat hadn’t been in our plan, but, in its place God gave me a special gift- memorable time spent with my Mom. Riding the roller coaster of emotion, her heart had reached out to mine, and we’d held each other close. We’d laughed, we’d cried, we’d remembered. It was a really good day.
I drove back home feeling satisfied and blessed. I missed the fellowship of my friends, and hearing Kathy speak, but there would be other retreats. I would never be able to replicate this special time with Mom. There would never be another day exactly like this one.