When we left Habersham County, Georgia, in our beige 1985 Buick that beautiful October Sunday in 1990, we carried precious cargo: both our mothers. We were bound for Niagara Falls, a veterinary convention in Rochester, New York, and for New England and the rocky coast of Maine. My mother was 86 and dependent on a walker. Charles’s mom was only 65 but had a bad knee and was expecting to have a complete knee replacement after that trip.
Mama Graham (Elizabeth) had dreamed of going to Niagara Falls. My mother (Eula) had a great longing to visit the rocky coast of Maine. We had proposed the trip almost a year ahead so they could anticipate and plan.
As it turned out, Eula had a very bad fall the January before our trip. She crushed a vertebrae which put her into severe pain and a lengthy hospitalization. She de-scribed her pain as “worse than birthing any of her eleven babies.” I realized she wouldn’t be able to travel, that we would all just be thankful if she could walk again and put on her big signature Saturday morning breakfasts. But one day as I leaned over her to adjust her pillow she whispered, “I have to get well so I can go on that trip.”
And get well she did, though she never was able to do without her walker.
Our mothers each chose a side of the Buick’s rear seat, made their “nest” as Elizabeth described it, and declared that would be their place from then on. When we tried to switch around and give them each turns in the front for a better view, they held tight to their places. We worked out a system for getting in the best handicapped, or at least possible, bathrooms–meaning, Charles would park temporarily while I ran in and scoped the place. If I gave a thumbs-up we’d begin unloading the walker and, in some instances, my mother’s toilet seat extender (in a bag!). Remember, handicap facilities were not a given in those days. All up the eastern seaboard, we found McDonald’s to be our winner. They had the best restrooms!
Charles and I had experienced Niagara Falls’ greatness two years before this. But seeing it through our mothers’ eyes was even more awesome. Charles rented a wheelchair for Eula and we walked down toward the overlook. I had a sudden overwhelming fear that Charles was going to lose control of the wheelchair and my mother would go flying off the cliff. But my mother had no such fear. She and Elizabeth were spellbound and not just because of the tremendous roar. They were taking in everything in total awe. It was late afternoon. There were rainbows. It was stunning, incredible, so beautiful. It was, to me, like heaven, simply unbelievable. Could we possibly be actually sharing this experience with our mothers? It was one of those moments when you almost hold your breath for fear you’ll wake and find it was only a dream.
Charles with our two mothers at Niagara
I saw a hotel over on the Canadian side right by the Falls, a brand new nine or ten story ho0tel with windows overlooking the Falls. Charles and I decided we would see if there were a room for us in that hotel. Miracles had already happened, maybe this one too. The clerk at the desk said yes and we took it! I will never forget our thrill when we walked in that generous room and discovered the view overlooking the Falls from a bay window with seats. Three of us went to dinner. My mother said please to let her stay in that window absorbing the view and writing cards to all her other children. She’d be happy with whatever take-out we brought her.
The moon was full that night. We could hardly make ourselves go to bed!
Contrary to the planning of the rest of our journey, we did have a room reserved at the convention hotel in Rochester. Our room was on the mezzanine level which meant we could walk out our door into a beautiful courtyard on the fifth floor. There were fountains and flower gardens and nice benches here and there. We three girls thoroughly enjoyed that place while Charles went to his meetings and seminars.
Ours was the last car on the ferry across Lake Champlain. Charles, Elizabeth, and I went up on deck but Eula happily stayed with the car and, because of our being last on, she could see out.
Riding through Vermont and New Hampshire in the autumn, we were in a constant state of celebration. Every turn in the road brought a new aaah or oooh. It was so much fun just seeing everything together. Even the signs were an adventure, especially when we realized we were passing an entrance to the Appalachian Trail. We had to stop and take pictures there and think about the southern end of the trail near home in Georgia.
The little coastal town of Bar Harbor, Maine, was cozy and bustling just as you’d expect it to be on an autumn morning in the fog. Charles chatted with locals outside while we girls shopped for souvenirs. He learned that we were seeing Bar Harbor at its most normal, fogged in!
In spite of the fog, we drove up the winding, steep road to the top of Cadillac Mountain. We’d talked about this adventure all the way from Georgia. Wouldn’t the sun come out and burn away the fog? It didn’t. We could barely see to park.
Back on the coast, Charles drove along slowly to let us see what we could. We looked for a place where Eula could see the waves crashing into the rocks. The rest of us walked down a steep path to see a Devil’s Cauldron, the water crashing in and shooting up spouts of white foam. Mamma said she could hear it and that was good enough.
Charles was determined we would see the view from Cadillac Mountain. So after lunch in a little seaside “cup up” spot, we climbed the mountain again, this time hoping so hard we could see out. A light rain had started falling. Maybe it would wash the fog away!
Again, no view. Nothing except fog so thick we felt smothered by it.
We left Bar Harbor area midafternoon and drove south along the coast. Suddenly the sun burst free of the clouds and we could see! Our mothers were like little girls in their glee. We drove around a point and could see President H.W.Bush’s home across the sound. We were at Kennebunkport. We took pictures and lingered there on the rocky coast of Maine.
Eula and Brenda at Kennebunkport
One of the highlights of our visit to Maine for Charles and me was eating lobster at a lobster pound. Not so for our mothers. They had clam chowder and looked at us as if we were murderers for eating poor lobsters dropped alive into boiling water.
On the way home we visited Washington for one day, Charles and his mother sightseeing, Mamma and I enjoying time with my niece. We drove through Amish Pennsylvania and then down to North Carolina where we spent our last night out with my sister. Mamma stayed there with her while the three of us headed for South Georgia.
This journey was a time to treasure in our hearts and remember fondly as we pay tribute to our dear mothers on every day, but especially on Mother’s Day.