We moved Mother to Florida this week. She'd lived in Barbourville, Kentucky, for twenty-eight years, and it was finally time to begin, what she calls, the last great adventure of her life. Who knows if it will be the last one, but there is a sense of adventure about it all!
Barbourville, in the southeast corner of Kentucky, was (and is) a long way from the small Vermont town where she grew up. But when she took a teaching position there at a small liberal arts college and began teaching English literature and grammar to would be teachers, business folks and others, she settled in. So did my Dad, who after a four decade career as a pastor, started fresh teaching religion and speech at the same college. They joined a church, began to make friends, and gained some notoriety as excellent professors.
But then their world was turned upside down when Dad was struck by a drunk driver and almost killed. For seventeen sometimes long years, he was an invalid--a paraplegic, with serious brain injuries. But, with a tremendous amount of volunteer help from church members and college friends, as well as some terrific professional caregivers, Mother managed to keep him at home until he died of cancer in 2009.
When Dad's accident happened, Mother needed to learn to drive. She had never gotten a driver's license. So two or three friends taught her the rudiments of operating a car. One of her coaches frequently took her to the local cemetery to practice. "You all can't kill anybody here," he told her. She was a good student, and got her license to drive. I think through the years she was as proud of that license as she was her PhD!
She retired, and at seventy-five, took up the dulcimer! She even played with a local group--the Knox County Porch Pickers. Amazing! She read voraciously (still does) and worked at the local historical society as a docent. But all that started to change a bit ago. She could no longer drive, and needed some extra help. So the move to Florida where my wife Linda and I live.
On the last full day we were in Barbourville, Mother and my brother Bob and I went to the cemetery where she had learned to drive, and where Dad is buried. She wanted to tell him goodbye. "He was my guy," she said. And so he was. She bought a single red rose, and placed it on the grave. Not a whole bunch of roses, Dad was rather frugal, he wouldn't have approved of such extravagance. So a single bud. "I'm moving to Florida," she told him. She's made us promise to bury her ashes next to his when the time comes. She even has a headstone next to his. It's a promise none of us are eager to keep. But when we need to do so we will.
We shared a few stories as we stood in the damp greyness of the late afternoon, and then we walked back to the car. And the next morning, with some hired help, we packed up the truck, which Linda drove to Florida, and then we left town.
Somewhere on I-75 Mother said to me, "Barbourville seems so long ago now. So far away." And I know it is. But I also know it will never be far from her heart. She loved that little Appalachian town---and, as we saw so many, many times over the years, they loved her right back.
"Bless their hearts!"