Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Great Road Trip Begins

I have known for a long time that going home to Bozeman was out of the question.  My sleepy little hometown became a hot spot for celebrities some years back and land prices skyrocketed.  The biggest names were Fonda/Turner and Redford, but Glenn Close bought a business on Main Street, and there are others I can't even think of right now who came in and caused the place have a cache' that translated into high, high home prices, but didn't create more jobs.  As a result, normal folk like me could no longer realistically expect to settle back there.  Last time I was there, which was a decade ago now, I met people who were better educated than me, but working two jobs to make ends meet.  One lovely woman I met in the laundry mat when I asked to play with her dog explained that she had a business of her own, but also worked a second job to keep the bills paid.  She was happy to do so because she wanted to be there that badly, but I decided to look elsewhere.  It's a big state.  Famous people couldn't have invaded all of it.

I settled on Missoula in northern Montana.  Home of the University of Montana, it is built right up against the Bitteroot Mountains, is close to its own river (the river made famous by A River Runs Through It - even though the movie was actually filmed along my local river, the Gallatin).  It is, relatively speaking, a metropolitan area; it has its own little symphony, the university and even a mall.  It's close to Glacier National Park, my favorite place on the planet.  I figured we could make it work there.  ("It" being a sense of peace at long last after careers that involved being called "Nazi" and "evil" on a routine basis while trying to handle two teenagers in major crisis.) Even though it smelled bad in Missoula.  I don't know what it is, but every time I went there, I noticed it.  And I'm not the only one who commented on it.  Maybe it's the minerals in the river, I don't really know.  But, I more or less figured I could get over it.  My radar turned to the area around it, and Greg passively went along with it, probably because he figured when the time came he could somehow derail it.  When the summer of 2007 came along, we had discussed that this was our destination in about a year's time.  I had begun looking at real estate, trying to find a house that we could have room for Mother has well as our tribe of dogs.  Marissa would be off to college hopefully and Kelsey was living on her own by then, and we genuinely thought allowing her some space from us would be the best thing for her.

That was the plan anyway.

That was still the plan when Marissa went to Alldredge in West Virginia.  I've written about it before.  I hold that program in the highest esteem, and fully believe it saved Marissa's life, so I believed what they said to me.  The administrators of the program, like many others of its kind, warned us against allowing our children to return to the same environment they were living in before they enrolled.  Many of them went straight to boarding schools, some went to live with other relatives.  One young man I knew of went to a volunteer program in South America.  We weren't as well financed as some of the families, and Marissa was intent on finishing her senior year here at Huntington-Surrey, so she had to come back home at some point.  The question became what to do with her over the empty summer months to keep her from relapsing back into old habits with old friends.  The idea of the Great Road Trip of 2007 was born.

Marissa wanted two things out of it:  time at a beach and time with a boy she had met at Alldredge.  Of course, the fact that he was from Virginia Beach was not lost on me.  So, I looked for a beach house somewhere along the Atlantic coastline.  Well, a couple of things about that:  small third world countries could run for a year on what a beach house rental in some areas go for, and one has to make those arrangements months and months in advance, not a few weeks.  I did find some really cool places, including a dog friendly bed and breakfast near a private beach in Virginia where guests can frolic with their pets.  I definitely will be checking that place out sometime.  So, I tried to coax her west.  To Seattle maybe, or the Grand Canyon on a rail trip.  No go.  Her heart was a flutter, and that drew her to the Atlantic.  Finally, trying to work it like a puzzle, I began to piece a plan together that had a little something for everybody.  The Steelers were playing in the Hall of Fame game that year (against the Saints no less), the Davidson family reunion (Mom was a Davidson) was the latter part of July, which corresponded nicely with training camp, and I was curious about the state that, at the time, I believed to be the canvas for the portrait that was my family.  In other words, I believed my heritage was from the Keystone State, and I wanted to know more about it.

As an aside to this whole long convoluted story, I thought I could pull it off and end up making Mother happy too.  I concocted a plot where Marissa would accompany her on a plane back to Pittsburgh so she could attend the family reunion, while I drove so we would have a car to get around in.  I would pick Marissa up from the beach, and we would drive in for the reunion.  I wanted to somehow get Mother back home one last time.  I knew she didn't have many more opportunities.  What I didn't know was how much her dementia ruled her even then.  Remember how I've mentioned before how angry she became when I sent Marissa to West Virginia?  I was scared enough to take my husband with me when I pitched the idea to Mom.  And with good reason.  That was the conversation that brought out the disclosure about Aunt Merle wanting me to come live with her.  It was also the conversation where she insisted that she be taken by car to the reunion.  No freakin' way I was driving over 1,200 miles with a handicapped woman in tow.  She couldn't take that kind of trip, and I couldn't take her. All the logic in the world; 1) my Forester isn't all that large, taking three people's luggage, plus a scooter for Mother and - oh! - three whole people isn't very logical, 2) it's a grueling drive for someone decades younger, she would be massively uncomfortable, and 3) it's much faster to fly.  But, there was no reasoning with  her.  As I recall it, she nearly tossed us out on our ears and then kept talking about driving herself back east.  Of course, a couple of years later I would understand what drove (pardon the pun) that episode.  But, at the time, I felt as though I had been sucked down into a really awful Twilight Zone episode.  I can't remember exactly how we got her to settle down, but I remember it involved lying to her somehow.

Once it was clear Mother was not a reasonable part of our equation, I completed the puzzle, and it went like this:

Marissa flew out to Virginia Beach and spent a week with the Love-Interest's family.  I drove out to pick her up, where the original plan was we would drive into Washington, Pa. for the family reunion and surprise everyone and get to know our relatives, pick up groceries there and then drive to a cabin I had rented for a week in the Alleghenies, then we would come back to Pittsburgh and spend some time there, go to training camp at some point, then on the Hall of Fame game, and end up in San Antonio for the Rush concert as the Grand Finale.  All good, clean, sober fun.

That was the plan anyway.

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