by Joanne Faries
“Once your father is retired, we’re going to visit California. I’ve always wanted to see it. You know he was stationed in San Diego and shipped out from there. But I stayed in Norfolk to work.” My mother’s words haunted me. She succumbed to cancer at age 60, prior to my father’s retirement. Oh, she and my father had some mini-vacations – Skyline Drive, Newport, RI, but her ears never heard the roar of the Pacific Ocean and her eyes didn’t see the gleam of the Golden Gate Bridge.
My sister, Lori, and I vowed to travel and enjoy the world. I didn’t want to keep saying, “Someday, I’m gonna drive the Pacific Coast Highway.” Gonna can collapse, gonna can die. My husband, Ray, subscribed to the travel plan, only in his Texas drawl, the forbidden saying was “fixin’to.”
One year after my mother died, Ray and I caught a plane from Dallas to San Francisco. Our goal was to rendezvous with my newly retired father and my teacher-on-summer-break sister. They both flew to California from Philadelphia. We hopped a cable car and christened the Juanita Crowther Memorial West Coast tour with a harbor side meal. The Golden Gate Bridge beckoned. Lombard Street, the Presidio, Sausalito, Alcatraz. We covered a lot of territory and honored Mom with our exuberance. In turn, we had blue skies and balmy days.
My father relaxed, free after forty years at the same company. Also unencumbered after a year of legal paperwork and cleanup from her passing. It had been a stressful sad year, so the concept of vacation liberated us all. We sipped and swirled wine on our Napa Valley tours. Stopped at Big Sur and many points in between to gaze out at the Pacific Ocean and stare dizzyingly below to the rocks. Listened to the crash of waves, mesmerizing in their pace and power. Scenic view ahead. It was difficult to pass any by.
On name alone, I booked a night at the Pelican Inn in Monterey. I anticipated a cozy little nautical themed place, a quaint respite compared to a regular hotel chain. Oops. I have yet to live this place down, and yes Mom’s name was invoked. “Good thing your mother isn’t with us. She’d have hated this place.” Indeed, the Pelican Inn was long past its heyday. Paint peeling, sign hung askew, mildew odor in the hallway. We checked in and then left to go find another place. No go. Monterey and surrounding towns were booked solid. It was only one night and we survived despite lumpy beds and broken tiles in the shower. The Monterey Aquarium was worthy of our stop and then onward to Carmel and the drive through Pebble Beach. This was our one misty dreary day and that added eeriness to our jaunt. The lone Pebble Beach famous tree loomed in and out of the gloom.
“What do you want to do?”
“Let me see the map, what sounds good?”
I had tried to not overbook us, so we found some downtime in our schedule to consider a spontaneous side trip. Ray and my father poured over the atlas measuring inches, translating to miles and time. “Yosemite.” A unanimous decision led us into Ansel Adams country.
To hike and view the vistas, falls, and silhouettes made famous in black and white photographs was a treat. Yosemite Park is a gem and we explored all facets. My mother influenced that choice, our fork in the road. She was there pointing, looking over our shoulders, gasping at cold falls spray, and sometimes leading our way down a hushed pinecone strewn path. We aren’t a spiritual family given to serious proclamations of faith, and yet “Hallelujah” was invoked throughout the time at Yosemite.
At the end of each day, after good meals, we collapsed content into our hotel beds. Sun blessed, windblown, relaxed, we slept with lungs full of fresh air, limbs tired from exercise, and happiness in our hearts. My Dad, sister, and I shared stories about my mother and I think Ray got a better appreciation of her influence on us all. Her gonnas wish list struck deep and now we can say, “We did.” Dad went to Paris for a month with a friend. Ray and I zoomed down under to Australia and New Zealand. Lori cruised the Caribbean. We’ll get together soon for another trip. Thanks to Mom, California was the pinnacle of a perfect trip.