Why Norway — part 2

Lest anyone think we’re independently wealthy and that’s how we travel the world, two things:

  1. International travel is not much more expensive than travel within the USA. In fact, I honestly think it could be less, depending on the country. Food and lodging can be pretty cheap in some parts of the world.
  2. Each of my children received some money from my mother’s estate in the same way her mother gave money to each of her grandchildren. My money from my grandmother was used to purchase my first car – a 1970 VW bug. Some of my children used their money towards a car, too. Mary and Karl both expressed a desire to travel.

Why Norway? I asked Karl on our way home. Norway wasn’t on my radar at all.

If someone asked me, I would say Israel — but that’s not a trip that can be safely done on a whim.  It’s my dream, though, to go to Jerusalem. I want to pray with my hands on the Western Wall. I’d like to go to the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, the Garden Tomb. I want to visit Yad Vashem and I want to eat fish on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Instead I ate fish soup on the wharf in Bryggen. (It was amazing.)

Karl’s reason? “The pictures looked cool.”

I guess that’s reason enough.

In retrospect I can see how much I needed Norway.

My father’s world shrank significantly while I was away. He’s afraid to go into rooms, and when he enters, the door must be closed behind him.  He throws his hands up in fear or anxiety when I open the door to leave.

“Sally! Don’t DO that!” and he grabs my arm if I’m close enough. “Don’t go out there! You don’t understand!”

He’s right. I don’t understand.

And he can’t explain it.

So we stay in stuffy rooms watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

And I think about the vistas of Norway.

Fløyen, above Bergen

The view from our Airbnb

The mind can be so fragile. While I was gone, the fragile balance was upset, and I don’t know how to put it back.

So I think about the piles of rocks I saw along the river, and the raging waters that were so close, and how we all teeter at times.

On the way from Berekvam to Flåm

I drove in Norway — not something I recommend. The roads can be narrow and winding. My father would have remarked on the switchbacks that we saw from the train.

Switchbacks

When I drove, I was too busy worrying about running into another car to try to imagine the switchbacks. I drove roads barely wide enough for the VW Golf I rented, and would come around the corner and meet another car going in the opposite direction.

This was a two-way road.

I quickly learned to throw the car into reverse and back up to a broader area where the other car could get past me.

Or be grateful when the other car did that for me.

Life has been like that for me, too. I can’t see what’s ahead and I don’t have much wiggle room.

But I have Norway, and it was beautiful.

So I’ll cautiously proceed.

When my father tells another switchback story, I’ll have some of my own now.

Why Norway

The place we used to stay in Myrtle Beach had no phones in the rooms. This was back in the 70s, when phones that fit in your pockets weren’t even a twinkle in a computer chip’s eye. Phones had dials and cords.

In those first few years in Myrtle Beach, if someone needed to reach my father at The Teakwood, they had to call the motel office. Someone from the office would find my father and he would have to go to the office to take the call or return the call. Things really advanced when they got a phone with a portable handset.

At the Teakwood

I asked my mother about the lack of phones. Somehow it made The Teakwood seem inferior to its phoned competitors.

“It helps Dad relax to get away from the telephone,” she said. I hadn’t thought about the tyranny of the telephone until that conversation.

I recently heard on a podcast that the presence of a phone at a meal — even if it’s facedown on the table — causes the conversation to be more shallow.

But this isn’t about phones.

It’s about why I went to Norway.

Last year I traveled to Europe for the first time since I was 5 years old. Twice.

The first trip was to take my father to Normandy, something he had longed to do for many years. I was excited for my father, but ambivalent for myself. I knew that I should be excited. I just couldn’t muster up the excitement on my own.

Then we went to Normandy and I loved it. I think I could live in Bayeux and be quite content there. The cathedral, the farmers’ market, the patisseries, the narrow streets, the old buildings — all of it lovely. I didn’t think anything could top Normandy.

Until Bosnia two months later. The land, the people, the hospitality. I came home from that trip quite full.

So when I was feeling depleted this year, and so many people kept reminding me that caregivers need to be sure to take care of themselves, I thought about what had pressed a reset button in my soul and given me rest and strength for the days ahead. Travel. Like the phoneless Teakwood did for my dad.

I applied and was accepted to a writer’s workshop with Ann Voskamp — but it was in the wilds of Alaska. When I realized how remote the workshop was, and how, if something happened at home, I would have a hard time making an emergency trip back, I asked to postpone my attendance for another year.

Then I considered a trip back to Bosnia, but nothing seem to fall into place with that.

Finally, I asked Karl — who had been saying that he wanted to travel — where he wanted to go.

“Norway,” he said.

So Karl, Mary, and I traveled to Norway. And Denmark. And Sweden.

If an emergency had come up, I was always near an airport.

Except for the day we kayaked in the fjords. But truthfully, that was the most renewing day of all.

While I Was Away

I can still see the woman’s face as she said the words to me.

She started off saying, “It’s such a good thing you’re doing — keeping your father home.” But then she stopped smiling and looked me in the eye, “You can’t do this forever, you know. There’s going to come a point when you have to place him somewhere that can take care of him.”

My dander rose a little when she said that. I thought, That day will never come.

It nearly came last night.

Ten days ago I took a trip with two of my children. Something changed with my father in the week that I was away. He started fearing certain doorways and needing certain doors to be closed. He started refusing to go down hallways in the house where he has lived for 50 years.

“You don’t understand, Sally,” he’ll say to me, gripping my arm and pulling me close to hear his words. “You don’t want to go there.” He’s emphatic. His words have an urgency evidenced by his tight grip as he says them.

When I tell him that I don’t understand, he says, “How can I explain this to you?” After a long pause during which he’s unable to come up with an explanation, he’ll simply say, “Please don’t open that door.”

Last night he turned off the baseball game and headed to the dining room, announcing that he was going to bed.

“Where are you going to sleep?” I asked.

“Here,” he said, and he pointed to his heart.

“Will you walk with me to your bedroom?” I asked, slipping my arm under his to support and guide him at the same time.

He planted his feet. “You don’t understand.”

After a bit of coaxing, loud arguing, pleading, and everything else I could think of, Bud and I, one on either side of him, forced him to take the steps he clearly didn’t want to take. Once he saw his room and his bed, he was fine (more or less). For a few minutes, though, it was ugly.

I lay in bed afterwards feeling discouraged and thinking, What would Penelope Lumley do?

Penelope Lumley is the plucky governess in The Incorrigible Children Of Ashton Place series (by Maryrose Wood). The motto for the school she attended, The Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, was, “No hopeless case is truly without hope.”

I pictured the woman saying, “You can’t do this forever,” and I pictured the fictional Penelope Lumley reminding me that “No hopeless case is truly without hope.”

There has to be a solution.

In Norway (that’s where I went on my trip) we saw a house set up high overlooking a fjord.

Our guide told us that it has no road access. The old farmhouse had fallen into disrepair until a couple bought it and turned it into successful guest accommodations. Visitors arrive by boat at the base. They climb ladders and hike steep trails with switchbacks to reach Stigen Gard. It takes over an hour to make the ascent.

Some would have said the rundown farmhouse was hopeless, but no hopeless case is truly without hope.

The view at the bottom was beautiful.

I’m sure the view at the top is even better.

I just have to figure out how to do it.

France vs. Croatia

Hmm… Which country?

My May 2017 trip to France was amazing.  My father had long wanted to visit Normandy, so my husband, my brother, my sister and her husband, and I all made it happen last May. The family time alone made it very special.

In France, Normandy stole my heart. The sacred ground —

And its rural charm —

But Croatia was also lovely.

How can I forget walking the city wall in Dubrovnik?

Or swimming in the Adriatic where the water was so cold it took my breath away?

If Bosnia-Herzegovina was in the mix, the people would make a pretty strong case. Golly, I love them.


But it’s France vs Croatia.

It will be decided by a bunch of men kicking a ball around on a field.

I don’t know who to cheer for.

Our Trip to France

For years I had heard my father talk about wanting to go to Normandy.

I don’t think my mother was particularly interested. She had humored him on his stops at Civil War battlefields on their way to Myrtle Beach. I had been with them on one of those visits and, I’m sorry to say, my eyes glazed over a little as he pointed to this place and that on the field in front of us. I’m not a student of the Civil War.

I’m not a student of war. While I have read any number of books about WWII, they have not been battle descriptions but concentration camp stories, or smuggling-the-Jews-to-safety stories. But that’s beside the point.

My father wanted to go to Normandy.

The year after my mother died was a rough year. She died in November. In the months immediately following, my father was diagnosed with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH, for short). The next summer, he had surgery that involved putting a shunt in his brain that emptied into his abdominal cavity.

After his recovery from the surgery, I decided that we needed to get him to France because if we didn’t do it soon, we would lose the opportunity.

I talked to my husband and my siblings. My husband wanted to go. My sister and her husband were on board with the trip. One of my brothers cleared a week in his schedule so he could go, too.

I planned and I planned. I booked places, cancelled them, and booked others as I learned that I needed to make sure the hotel we stayed in had an elevator – aka lift. (Apparently, not all places have them, plus the first floor in France is what we call the 2nd floor.) I found a private guide. My sister helped book transportation from Paris to Bayeux and back again. She found a wonderful hotel in Paris (that had a lift).

When the time came, we flew to Paris, traveled to Normandy, and had an amazing time.

I even appreciated seeing the battlefield sites, the dimpled earth, the bunker at Pointe du Hoc, the cliffs.

Plus I spent a whole week with people I love.

Normandy

at LaDuree in Paris

Up in the Eiffel Tower


Sweet

Our trip to France was sweet.

I’m not talking about the food, which, of course, was amazing.

My food pictures leave something to be desired — not the food, my pictures.

Like this dessert — I don’t remember what it was, but it was delicious.

Or these crepes — which looked so wonderful that I started to eat them and then remembered to take a picture.

I took a picture of these meringues on Day 1 because I had never seen such large meringues. The patisserie was closed but I wanted to remember to buy some later. Unfortunately I forgot.

This pastry with apricots was really good but I can’t remember the name.

The sweetest thing about that pastry, though, was that my siblings and I sat outside on a bench to enjoy our selections from the patisserie together. We talked and enjoyed the morning sun before heading back to our hotel.

For years, I had heard my father say that he really wanted to see the beaches of Normandy — so we made it happen.

He probably doesn’t remember the trip today — at least not without the aid of the photo book we put together.

But we remember.

For one week last May, we fulfilled one of my father’s dreams — and had a good time doing it.

That’s the sweetest part.

 

A Visit to the New York Public Library (and a Broadway show)

Dear Mary Zaengle,

I didn’t know yesterday was going to be such a great day and here’s why —

In preparation, I had focused on the tired parts of the day: the getting up before 4 AM and the getting home after 1 AM.

I was worried about the city, all those people crowded together and the tall buildings holding them in, a barricade between city and country, urban and rural, not home and my home — and I was spending a day on the wrong side of the barricade.

I braced myself against the day instead of leaning into it.

I felt like you, who had never been to the city before, should be going with someone who loves the city and that’s not me — but you wanted me to go so I figured I’d better make a good effort.

“What do you want to do?” I had asked you. We had several hours to kill on either side of Dear Evan Hansen.

“I dunno,” you replied, in that helpful way you have.

So I worried about that, too, and finally decided we should go to the New York Public Library. You love books. I knew that if it turned out to be just a bunch of books you would be thrilled. You would pull the oldest book you could find off the shelves so you could hold it in your hands, feel the paper, and smell the old book smell. I’ve seen you do that.

The library was the right choice. You reached up to touch one of the stone lions that guarded the main entrance.

Inside, I touched the Lego lion that guarded the entrance to the children’s room.

“Mom!” you said, aghast. “The sign says ‘Please do not touch.'”

Oops. My bad.

But what a magnificent place! You wished you could climb up the ladder to the second tier of books that ran the circumference of the study room. I wished I could have seen the original card catalog where now tables of computers sit, the card catalog’s modern replacement.

We walked the long hallways, climbed the marble stairs and admired the art work that was everywhere.

a long hallway

Artwork — a man reading

Artwork — mother and child reading

ceiling in the McGraw Rotunda

As we were leaving, we noticed a sign for tours of the library. Our 2 hour visit served as a peek — there’s so much more, I’m sure. Next time we’ll have to take the tour.

Did I just say next time? Next time?

After spending some time there, I kind of want to go back. We should do that, don’t you think?

Sincerely,

Me