I have the best mother-in-law in the world. We recently spent a week driving cross-country together. We both have fantasies of a simple RV. “I’d like to be able to stop in a scenic spot, get out my lawn chair and read a while with my cup of coffee and then move on,” she once told me. Both our husbands preferred planned routes, comfortable beds and reservations made well ahead of time. Her husband passed away in 2004. Mine had meetings in California after my writer’s retreat in Monterey.
Mom met me at her daughter’s in Seattle, and we drove east. She is a great traveling companion. She talks, but not too much. She checks the AAA books to find the best bargain hotels and interesting attractions. We picnicked or split restaurant meals. She likes her steak rare like I do and was even game to try elk. She is as eager as I am to find out what is around the next corner. Why didn’t someone tell me she can’t read a map?
In Yellowstone National Park we saw elk and bison, a wolf and two coyotes. We wound up side canyons and oo-ed and ah-ed at other-worldly geothermal phenomena. We had planned to make a loop, but the road we thought we needed was closed for the winter. The GPS wasn’t any help because it was quite insistent that we should take another closed road going the opposite direction that would get us back to our motel by midnight. Not exactly what we were after. We retraced our steps only to learn when we found a ranger that the road wasn’t closed; we must have been looking at a side road. There was nothing to do but retrace our steps again, kicking ourselves for not realizing that the road to the gate would be well-marked.
The next day’s adventure was wholly my fault. I bought gas in West Yellowstone before entering the park. I hiked, and we picnicked at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone before continuing on to Cody, Wyoming, for the night. Cell phone reception in the park is sporadic at best. It was only the next morning that I read the message that my wallet had been picked up a hundred yards from the west park entrance and turned in. I must have left it on the back of the car when I pumped gas.
We had been awed by the rock formations in the Shoshone National Forest outside the east gate. “I want to drive this from east to west next time,” I told Mom. I hadn’t meant to do it the next day. Or return west to east the same afternoon. It took six hours to get back to our starting point in Cody, but the scenery was beautiful.
We slept at the top of the Big Horn Mountains that night, a serendipitous adventure our husbands would not have had with their yearning for plans and reservations. The next night (after another map-reading adventure) we slept in the Black Hills. The following day we picnicked at Mount Rushmore and drove through the Badlands of South Dakota in the afternoon. (By this time I had figured out that I needed to study the map for myself.)
The last day we were tired. Despite her 85 years, Mom had consistently refused to nap. (“I might miss something!”) We headed east on Interstate 90 across endless prairie, grateful we could travel faster than a covered wagon. We made one significant stop—Marshall, Minnesota, where my father-in-law grew up. We walked around his childhood home, trading memories of our first visits when we were engaged to the men with whom we have spent our lives. Then we tracked down the building that once housed G.J. Hardy and Sons, the bakery and grocery where Hardy’s Peanut Brittle was created. My father-in-law made peanut brittle as a child. My husband made it as a child. My daughter still makes Hardy’s Peanut Brittle to sell between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Keep Hardy’s handy. It’s dandy candy!) so it is an important part of the family culture.
Now my mother-in-law, Claudia, and I are both home with memories of laughter and shared experiences and photos that only hint at the glories we saw. The RV dream is stronger than ever, but if you don't mind, Mom, I'll read the map.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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