One of the reasons for biking to Chicago was to take my mom along with me. More specifically, to take my mom’s ashes there.
Mama died of a stroke on Wednesday, January 11, 2012. She was 75 years old, confined to a wheelchair, dependent on bottled oxygen, and had a steamer trunk full of daily medications. For the last few years of her life she lived with my sister, Rebecca, in Bowling Green, KY.

For a couple of months Mama came to live with me. She was miserable the entire time. Part of it was because I’m a bachelor and I keep house to a bachelor’s standards. In other words, cleaning the house to “eating on the floor” standards ain’t never going to happen because I’m not going to be eating off the floor. This bothered my mom considerably that I had no desire to keep house the way she would have.

Another part of it was she was bored out of her mind. She had no “purpose” living with me. For example, my sister’s house had a first floor laundry. Even in a wheelchair Mama could load / unload the washer / dryer and fold the finished clothes. Mama could cook dinner, help get my two nieces off to school, be home for deliveries, follow up on phone calls, etc.

There was none of that living with me. My laundry was in the basement, down a flight of stairs. Wheelchair bound, that was impossible for her to navigate. Many mornings as I would head out to work Mama would ask what I’d want for dinner that evening. I never think that far ahead. Most food I buy has to follow this rule: I have to be able to reach into the fridge, grab the food, and put it in my mouth. Preparation? That’s what restaurants are for.  I’d have to tell her not to bother.  Fix herself something if she liked, but I’d grab something on the way home.  That bothered her. 

Mama couldn’t even let Dexter out. Dexter, being a half insane Chihuahua, would get a wild hair every now and again. He’d strike out across the street at full speed to chase down any manner of random “trespassers” of his world. There wouldn’t have been any way on earth for Mama to go after him if that were to happen.

I’ve previously mentioned that she couldn’t even turn on my television. I mean that literally. A couple of remotes, the cable box itself, having to switch the input on the “monitor” (not TV, no no, monitor, if you please) from one source to another . . . it was beyond her.  Even writing the instructions down didn’t help.  I recall once a phone call from my oldest daughter.  Mama had called her to find out if she knew how to operate the TV.  Mama had hit a button on one of the remotes that she wasn’t supposed to.  The TV went to pure snow.  She didn’t know what to do and couldn’t reach me.

Even though my sister and my mom would get completely frustrated with each other (“I don’t understand why she does the things she does!” was said to me by both of them) they really needed each other. My mom’s happiest day was when my sister came to Columbus after a few weeks to take Mama back to Bowling Green.

Millington, TN is “home” for us. It’s where my brother and two sisters graduated from High School. It’s where one sister still lives. It’s a half hour’s drive from where my dad is buried. 

In 2010 the entire state of Tennessee suffered horrendous floods. Most people remember television stories of how bad Nashville got clobbered. Those stories you could see because the television crews could get to Nashville. Nashville got between 19 and 24 inches of rain. Millington got over six feet of rain. The roads were closed. (They were underwater!) You couldn’t get a news crew to Millington. The town was nearly wiped off the map.

More than twenty years prior my brother had purchased a mobile home for my mom. While living in Bowling Green, Mama’s intention was always to get well enough that she could “go back home” to her trailer in Millington.  The floods put that dream to an end.  Her home was completely destroyed. My sister who lives in Millington was able to save some pictures and some other things, but everything else was buried in mud.

FEMA dropped by, checkbook in hand, and wrote my mom a check for approximately 22 times what I thought the home was worth. I convinced my mom to give the title of the home to the mobile home park itself. What was she going to do with a shell of a mobile home?

In 2011 Mama asked me if I’d drive her home. She wanted to see, first hand, what had happened to her house. I was happy to. I think she just wanted to put paid to it. Get a little closure. Or maybe just to say goodbye.

We spent a couple of days in Millington. I took her to her favorite hairdresser. I drove her to her favorite restaurant. I made sure she got to see some old friends. On the second day she asked if I’d be willing to drive her down to her home town of Bastrop, Louisiana.

Again, yes, certainly I’d be happy to take her to Bastrop. Once there, we made the rounds of her remaining relatives. (She was from a family of 8. Only 3 remained.) It was a little surreal, being a 53 year old man, but to everyone else in the room, I was a kid. In fact, I was pretty much ignored as they went through their rituals of talking about their medical conditions, the ones who’ve passed, their grandkids and great-grandkids, and, of course, the past. There isn’t much future left for any of them, but there’s a ton of past left for them to pick up and examine like a Rubik’s Cube.

While it was never said aloud, because it didn’t need to be, this was also goodbye. It had been years since Mama had been to Bastrop. All of her relatives were in poor health, all years older than Mama, and none would ever make it from Bastrop to Bowling Green.

I have few regrets in life, but I picked one up on the way back to Bowling Green. My dad is buried somewhere in the Memphis area. I had the address of the cemetery in my GPS, but somehow the address book got deleted. My mom and I spent nearly two hours trying to find him. My regret is that my mom never got to say one more goodbye to my dad.

While taking her back home she told me stories I’d never heard of before. Her mother, Edna — my grandmother — had abandoned all 8 of her kids when Mama was about 3. Mama’s dad — my grandfather — had been killed by a drunk driver. Edna decided she wanted no part of raising 8 kids on a farm by herself, so she packed up and moved to California. My mom was raised by an older sister who abandoned her life to pull it off. 
All of that I knew, but Mama told me things I didn’t know. Such as her senior year in high school was spent in a town 20 miles away from Bastrop because the sister raising her didn’t want her in the house any longer. Mama went to go live with an aunt and uncle. She told me of working in Texas (Texas? You lived in Texas?) making traffic lights as a girl in her 20s. Of how she and her brother and his wife took off for a weekend in California / Mexico and had a grand adventure. Three tee-totaling farm kids in a strange country. The weekend must have been great because she could still recall the laughter 50+ years later.
When my youngest sister (the last of four) graduated from high school, the “Master Plan” was for my mom and dad to travel around the country a little bit. There’s no defintion of the word “rich” that would ever fit my family. “If the wolf came to our door, we’d eat the bastard” would be apt. But just when it was going to be the two of them, my dad went through a “mid-life crisis,” took up with a woman five years younger than I am, and never came back. Mama went more than a little crazy and never got to travel.
After Mama was cremated, my siblings and I divided her ashes. On our travels over the next year we promised Mama that we’d take her with us and show her around. My sister in Tennessee took Mama to some of her favorite haunts, including her favorite fishing holes. Her husband is a long-haul truck driver and he took “Miss Melba” all the way across the country. My oldest daughter was given some ashes too as she’s a traveling fool who spends a lot of time out west and in Hawaii. I was to take her on my bicycle journeys.

Each of us agreed to take pictures where we left Mama’s ashes. At year end, I’ll gather all of those pictures and the stories behind them and create hard cover books to commemorate a year’s travels.