I just returned home late last Sunday night after a 15½ hour drive from Wisconsin and nearly a month on the road promoting my book. And being the writing-type person I am, I feel I have to sort out my feelings and the lessons I learned along the way, so thus far, I have 16 pages scribbled in my notebook.
Nevertheless, if I had to sum up the trip in one word, I’d have to call it “bittersweet.” And if I had to name the most important lesson I learned from it, it would have to be that I need to be more patient and humble and less selfish. Now I’m not a selfish person by nature, but I sure learned some humility on that trip.
The first stop was South Lake Tahoe, California, where my husband and I attended two concerts by Chickenfoot and I did a book signing at the beautiful Marcus-Ashley Fine Art Gallery. I sold quite a few copies of “Dance of the Electric Hummingbird” that day, and Sammy Hagar personally bought all the books I didn’t sell at the signing. He had me autograph them and I was told that he was going to add his autograph to the books and sell them in the Cabo Wabo gift shop there in Tahoe. He also gave me a shout-out during both shows. There was no lack of humility on my part in those instances.
I returned home for a few days, then attended the Chickenfoot concert in Denver. It was Chickenfoot’s next stop on their US tour, and Sammy gave me another shout-out or two during the show. Again, no lack of humility on my part there either. I was deeply honored.
The following weekend, I did a book signing at Barnes & Noble in Denver and there was also a pretty good turn-out there. One of my fans actually traveled all the way from the UK to attend my book signing! How can I relate what an honor that was? No bitter stuff yet–all sweet!
The next week, I found myself on an airplane headed for La Crosse, Wisconsin to visit friends and do a book signing there. After that, my friend and I hopped in the car and drove. Forever. We were headed for St. Louis, Missouri. Enter the much-needed patience and requisite selflessness.
The mid-west is tantalizingly beautiful: mile after mile of rolling, green hills, magnificent trees, farmhouses with barns and cattle lolling in the sun, deer on the hillsides and gorgeous evenings where the shadows are long and warm and intoxicating like the scent of the trees and the freshly-mown hay. And mile after mile there are small towns that look exactly alike with their main street churches, houses with birdbaths in the front yards, gratuitous gas station/general stores and small parks and cemeteries festooned with American flags because it was Memorial Day weekend. There were always one or two cars on the road, but other than that, the streets were pretty much vacant. And calm. Like the fast-approaching nightfall.
I loved it. Loved the tranquility and the small-town feeling. I grew up in small towns. But as our 8 hour drive to St. Louis began to approach 11 hours, I started to get impatient. And I sometimes worried that we might be traveling on the wrong road, especially since we were at the mercy of the GPS, which was fast becoming “affectionately” known as “Genevieve Partially-Correct Steward.” I think we saw every small town between La Crosse and St. Louis, and although we arrived at our destination when most people were likely in bed for the night, my friend and I got to see some incredibly beautiful countryside along the way. It was also my first lesson in cultivating more patience. You see, the roads didn’t always go through like Genevieve thought they did and she became quite distressed when she thought we were going the wrong way. And sometimes there were detours, or road construction or tractors pulling farm equipment that took up the entire two-lane highway. And sometimes deer would jump out in front of us, or there would be stop signs on every block in the 20-mph center of each small town. But it was all good. Patience, my dear. Isn’t that one of the Seven Virtues? If not, it should be.
After a few shots of Templeton rye and a fitful night’s sleep in cheap motel beds that were as comfortable as stacks of plywood (selflessness be damned; sometimes you just need a shot of good whiskey!) we then attended the Chickenfoot concert in St. Louis and had the privilege of riding to the show with friends in a huge Hummer limo. No extra humility needed on my part there. Wow. I felt like a celebrity. A very grateful one.
The concert was lots of fun and I got to rekindle old friendships; even made a few new ones. I also had the honor of being interviewed by Michael St. John of DRUMline, who happened to be waiting to interview Kenny Aronoff, the drummer of Chickenfoot. I told Mike about my book and he said he wanted to read it and write a review of it for his website, so he whipped out his camera and taped an interview with me on the spot. Very nice guy. I’ll let you know when the interview is posted online.
I then did a book signing at Barnes & Noble in Des Peres, Missouri, and there was a pretty good turn-out there as well.
Then came more traveling. My poor friend would wince every time we’d get in the car and I’d start singing Willie Nelson‘s “On the Road Again” but I just couldn’t help myself; it seemed so appropriate!
After another long drive, we paid a visit to my dad’s hometown. Dad grew up on the Mississippi River and I was only just beginning to get an appreciation of its might and its size as it wound and roared and slinked beside us at nearly every turn. I swear I felt Dad’s spirit everywhere—in the buildings, the streets, the riverboats, the locks and the dams. This was when the bittersweet feelings began to enter the picture.
The peak of bittersweet though, was visiting my aunt. Well, she isn’t technically my aunt; she was my mom’s best friend for almost 60 years. I have always loved her like a second mom. She’s 88 years old now and lives in an assisted living facility.
It had been a long time since I’d seen her—years before my mom died—and I knew she probably wasn’t going to be around much longer herself. So I just had to see her.
My friend and I walked into her room and there she sat, like a cherished, long lost spirit from the past–the last-remaining human aspect of my youth and connection to my mom. My heart leapt in my chest. She was sitting in an overstuffed chair next to a window that overlooked the parking lot–a few figurines displayed on the window ledge. Next to her was her walker within easy reach, the TV remote and her basket of yarn with a half-crocheted blue and yellow baby blanket in it. To my friend and me, it felt like it was about a hundred and fifty degrees in the room, but my aunt was wearing a cream-colored thick sweater and a pendant which was really just a button to push in case she fell. And although she suffered a stroke about a year earlier and had trouble speaking, she was sharp as a tack, which is maybe not such a good thing, bless her heart. Maybe it’s better for the mind to go before the body, I don’t know. Because if you still have your mind, and you’re 88 years old and can’t walk and you’re living in a facility like that, what have you got to look forward to besides dying? At least that was the feeling I got from her.
“It’s hell to get old,” she told me as if it were an apology. Her eyes were full of love, but at the same time, I could tell she felt embarrassed for me to see her like that. My heart broke like a flower opening only to wilt as quickly as it had bloomed..
I wanted to spend entire days with her, reminiscing and telling her how much I loved her. I wanted to tell her all about my grandkids and what my sons were up to. I wanted to hear about her life and how she felt about her circumstances because I could sense all the emotions she fought to keep in check. And I wanted to ask her what I could do to help make things a little better for her, but it wasn’t long before I could see that she was growing tired.
So I hugged her, but it was difficult because I had to contort myself in order to reach her in her chair. I didn’t want to hug her like that. I wanted to hug her full on–feel her body against mine and send her all the love I had for her like a blood transfusion. I knew I would probably never see her again and she knew it too. She said it several times. Then I kissed her wrinkled face as tears ran from my eyes. I didn’t want her to see them, but I couldn’t stop them. She had always been so good to me, like a treasured second mother.
Here was where the real humility came in. Jesus, I have nothing to complain about.
I wished so badly that I could take her home to live with me, but I had also planned on taking her out for dinner, and she wouldn’t even leave her room for that. ”Bittersweet” flowed like the Mississippi River into every cell in my body.
And that was another lesson I learned on my trip–that things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes you have to accept what IS and allow life to come to you instead of always trying to control things. And sometimes you have to stand back meekly as you watch those you love fall because despite all your plans and well-meaning intentions, there is nothing you can do to help them; they have made their own choices.
Maybe this is the truest test of love–you feel it with all your might and that love carries you through–no matter how hopeless things may seem.
The trip wasn’t all bittersweet though; there were sweet moments too, like getting to visit friends and relatives–not to mention the cheese. You can’t visit Wisconsin and not O.D. on cheese; at least I can’t–cheese curds, smoked cheese, aged cheese, string cheese, Swiss, cheddar, brick, Havarti… you name it, they have it. And cheese heads. Everywhere. (They’re very loyal Packers fans. We even paid a visit to Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.) And their sausage, bratwurst and local beers are to die for. Seriously, these people know how to eat and drink! It’s good for the soul sometimes.
And speaking of souls, my soul must be restored and over-the-top now too because while I was there, I ate like there was no tomorrow. So much cheese, so little time… I’m not getting on the scale for weeks. So yes, my soul was restored in so many ways—bittersweet and now dancing like a hummingbird. (Well, after I lose a few pounds, that is!)