It’s almost time to take off and the sounds of Scotland that I heard five years ago are calling me. The bagpipe player who stood at The Royal Mile provided the accompaniment that was Edinburgh on a sunny September afternoon. Thinking back, I’m reminded of a Saturday I had with Mama.
It was the last day that I took her for an outing when she lived at Parkview. It had become difficult to transfer her from my car to her wheelchair. My mission was to take Mama, her brother, Joe, and his wife, Ann to eat at the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Lillington. It wouldn’t be easy to get them together but it was essential; Mama dearly loved her older brother, and he loved his little sister “Mary” as he said it with a long A— like the rest of her family.
I drove while Mama rode shotgun, enjoying the countryside of Harnett County where she’d grown up. It was a day when folks were headed to college football games and local harvest festivals. I’d brought a CD that had been one of Mama’s favorites by Daniel O’Donnell, an Irish singer she loved hearing on public television.
I put the CD into the player and handed Mama the case. She looked at his picture and the song started playing:
“Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side”
(“Danny Boy” by songwriter Frederick E. Weatherly)
Mama smiled and looked at his picture.
“I bet he’s as nice as he sounds,” she said.
Daniel O’Donnell did have that charming boy-next-door look that Mama would have liked as a young woman.
“Probably so,” I responded and continued our drive to Joe’s house.
Years later, “the pipes” sounded again. At her cousin and best friend, Yvonne’s memorial service the bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.” Mama’s dementia was advance by that point and we didn’t tell her that Yvonne had died. No need to tell her something that would be confusing or upsetting. What if a portion of what she understood got snagged in her brain. She wouldn’t be able to process that and it may cause her worry that we couldn’t alleviate.
Now, those pipes are calling Yvonne’s daughter, Kim and me to the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides–the barrier islands off the west coast of Scotland. Yvonne was mentally sharp until the end. She told Kim that her final wish was for her ashes to be spread over Skye, where the maternal grandmother’s MacDonald Clan originated. Kim has done everything to honor her mother’s final request, and now has prepared to enter Scotland with the required paperwork and containment of ashes. We’re expecting to spend extra time in the TSA line to take her mother through.
Over the past week, I have drawn in from my usual activities, “gathering myself” for the trip that’s before us. My focus has narrowed to being with family and taking care of the final packing details. I’ve spent more of my time talking with Kim on the phone and then following up with texts. Saturday I drove through the countryside to her house and enjoyed visiting with her and her husband. Every time we visit, I learn new things about Yvonne, and in turn, new things about Kim.
I’ve noticed that Kim enjoys the details of a good story–like me. She has a way about her that is like she characterizes her mother; pragmatic and not overly dramatic. Kim can tell a funny story with a pleasant smile, but never gets to the point of losing control, breaking down into laughter before she reaches the conclusion. That’s unlike me; knowing the ending is funny I can start laughing and not be able to finish the tale; if I’m telling a joke, I get so carried away I forget the punch line.
Talking about our first trip together, our plans to meet at the Raleigh-Durham Airport this Thursday, reminded us of one of our favorite Yvonne-Mary travel stories:
After they completed their work in Civil Service at Pope Air Field when WWII ended, they decided to go to Kansas City, Missouri to work with the airlines. Their parents gave them a modest amount of money to last until their first payday. They were given strict orders; “Don’t spend money unless you have to.” On the flight to Kansas City, the stewardess came by and offered them the meal. Both young women thought they had to pay for the food, so they said “No thank you.”
They were both really hungry and said so to each other, but agreed they had to follow their parents’ instructions. They’d have to tough it out until they landed. The passenger sitting next to Yvonne heard their conversation and said, “You’ve already paid for the meal when you bought your ticket. You don’t have to pay anything now.”
Mama asked Yvonne to call the stewardess back and order their meals. But Yvonne, the oldest of twelve daughters and used to being in charge, said, “We can’t do that, Mary. They’ll think we’re country hicks.”
Mama, who was in the middle of eight children and never one to make waves, acquiesced to Yvonne’s wishes. The ironic thing was that the next night when they were to have their first meal in the big city, ‘sophisticated Yvonne’ backed into a gas heater outside of the restaurant and singed her coat and hair–resulting in a cut the next day. How we loved hearing about those country girls’ experiences!
Now, I wonder what stories Kim and I will have to tell. Who will be the people in our path and how will we be impacted? What will it be like to fulfill Yvonne’s final wish? What funny stories will we have to share? What difficulties will we encounter?
All of these questions will be answered after we cross the threshold and enter the unknown that is taking a journey. I look forward to sharing the trip with you all. Until I post next weekend, I ask for your prayers and good wishes for our journey. Likewise, may your journey into this next week be filled with safety and blessing.
Best to you,