My mother will be 95 years old tomorrow.
We usually observe her birthdays with mother-daughter vacations or by checking off items on her bucket list. Starting with a parasail ride on her 83rd, mom has celebrated birthdays on the back of a Harley, in a racing canoe and (thrice!) on the receiving end of tattoo needles.
Wherever we travel, she looks for thrill rides. From the Stratosphere in Las Vegas to the Tower of Terror at Disney World, she’s been there, done that, multiple times in most cases. Here at home, she’s ziplined four or five times at Skyline Haleakala.
Now, because of COVID-19, we’ve postponed our plans for a Kaanapali staycation as well as a cruise along the California coastline. Instead, we’ll mark her special day by taking a sentimental journey, sharing our favorite travel memories over dinner.
Nearly all of our big vacations have been accentuated by adventure, both planned and unexpected, and by mom’s perpetual good nature. There was a stretch of a dozen years or so when the running family joke was mom’s trip trips; that is, she managed to stumble and fall — spectacularly — whenever she traveled off island. Fortunately, no bones were broken and her sense of humor remained intact.
Strolling through Innsbruck, Austria one evening, mom stumbled on a streetcar track and sustained a black eye and broken glasses. The next day, when we met our tour group for the first time, she gleefully told them, “You should see the other guy!”
On a trail ride at Yosemite National Park, her left foot slipped through the stirrup, all the way to her knee. She slid sideways off the saddle and the sudden move caused her horse to pause while the folks in front, unaware of the precarious situation, continued on the path. Before mom could right herself, the horse broke into a canter, trying to close the gap between us and the other riders. I have never felt more helpless or horrified, watching from behind as my mother dangled nearly upside down, her head barely missing the boulders along the narrow cliff trail.
It seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a couple of minutes before the lead guide realized the situation and finally halted the horses. Once untangled and on her feet, mom turned to me and asked, “Did you get a picture?” Minutes later, she was offering stunt riding lessons to the rest of the group.
She didn’t perform any stunts on her subsequent elephant and camel rides, thank goodness. But while enjoying 4th of July fireworks at Boston Harbor, she fell onto riverside boulders and came home with bruises on her legs and face. At the Acropolis of Athens, she lost her footing and landed on her butt in front of the Parthenon.
Happily, she broke her string of trip trips long ago. She’s still an adventurous traveler, though, a bit of a rebel and a whole lot of rascal.
I wish I’d been on the cruise she took with her sister Alice some years ago, when they visited the Russian port of Vladivostok. As mom tells it, they walked around for hours and when they returned to the dock, tired and hungry, the ship was directly across the street from them but the crosswalk was quite a distance away. Near the crosswalk, an armed policeman shouted at them, presumably warning them not to jaywalk. As he started approaching them, mom considered their options. The officer was stern and intimidating, but the street was devoid of traffic and the ship’s gangway was so close. Mom yelled “Run!” and they dashed into the roadway. The policeman tried to chase them but was stopped by a group of highly amused dockworkers who berated him for picking on a couple of little old ladies.
Then there was the time we were turned away from the House of Blues in Chicago. Nine of us, including my mom and my son, were informed by the burly bouncer that the establishment was closed for a private party.
“Seriously?” Jimmy asked. “The whole place?”
“Sorry, folks, the whole place. It’s a corporate party. Kid Rock is playing upstairs right now.”
Mom didn’t miss a beat. “We know that. We’re here for the party!”
The guy chuckled, “I like your style, lady. OK, Grandma can stay, but the rest of you gotta leave.”
I kind of wish she’d taken him up on that. Imagine the stories she’d have to tell about her night with Kid Rock.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.