Monday, August 30, 2010

Traditional map best guide for a trip through the past

Technology provides us with GPS units and online navigational tools, but if you're lost, sometimes a good old-fashioned map is the best way to get back on track

Simply Living
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel August 29, 2010)

During the past 10 months, my husband and I have lost all three of our remaining parents. My mother's funeral was Aug. 17 in the hamlet of Ellenville, N.Y., the town where she was born, grew up and met my father. I hadn't been back to Ellenville since my own childhood, when several times a year my parents and I would drive from our home in Yardley, Pa., to upstate New York to visit my mother's family.

Although most of my memories of those times are foggy, I can clearly recall the pretty countryside. When planning my trip north for the funeral, I made the decision to absorb as much of that beauty as I could.

"You flew into Allentown, Pa.?" my cousin asked. "You could have landed in Newark. It would have been so much closer."

My cousin was right. If I had flown into Newark, I would have had a shorter drive, but I also would have had to navigate through one of the ugliest parts of New Jersey. There would have been lots of traffic, noise, unpleasant odors and unattractive sites.

It might have been a more efficient route, but efficiency wasn't my goal. I was seeking serenity. I wanted to fly into a smaller, calmer airport. I wanted to drive down quiet country lanes. I was seeking as much peacefulness as possible to buffer what I expected to be a less-than-pleasant occasion, the funeral of a parent.

If it hadn't been for flight delays, things would have worked out as planned. Unfortunately, the plane to Allentown landed several hours late, dashing expectations of daylight driving. Instead, I set off in my economy-priced rental car just as the sun was setting.

I thought I was well prepared. I came with a Google Maps printout of my route and a portable GPS as a backup. Nonetheless, I managed to get confused. Google Maps told me one thing, while my GPS said another. Thanks to a kind storekeeper who gave me an actual map, I finally managed to get on the right road, but by then it was quite late and I needed a rest. I pulled into a small motel.

I had heard the term "fleabag motel" before, but until that night, I had never experienced one. For the outrageous sum of $57, I paid for a room inhabited by ankle-biting bugs. Too tired to realize what was happening in the dark, I discovered my predicament when I awoke in the morning.

Within minutes, I packed up my few belongings and was out the door. Despite ankles now covered with itchy welts, the morning drive was exactly what I was after. The countryside was beautiful. Colorful wildflowers lined the roads. Stone houses sat beneath towering trees. The small roads I had purposely selected wove their way through undulating mountains. It couldn't have been prettier.

I got to Ellenville with time to spare. I explored the town, browsing through shops and driving down side roads. The funeral was traditional. I saw relatives I hadn't seen since childhood. We all did our best to breach the years and rekindle old relationships. After a communal meal at a local restaurant, I said my goodbyes and left for Allentown.

This time, I was driving in daylight. I turned off the GPS, threw the Google Map printout on the car floor and relied entirely on a good old-fashioned paper map. My drive was delightful as I made my way through one pretty town after another. Two and a half hours later, my rental car was returned and I was back at the airport.

Funerals are never happy occasions, but I sought to make the best of this one by paying homage to the countryside where my mother grew up. Although not everything went as planned, I considered the trip a success. I reconnected with relatives, relived bits of the past and honored the place where my mother's life began.

My mother used to say, "If you have a mouth, you can't get lost," and she was right. With her advice in mind, I asked for a map and became unconfused. Even in death, a mother's wisdom rings true.

1 comment:

  1. I guess the time has come for me to laminate my faded yellow 3x5 index card that contains my most favorite recipe of all time - "Mrs. Levy's New York Cheese Cake".(with apologies to Harold Boas, whose "Harold's Brownie Recipe" runs a close second...and is equally faded and stained). It is a treasured memory of life in the 1960's in Yardley, Pa.

    With love and a hug - Megan