Sharing Mana‘o

“This will be my last trip to the Mainland, so we really should go to Niagara Falls. Since we’ll be so close (in Michigan).”

My mother’s first visit to the falls was in 2001 and for the past 18 years, she’s been urging me to see it for myself. Last month, I finally did, with Mom as my travel buddy and guide. We flew to Michigan to see my eldest granddaughter graduate from Union City High School and, during the week between Lilly’s commencement exercises and her celebratory party, we took a road trip to Ontario, Canada, to see the watery wonder. (Trivia tip: Niagara Falls is not one of the classic “Seven Wonders of the World,” nor does it appear in the “Seven Natural Wonders” list. In fact, it’s not on any of the many proposed Wonder lists, although, as Mom says, it should be.)

My son Jimmy took time off from work so that he could drive Lilly, Mom and me on a three-day, four-generation adventure. Our route took us through Detroit, where we stopped for lunch at Wasabi, a little Japanese-Korean restaurant near Wayne State University. Mom was pleasantly surprised by the authenticity of the extensive menu and by Lilly’s enthusiasm for seaweed, miso soup and namasu (a sweet vinegared cucumber salad) with tender slices of tako (octopus). My granddaughter, born and raised in Michigan, may not be a local Japanese girl, but she sure eats like one.

After we crossed the Detroit River into Canada, the excitement of being out of the country and on the road, together, escalated into joy. Jimmy reminisced about the overseas trips he and I took with my mother during his teen years, and he told me how those cherished moments have inspired him in raising his three daughters. “I try to give each of them special experiences, rather than material things. Memories are so much better and they last longer.”

In the back seat, Lilly and Mom chattered and giggled like a couple of kids. At rest stops, they went to the washroom together and browsed souvenir shelves side by side. By the time we reached our hotel, they had become friends, with much more in common than blood.

We signed up for an afternoon tour which, the concierge assured us, would be fully accessible and not too strenuous for Mom and her walker. But when the driver/guide met us, doubt flickered across his face and he paused before gently remarking, “You know, we’ll be doing a lot of walking. Are you sure . . .”

“As long as she can use her walker, she can keep up,” I said.

“Yeah, we have to work to keep up with her!” Lilly chimed in.

The driver smiled and helped us board the bus, where I saw the same look of doubt on all our fellow riders. If Mom noticed, she didn’t let on; she and Lilly seemed blissfully unaware.

Our first stop was the Journey Behind the Falls attraction. After watching Mom maneuver her walker through the dark, dripping tunnels and pose for water-soaked photos just yards away from the thundering cascade, our tourmates marveled aloud: “93 years old?” “She’s got more energy/guts/spunk than me!”

At the obligatory souvenir stop on the tour, Mom struck a naughty pose with a larger-than-life, anatomically correct wooden moose. It’s gotten nearly 200 Facebook likes and has made her a few new friends. And our guide offered to take Mom out dancing after the tour.

The highlight, of course, was the boat ride to the base of the falls. In a tight huddle, we braved the thunderous roar and spray of the churning water, clutching the railing of the forward deck. With Lilly on one side of Mom, me on the other, and Jimmy behind her, Mom shouted, “I’m so glad we did this!”

Back in Michigan, Mom got to spend time with Lilly’s sisters, teaching Lotus to make Spam musubi and sharing knock-knock jokes with Lula. Jimmy’s father-in-law Mike brought out his impeccably restored ’62 Corvette convertible and took Mom for a joyride. She said it was even more fun than she had expected. “We went 80 miles an hour, and you couldn’t even tell, it was so smooth!”

From flight attendants to family, everyone Mom encountered on our trip became an instant fan. She entertains and inspires people by just being her happy, live-life-to-the-fullest self.

Now she’s talking about taking “one more trip. Now that you’ve seen Niagara Falls,

we should just stay in Michigan for a week . . . or maybe a side trip to Chicago, or . . .”

* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.

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