It’s less than three weeks now until my cousin, Kim and I will take off on our trip. The journey will bring us closer together just as our mothers were close. Her mother, Yvonne and mine, Mary were first cousins and best friends.
Back around the summer of 2010, when Mama was still living at home and able to walk, she and I went for a visit with Yvonne, who was living with Kim. They loved being together and had since they were young girls. As I’ve shared before, they went together to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania when they were both 19-years-old to train for jobs as Civil Service Workers in the WWII effort. Over the years, Kim and I have heard many accounts of their adventures in Harrisburg and when they returned to work at the Pope Field Airbase.
I remembered that visit with Yvonne when I returned to Kim’s house last Saturday. We met to discuss plans for our upcoming trip to Scotland and Ireland. Years ago, when I took this picture of Mama and Yvonne, I wondered how many more times we’d get to do that; Mama was becoming unsteady on her feet.
Years later, I wrote about this on my blog in the post, Celebrating a Life in November 2018:
Eventually Yvonne’s diabetes and other physical problems, and Mama’s dementia led to both of them going to live in nursing centers. As long as they were able, we still tried to take them to see one another. When they were no longer able to visit, Yvonne would ask Kim about Mama, and Mama would smile when we’d tell her news of Yvonne. They were separated but we felt their spirits remained together.
I wrote that post the day before I attended Yvonne’s Celebration of Life service at Fuquay Varina Presbyterian Church. While her body suffered many physical challenges until the end, her mind was sharp. Kim has told me about many special moments she shared with her mother. One of them explained to me why a bagpiper played the popular hymn, “Amazing Grace” at her funeral on that perfect autumn afternoon.
Yvonne told her daughter that when she passed, she wanted her ashes taken to the Isle of Skye in the Outer Hebrides–those barrier islands off the west coast of Scotland. That was where the maternal grandmother, Nannie McDonald Gilchrist’s family, the McDonald Clan had originated. Those Scots had left their homeland and sailed to North Carolina — navigating up the Cape Fear River and settling into the area of Harnett County where Yvonne was raised.
Months after the service, Kim asked me if I would go with her. I’d traveled by myself in Scotland the year before. She felt that by us going there together, we’d honor her mother’s wishes and symbolically allow Yvonne and Mary to travel together again– through their daughters. I felt honored to be asked to carry out this special mission.
Now, we’re pulling together items to be packed; waterproof everything, copies of Covid vaccines, testing kits, passports, identification, layers of warmer and lighter clothing for quickly changing weather, walking shoes, hiking boots. All this will be stuffed into carry on baggage that can’t exceed 40 lbs for our Rabbie’s 6-Day Small Group Tour to the Outer Hebrides. Kim has looked up laundry mats–which could be interesting, but we won’t hesitate to pay one of our B & Bs’ to do our laundry!
Last Friday we met with our travel agent, Jo to review our itinerary.
We’re both excited about seeing Scotland, and I’m especially looking forward to our visit to Skye. I’ve heard wonderful things about it from my friend, Aldo whom I met at Iona. He has been there multiple times. It has been a soulful place for him where he feels spiritually renewed, inspired by the rugged beauty of that remote island. When Kim told me that’s where her mother wanted her ashes to be scattered, I couldn’t help but feel the serendipity, the spiritual ‘coincidence’ of Aldo’s description preparing me for that place.
When Kim asked me to go, I said I’d like to visit Ireland as well–since I’d never been. We’ll fly from Edinburgh to Dublin for the last part of our trip. We’ll spend a couple of days in Dublin and take a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher. Kim will return to the States and I’ll go on my solo journey to the west coast, Atlantic side and stay in the village of Doolin. My friends stayed there years ago and gave me a map of that area. It’s been in my Lonely Planet Ireland book for years and now will become a reality.
The anticipation is building now with the trip getting closer. I wonder what it was like for Mama and Yvonne the weeks before they left for Harrisburg. Neither of them had traveled out of North Carolina at that time. They would board a train in Fayetteville in early January of 1943, filled with girls heading north for their mission to help in the war.
I remember now what Yvonne said about that all-night ride on the rails.
“We were in a sleeper car. But we were so excited– we didn’t sleep a wink!”
Mama had described the startling scene in Harrisburg on the morning they arrived.
“The Susquehanna River was frozen solid!”
That was surprising for a Southern girl who’d been warned to stay off half-frozen farm ponds.
How the world opened up for those two farm girls from North Carolina.
How will the world open up for me and for Kim? What will we learn about our mothers as we travel in their stead?
That is the adventure that awaits us. Travel, no matter the circumstances or the place we are venturing to, can open us up to new possibilities, to new aspects of ourselves. May it be so for us; may it be so for you–wherever your journey takes you.
Best to you,