Love is love, even at 96, and even if it is inexplicable to the rest of us. I saw her on the road and wondered if she was making good her escape. She had called my brother Joe and promised she was going to hitchhike from Texas to Florida so she could be back with Al, her husband of five years. Or she was going to take the train. Or a tramp steamer across the Gulf from Houston to Tampa. Or a 30 hour bus ride.
Al, traveling his usual ‘snowbird’ route following the tennis circuit, had stayed here with her at the trailer in Texas about three weeks. Then he took off for Florida. He doesn’t care for Huntsville and October is time for Florida—always has been, always will be. Never mind that she can’t go with him.
She married Al, her companion of nearly 40 years, when she was 92 years of age – four years ago. She’d been asking him to marry her nearly every year they had been together. He’s been married before and has two or three grown children somewhere or another but wasn’t interested in marrying her. Her unmarried state mortified my proper, Kentucky grandmother, and to be honest, all of us children as well.
Why should he marry her? She was perfectly willing to follow along behind him in her own car as they spent summers in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New York or Massachusetts and winters in Florida. When she couldn’t drive any more (thank goodness, she gave up her car willingly) he VERY grudgingly let her ride in his car.
He doesn’t like anyone disturbing his stacks of papers, envelopes with all his invented legal affairs, piles of newspapers stretching back weeks (he can read five newspapers daily and repeat everything in them, verbatim, but can’t make a coherent explanation of the information), five or six tennis rackets (he’s 84 and still plays tennis), piles of dumpster food and, of course, the cockroaches (he never notices them). We think he has high-functioning Asbergers. But she loves him and always finds excuses for him.
Every summer, for the last thirty five years, Al has dumped Mom off wherever they happen to be, Virginia, Massachusetts, Georgia. He gets tired of her riding in his car and just leaves her. Last time, she rode a bus 32 hours from Virginia to Houston where my sister and I had to go rescue her. As soon as she lands at one of our homes, she begins a litany of “I’ve got to get a job! He’s never coming back. I’ll never see him again!” Of course, he shows up three months later and off they go, no matter what plans we have made to care for her.
UNTIL I put in the trailer here on our property in Texas. Then she suddenly had a place of her own. One day, I looked out the back window and there she was all dressed up in her best white blouse and black slacks and he was helping her into his car. Without her having to ask, again, they drove down to the courthouse and the County Judge married them. Her marriage certificate is taped to the wall of her bedroom in the trailer.
Did that stop Al’s wanderings? Of course not. And did that mean Mom was going to stay put in the trailer? Of course not. Three weeks later, off they went—to Florida. It was October. Last year, they actually spent six months with my brother in Atlanta. It’s more convenient for the north-south trek.
Finally, when Al dumped her this last summer, Mom had settled here but I knew he would be back. Two months ago, she came knocking on our back door. She had a lower GI problem –thought it was diarrhea. Turned out to be massive bleeding. Thanks to Dr. Charles Monday, she survived but now she is too frail to walk far. She still swims her half-mile twice a week down at the Conroe pool, and she insists she is getting better. It’s unlikely she will accept her true frailty. Growing old gracefully is not in the cards.
That trek down the road—turns out it was to the mailbox three quarters of a mile away down our dirt road (if you live in East Texas, all directions include a dirt road) – was almost more than she could handle. She’s determined and stubborn and she would have made it back, too. I went to rescue her in the car to get her back to the trailer.
She still talks of hitchhiking to Florida, but she will never travel with Al again.