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Road Trip

by Joan L. Cannon

If you want to find out just how far into your dotage you've progressed, one of the fastest ways is to go to a family party or reunion. No news there, of course, but let me add that the necessary situation is that this (or in my case, these) affairs ought to be something of vital importance to those more than a single generation younger than you. The younger the group, the better to demonstrate what I mean. That's how to discover how much your tolerance for chaos and racket and electronic button-pushing have slid. We had four graduations, and the parents of those involved were so eager to get Grandma 750 miles closer they arranged everything. Off we went in tandem so that I could have my car and a measure of autonomy when we arrived.

When we left North Carolina, the temperature was in the eighties, the Carolina blue sky was decorated tastefully with puffy white clouds, and the world looked as it should on a post card. Twenty-four hours later, grey drizzle and what felt like near-freezing temperatures greeted us. I was glad I'd hung a baggy wool blazer in the car. Ten days later, I was glad I'd taken an acrylic sweater I could wash in a machine since it was white, and I wore it almost every day, sometimes along with the blazer.

Apart from trying not to congeal in bed every night (that the young are more warm-blooded than their elders is a well-known fact), I had to give up wearing any of the warm weather ensembles I'd packed, and pretty much live in blue jeans. How very fortunate that the local department store had a sale a couple of weeks before I left. Can you believe what denim pants with rivets cost these days?

There was a modest degree of anticipated culture shock when at my daughter and son-in-law's favorite Asian restaurant I was introduced to sushi. It developed that this establishment was going to cater the graduation party they were hosting on Sunday.

The head-count was to be about 50, they informed him without batting an eye. I stifled an urge to repeat, "Cater? Sushi?"

They explained to the voluble proprietor the need to offer guests alternatives: for those like their vegan niece, a picky meat-potatoes-potatoes-fast food only stepson, and the few expected guests over the age of thirty who might prefer cooked food.

While this was going on at fairly high volume with a lot of explanatory gestures to amplify the accent barrier, I was using chopsticks to dip the most decorative slice of multi-colored mystery I'd ever seen into a mixture of soy sauce and wasabi, hoping to get the whole thing into my mouth without destroying its lovely design. I completely lost track of the conversation. Only the astonishing flavors kept my attention. I was, appropriately, hooked.

When Sunday rolled around, the gods smiled, the sun came out, the shelters erected on both front and back lawns, and the commodious front porch made life simple for the sushi chef and his helper, who worked in the kitchen. The diners descended like proverbial locusts on the array of white, brown, pork-fried rices; vegetable lo mein; General Cho's chicken; broccoli, chicken and beef stir-fry, and half an acre of sliced spring rolls, and sushi served from the deck of a miniature junk. A beautiful, smiling helper served sauces, chopsticks with and without placed rubber bands (for the coordination-challenged), and the traffic flowed smoothly back to the sunshine.

Talk about life in the fast lane and sophistication — yet there were actually some leftovers, though not sushi or the three kinds of sashimi on offer.

The next (yes, another party with some of the same guests, but many new ones) was equally well enjoyed, but miraculously so, when you consider that the living area is smaller there, and that it rained torrents all day, and was still pouring when I gave up and went to bed somewhere near eleven o'clock.

Lest you get the impression that I simply observed all this activity, I must mention the fact that all graduates and their parents work — long hours. Guess who got to polish all the collection of antique brass and copper? Prepare about six pounds of crudits, help shred cabbage for 50, make dips, arrange cheese boards, roll up plastic cutlery in paper napkins, clean up afterenough said.

Of course, I also benefited from the superior food and entertainment and the company of our children and theirs, and their friends, as well as some of our old acquaintance we hadn't laid eyes on since our daughter-in-law's graduation from veterinary school in 1990.

In addition to all of the above, it was a learning experience. I learned that I can manage to go up and down two flights of stairs some two dozen times a day if I have to; I know I no longer want to drive on major highways or on roads I don't know without a co-pilot, which I haven't done in 22 years; that a time arrives when I have to say "uncle," and that there is nothing more gratifying than the care and concern of your children.

And, everyone knows how lovely it is to get home after a long trip.

©2009 Joan L. Cannon for

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