It was a long wait to be a grandma. I thought it would never happen. I loved my grandpuppy Sammy, he even came to visit in Minnesota on the plane one Christmas. Being a dashhound, he did not appreciate the snow and found spot in the basement to secretly do his business. I think he needed diapers.
A few years later I finally got the call, a human baby, one that used diapers, was on the way. Everyone anxiously awaited his arrival into this world. My daughter asks me to draw a sketch for her birth announcement to show Sammy waiting for her child:
I planned to go down to meet the new baby driving to Texas in my small Saturn car by myself, leaving my husband, Bob, to enjoy a little sailing in Sturgeon Bay as summer was fast approaching. This way I’d have a car and Bob would drive the truck down with a camper in the fall. I’d only been able to stay home for four weeks after my daughter was born, so I vowed if I had a grandbaby I’d been there to help care for it.
It was my first time driving on a long trip alone. Bob always drove on long trips.
I told my very old Sturgeon Bay friend Marie Vandenhouten. “I’m 65, I think I’m old enough to drive by myself.”
Marie answered, “Well I’m 90 and I’ve never done such a thing.” She worried about me and I promised to call when I arrived safely.
I’d never stayed in a motel by myself, so I planned to visit friends on the way. First to Chicago, and I made it, staying in a friend’s condo overlooking lake Michigan. I left there very early in the morning driving in the dark through the busy Chicago traffic, cars flew past on either side. I drove about ten hours arriving in Huntsville, Alabama before dark. My sister-in-law welcomed me into her home. We both missed my older brother who had died, but spoke excitedly about the new baby.
At 3:00 am my cell phone rang. I shot up and grabbed it. A voice said, “Don’t rush, but we’re headed to the hospital now.” Then it hung up.
I lay back down and closed my eyes thinking, don’t rush. Then I sat up, What? Don’t Rush? Oh no I’m going to miss his arrival.
I tried to go down again, but it was useless. I jumped out of bed, ate breakfast and left before the sun was up, driving into a huge rainstorm. Sheets of rain totally obscured the highway. I went off the highway and stopped while the traffic continued to go on and on oblivious to their lack of vision. I found a motel and stayed the night. The lightning flashed, and Rai named after that lightning, came out into this world before I got to Austin.
Now five years later, I am once again driving alone to Austin, very much alone. Bob died last January, so after 49 years of marriage I’m a widow. I can’t call and check in with him when I reach a stopping place, instead I grab his gold necklace that he wore for years after I gave it to him, seeking his presence to carry me through the lonely night.
I push on motivated by the joy of seeing my TWO grandchildren. After spending the night in Nevada, MO, the next stop is Bob’s first cousin Darlene and her husband Tom. I’ve already driven forever, yet this is another day of driving on and on. In Oklahoma the large trucks feel like they are going to squeeze me off the road. I try to get around them driving fast, and I see a cop car in the median. I finish passing and slow down, but sure enough a few miles later a police car pulls me over.
The Oklahoma highway patrol walks up to my window and asks, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“No, I’m not sure. I’m just trying to get to see my grandkids.” I reply only slightly a lie.
He asks for my license and proof of insurance. I quickly pull my license out of my billfold and pull the car manual out of the glove compartment relieved to find the insurance card right where I’d placed it. It even has the right dates.
He takes my identity to his police car, I wait wondering my fate, how much is this stupidity going to cost me ? How I wish Bob was here driving instead of me, he always knew when there was a cop around. The highway patrol returns and says. “Well Mam you were going 82 mph in a 65 mph zone.”
I gasp surprised that I was going so fast, I was just trying to pass those huge trucks. This would never have happened in my car this dumb truck just takes off speeding without my knowing it.
“I’m going to have to give you a ticket.” He writes the ticket and I sign it, wishing I’d forced the truck to slow down.
I drive on, and on, a using the cruise control more to keep my speed down and staying behind the huge trucks that loom all around me. I need to get out of Oklahoma and their tiny roads. As soon as I arrive in Texas I stop at the Welcome Texas rest stop where OK 69 becomes TX 75. The road is smooth and wide. There are rest stops with clean bathrooms.
Despite the wide smooth roads the traffic becomes heavier, the road crowded with new buildings being built along it. I arrive in Frisco, TX, just north of Dallas. In contrast to the wild construction surround their neighborhood, Darlene and Tom’s home is quiet and inviting. The guest room is ready and waiting, and the table set with lovely Christmas dinnerware. I relax and visit but my mind is on the next day when I’ll finally be in Austin.
As soon as the traffic clears I head out to drive from Dallas to Austin. My cousin suggests that I take 35W because it does not go through downtown and therefore it will be easier. I fill up with diesel fuel at the nearest station and follow their directions to the letter. The road has concrete barriers on either side, and the trucks and cars fly around at a breakneck speed. I hold fast onto the steering wheel staring straight ahead concentrating on my breath trying to stay calm and focused. The lovely tea Bob’s cousin fixed for my breakfast sounds an alarm in my bladder. I don’t need fuel, but now I need a restroom. The rest stops have disappeared. The sides of the road have deteriorated into a construction zone, I don’t even see any gas stations to stop at, only whizzing vehicles on the road and monster machines kicking up dirt just past the concrete barriers. I bounce off the road, passing between the concrete barriers traveling a short way on dirt, but there isn’t any place to stop, nor even a tree to hide behind. I go back on the highway squeezing my legs together as I continue the hunt. I drive off again, but once again I don’t see any gas stations, but there, I see something.
Around the block is a restaurant. The road it is torn up but the restaurant looks clean and inviting. I park right in front, lock the truck and run to the door asking the waitress, “Where is the restroom?”
She points to the door, and I walk fast past a large picture of a happy sports team. As I sit there feeling relieved, I realize how fortunate I am that this restaurant is here struggling and staying clean in the middle of all this construction. I’m going to order something, I think, wanting to find some way to thank them for being there.
I order a salad and sit down at the table where the waitress is wrapping utensils in napkins. I smile remembering my teenage years working in a restaurant. She says, “Oh, I’ll mov,.” as she bunches up the napkin rolls to pick them up.
I reply, “Oh please don’t move, I‘d like to visit while you work, if its OK with you.”
I’m still not used to eating alone, especially in a restaurant. She stays and we talk grandkids and waitressing while she continues to work. After I eat the salad I’d ordered, I leave a big tip, twice what I’d paid for the salad.
I return to the road calmer and braver than before. The construction finally ends, and the road calms down as I get closer to Austin. The roads take on a warm familiarity as I drive into known territory where I’d driven my Saturn when the first child was little. My heart beats faster as I drive up the hill and turn off the busy street that cuts my daughter’s neighborhood off from the rest of Austin. I drive down her street. There is her house, but the driveway is empty.
Sadness seeps over me. I didn’t tell them exactly when I’d arrive, for I hadn’t known for sure. I know the code so I open the door and haul my suitcase up the stairs to Rai’s bedroom. I clean the road dirt and tension off with a hot bath, hoping they will stay away a bit longer now I’m here.
When I’m clean and ready they come barreling in through the door. “Grandma,” Rai yells giving me a big hug. His little brother holds back a little but also greets me with a hug.
Being five and wise, knowing it was getting close to Christmas, Rai asks, “Did you bring any presents?”
I answer, “Yes they are wrapped and we can put them under the Christmas tree.”
“I’ll help you get them out of the truck Grandma,” is his enthusiastic reply.
Before I can say, “Merry Christmas, “ he helps me bring in a huge box and rifles through the clothes to find the wrapped presents hidden at the bottom of the box. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea, I think, but it’s too late now. The presents are placed around the tree.
I’m exhausted. I can barely stay awake through dinner, and at 7:30 I go up to bed with my grandson. He says, “I’m going to sleep with you grandma, I don’t want you to be lonely.”
I fall asleep, definitely not lonely. His warm little body snuggles close, his breathing is music to my ears.