Palm Springs, CA

The transition from one life to another isn’t easy. I’m an example of that and so is my mom, who turns 85 in a few weeks. Packing her life into a 2019 Kia Soul is a sobering yet humbling reminder of how big lives can be reduced to a backseat, a back hatch area and a rooftop. So we began our trek in the East, where things begin. We would begin our adventure westward with little more than our individual and conjoined hopes for something, if not prosperous, at least something humble and kind.

So this is our travel log, no, collection of memories, anecdotes, and quotes.

As we begin our journey at night for this first leg to Petoskey, Michigan. I put on some music, the first song appropriately called “Welcome to Wonderland” about Alice’s trip through the looking glass by Anson Seabra.

(Me and Mom)

“Dancing through a dream underneath the stars
Laughing ’til the morning comes
Everyone that leaves has a heavy heart
Oh, Wonderland I love
Welcome to Wonderland, I’ll be your guide
Holding your hand under sapphire skies
Let’s go exploring or we could just go for a walk”

We arrive the next morning in Petoskey excited about introducing my mom to Peter Hauxwell. Luckily, we are granted early check in as we are meeting Pete for lunch at a nearby town on the water. I park a couple of blocks away from the quaint waterfront restaurant. Just enough distance for my mom to become winded and exhausted. Uh oh…this “adventure” of ours just started. Could be a challenge, but I’m not giving up on her. Just one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor. Lunch is great. Peter secretly picks up the check which my mom had claimed but didn’t have a chance to tell either of us. Haha. I know the type.

We returned to the hotel and took naps, or rather she took a nap. Suddenly, a couple of hours later, she awakens lively with a curious expression. She says she had the weirdest dream, that we drove to a small nearby town to have lunch and had to walk a few blocks from the car. We met a tall, handsome man for lunch and he picked up the bill. And a very large tip was left. I looked at her and told her that that had happened just a few hours before. She looked at me quizzically and mentioned something about how dreams and reality sometimes blur together. I laughed…kind of. Memory is an interesting thing.

Peter made reservations for us at his restaurant Beacon Bistro that evening at 7:30. We arrive a bit early, and mom orders an Old Fashioned, which I had never seen her order before. Secrets? Or simply a jab at any one cocktail that didn’t have “ini” in its name? I have the jalapeño margarita at the bar til our table is ready. At dinner, we had the smoked whitefish, a staple in these parts, and olives confited in duck fat. Mom had the special fish and I had the smoked pork chop (also known as ham steak). By any other name, it was still delicious. I drove my mom back to the hotel and decided to meet Peter for a drink after he finished his shift, opting to head a few doors down to another restaurant and bar. We shared a bottle of Thurston Wolfe Cabernet Sauvignon. This time I picked up the bill. After a great conversation of expressed hopes and dreams, I returned to the hotel finding my mom dead to the world. I slipped a mirror just under her nose just to make sure she was still breathing. 😳

We set off early the following morning heading west along the Canadian border across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Minnesota to Grand Forks, North Dakota. Not much special about these ten hours but some comments from mom about how flat the terrain is and how many cows she sees. On our way west, there were many times we were delayed by the roadwork. My mom made it a game by counting the number of cars that passed us until it was our time to go. Thanks to Patti Petrillo for suggesting The House on the Cereleum Sea by TJ Klune. The audiobook helped pass the time when we weren’t listening to sad songs by Demi Lovato, James Arthur, and Olivia Rodrigo or counting passing cars. We arrived in the evening in North Dakota and ironically our hotel was situated adjacent to the Sakura Japanese Steakhouse. Mom had Shrimp Yakisoba and I had Ramen with Tonkatsu. Mom’s shrimp were overcooked and my ramen was overrun with soy. It all tasted a bit “pseudo-Japanese”. No offense to pseudo-Japanese people. 😉 I drove to a nearby wine store and bought my mom a bottle of red wine. I asked for box wine, her favorite, to no avail. Oh well.

The next day was a long trip to Havre, Montana. About 14 hours of more counting of cars, cows and campers with mom diligently providing information on towns to come with the aid of a twenty-year-old atlas snug in her grasps. I have GPS, but it was something that occupied her time and I chalked it up to a second opinion just in case Google Maps was wrong. 🙄

This stretch of our journey was also filled with more songs by Shawn Mendez, Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish as well as selections from Hamilton and Hadestown. Another audiobook recommendation from Patti was the Invisible Life of Addy LaRue. Compelling. Will you matter if no one remembers you? A question we all face and one I’ve been contemplating in recent months.

Thankfully we arrived in Havre, MT, a place called Siesta, a place to rest, but regrettably it resembled something out of a New Orleans ghetto with blue collar travelers entering with their cases of beer and take out pizzas. It’s not the first time my mom and I have stayed in such squalor. The fact was there was nothing else available within 20 miles so we decided to tough it out. I locked her in the room while I went on a search for Chinese food, which I found down the road about a mile. That’s the amazing thing about Chinese food. You can find it most anywhere and this Chinese food was remarkably good. Mom had Sesame Chicken and I had the Mongolian Beef. Another example of China taking over the world and these small towns in America are no exception. Lol.

We get up early and make our way through Glacier National Park to Sandpoint, Idaho, a town very near the border of Washington State and Idaho and not far from the Canadian border. It was only a four hour drive but we are allowed early check in and decide to get a bite to eat before meeting a friend later. We find the Pend Oreille Winery, a restaurant offering local wines and light food fare. We sit down and order a glass of wine and some food. Our wine is delivered and it’s decent wine, so my mom looks at the menu and I see her eyebrows raise when she reads something that excites her. She says, I think the winemaker must be Japanese. I said really? It says that on the menu? And she replies affirmatively. Yes, she says. The winemaker’s name is Idano. Sounds like a Japanese name to me, but it seemed a bit strange. So, not exactly with the intention of doubting her, I take the menu and locate the Japanese reference. I giggle just a little. Idano, huh? She says yes. Idano of Sandpoint, I ask? Yes, she says. I show her the menu and it says Sandpoint, Idaho, not Idano. We both break out laughing, nearly hysterically. These are the moments that can’t be easily replicated. I’m grateful.

Later we meet a friend of mine and his family and they have a beautiful home on the water. We are taken by the sheer beauty of the home, the people and the spectacular views. Most of these people have a lifelong connection to Sandpoint and Spokane, Washington. That is where our connections meet. I spent a couple of years in Spokane as a child when my dad was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base. We talk about Spokane and our plans to see places from 52 years in the past when I was just four years old. Family is everywhere and our heads are spinning, but the sense of community and closeness is evident. I wasn’t jealous, but rather hopeful I would experience something similar in my life at some point. After a couple of hours, I took my mom back to the hotel and returned to spend extra time with my friend and family. It’s easy to talk about your admiration and love for your mother when she’s not around. And I did my best to do just that. Conversation touched on memorable family stories as well as funny anecdotes shared with me about this close knit group of people. One thing that was curious was the admission that sleeping in a recliner is what all older people end up doing, and if not, it is something that should be done. I said my mom never sleeps in a chair. It’s just not her. When I left my friend and his family back to the hotel, I entered the hotel room only to find my mom…sleeping on the recliner.
Apparently, I don’t know everything about the sleeping habits of older people. At least not yet. 😳

The next day we set out toward Spokane, Washington to Medical Lake, where my mom had fond memories from 52 years ago. As I said before, memories are interesting things. You hold close images and experiences that simply don’t translate decades later. But it was still an important piece of this journey to a place she will soon call home.

We headed south through Washington State down to Portland, Oregon and further south to Roseburg. The Olympic track trials were going on in Eugene so we decided to extend our drive further south to Yreka, California. On this leg, mom and I listened to YouTube clips comparing the artists from The Voice and American Idol. We also talked about new and fashionable diet regimens that were advertised on Pandora. NOOM was one. My mom asked what NOOM was all about. She asked if Oprah was on the NOOM diet and I said I didn’t think so. She said, good, because it obviously wasn’t working. The thing about elderly Japanese moms is that they are painfully honest…painfully honest, which sometimes doesn’t translate well. I continued to explain NOOM and how it is psychology based and you learn why you have attachments to certain foods, etc. I tried to make the connection as to why when we stop for gas my mom insists on buying lifesavers and other hard candy. She replies dryly that it’s because her mouth is lonely, and it needs company. I laugh at her and she just tilts her head to the right and then pops another lifesaver in her mouth.

We arrive in Napa around noon on Sunday, way too early to check in. So, we drove north to Calistoga through Yountville, Oakville, St. Helena to Calistoga. The tourists are back and it’s packed. Visiting wineries isn’t as easy as it was pre-pandemic. Reservations need to be made so I scramble to arrange for two tastings at Anarchist Wine Co. and Beaulieu Vineyards on Sunday and Provenance, Freemark Abbey, and Louis Martini for Monday. Wine tasting in Napa isn’t for the faint of heart. It also is dangerous if your swallowing every taste. I didn’t. My mom did. So mom lasted a whole one tasting the first day. I knew she wasn’t going to last when the French Canadian wine rep admitted he was from Quebec. My mom jumped into the conversation and said she had driven there with her daughter in law from Southern Texas. I said drove to Canada? That’s a long drive. She gave me that confused look. And I realized she meant she drove to Mexico from Southern Texas, an easy mistake, I tell her…giggling.

I dropped my mom off at the hotel, went to the second wine tasting and then crossed to Oakville Grade to visit Ann O’Brien from grad school. Such a great visit at her home in Glen Ellen and so wonderful to reconnect.

I drove back to the hotel and we talked about the last day in Napa. We woke early and polished off our three wine tastings. This time, mom judiciously selected the one or two wines from the portfolio of wines to sample, instead of all six or seven. We stopped for lunch at the Rutherford Grill. I had a burger and mom had sausages, two very large sausages. She quickly admits that she’s never had such huge sausages…ever! I join in and admit I hadn’t either. I lied. Lol. We ended the day having dinner at a French restaurant in Napa with escargot, mussels and sweetbreads for dinner paired with a local IPA for me and a rum and coke for her. We were just wined out. Sitting with my mom for these meals has been a really special time for both is us. We talk about the past, our futures, I noticed new and different dining habits as well as other characteristics I hadn’t noticed before, such as my mom tapping her fingers on the table in an effort to prevent herself from sneezing.

We set out early today for our last leg to Palm Springs. About three hours from our destination, I get this feeling of brightness and energy and happiness. U2 just happens to be playing from one of my playlists. The song is California (there’s no end to love). There are no coincidences I tell myself. I tell my mom we’re just three hours from last starting our little lives again. I thank her for trusting me to drive her across country and she thanks me back adding she trusts me 100 percent. There’s something poetic about the two of us serving as witnesses to each other’s rebirth to a new beginning. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s now 3pm and we arrive in Palm Springs. Home Sweet Home.

About the Author

Liam Harvey

Liam made his home in Palm Springs in 2018. The confluence of divorce, cancer, and pandemic turned what was a very large life into one more intimate, meaningful, with a focus on friends and family who really matter most. This travelogue with his mom is a result of all these events and feelings.

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