When we packed the car, we were all a little on edge. We had the elderly matriarch Vera with us, and her presence makes everyone a little pushy. We worried about her comfort. We made sure we have the car cane and the walker. We asked if he needed to pee before we hit the road. Anxiety over Vera’s medications and the details of the trip to attend her grandson’s wedding preoccupied us until, gratefully, we loaded the last of the dress clothes and other bits into the back of the SUV and were off toward Minneapolis.
The drive from Kansas City to Minneapolis can hardly be called exciting. I-35 curves only occasionally after it leaves Kansas City. From Liberty, where the highway straightens north of downtown, to Des Moines, the pavement ribbon is a snoozer. The interstate flows through rolling country to the Missouri border and then flattens out. For over 150 miles, it’s gas stations and truck stops. Hardly a small town to be seen.
Fortunately, I was at the wheel and alone in my space. The drone of the car put Vera to sleep. Nick watched videos on his phone. Virginia read a book. Kevin, Virginia’s nephew, looked steadily out the window. But the time we hit the Missouri-Iowa border, everyone was asleep but Nick, who can watch videos literally all day. While 35 may not be the most exciting highway in the world, it was still highway, and I love highway.
At Des Moines, 35 bends into I-80 for several miles. The bland line of sleepy interstate gives Des Moines a kind of fascination it wouldn’t have if you were walking around on its streets. It seems like the capital of something. Of what isn’t exactly clear. No great state capitol dome points the way to something important. Fast-food and truck-stop chains and franchises line the highway. Somewhere in there is a park and a golf course.
The SUV, now jerking in the wind around the curve, woke everyone up. Vera asked where we were. Could be anyplace, I answered, but I think it’s Des Moines.
Virginia played old 60s tunes on the car stereo. Vera napped on and off, and the boys entertained themselves. Around noon, we stopped at an undifferentiated Iowa interchange for lunch. It was an affair that seemed to me to last a lot longer than the hour we sat and ate DQ burgers and fries. Or, I should say, they ate and I watched, nipping fries now and then from Nick.
Back on the road, we made Minneapolis in three hours and checked into our hotel downtown in enough time to drop our things and head to the rehearsal dinner. We met Virginia’s sister and brother-in-law Joanne and Bruce in the hotel lobby. Bruce had secured a wheelchair for Vera, which really made the evening, as well as the rest of the week, much easier on everyone involved, including Vera.
The dinner was sedate and friendly. The place was swanky, upscale restaurant in an old building, nice without being hip or trendy. The bride’s family were a lively bunch who joshed and joked while welcoming conversation with these new strangers who had shown up with Vera. I happened to choose a seat next to the father of the bride, a lively man who sells skiing equipment.
We found plenty of things to talk about. We landed for a long time on his family’s cabin in the north woods. It had been in the family since 1962 and served as retreat and hunting shelter. I told him of sitting on the porch at a friend’s cabin west of Laramie in the 1990s, just watching the pines sway and the mountain lions sneer in the night. That brought to mind the kind of peace a person finds alone in the woods at a cabin, something he enjoyed many times at his place.
After dinner, everything revolved around Vera. As a matter of fact, for the five people we packed into our SUV, Vera was the center point for all the week’s activities. Bruce and Joanne were fantastic in getting Vera around. Their son, after all, was getting married and having grandma there to enjoy something she may never again experience kept us all aware and alert for the next days.
I’d be remiss if I told you I was the most patient and tolerant person on the trip. Vera gets on my nerves. She’s a special type. I would love to say she’s a nice old lady, but that doesn’t ascribe her the complex personality she is. She and I share some of the same characteristics. We are complicated, selfish, and concerned with comfort. Unlike Vera, I don’t like dallying too much. I’m generally razor focused on the drive. As much as life is a journey and not a destination, I like getting to my destination in the least amount of time possible. Vera’s slow pace and often confounding personal quirks made me practice my best behavior, which was often not great.
Fortunately, every day we had just one activity planned. Tuesday was the rehearsal dinner. Wednesday, was the wedding. Thursday, we had Thanksgiving dinner at the bride’s parent’s house. This gave Virginia and me enough time for napping and for Nick to play in the hotel pool.
Virginia did prodigious service to her mother. With Joanne, she readied Vera for the day, tended to her through the activities, and put her to bed at night. To be fair to them, Vera put them through the paces, demanding this and that, worrying them over little things. I understood, I think, just how much care an elderly person needs. I experienced it through Virginia over the course of the week.
Friday at noon, we packed the SUV again and headed off for Kansas City. This time, the crew was more sedate, having navigated the stresses of the previous days. Tired and deserving a break, they fell asleep while I drove. Just like on the way up to Minneapolis, I listened to 50- and 60-year-old surf music, which was oddly appropriate for the landscape. As the day turned into night, I wasn’t quite alone but felt the draw of the road. It was almost with disappointment that we pulled back into Kansas City.
A week I dreaded turned out to be just all right. Before we left, I thought of all the things I believed would make me miserable. But I also knew I’d deal with situations as they came up, and being faced with decisions and actions as they arose . . . well, that’s what I’m good at.
And Saturday, Kevin, Nick, and I delivered Vera back to her daughter Margaret in Arma, Kansas. There’s not much to be said for the town except that Vera’s niece and her husband live there. We had a nice visit, not long, as I was looking forward to a nap when we arrived home two hours later.
Now that the week is over, I feel a decompression. At the same time, I miss having the deal with the stresses. It was good to have done it. I’m not aching to do it again, but I sure wouldn’t mind being on the road again with those people. Maybe Vera has another long trip in her. I sure hope so.