My brother and I were grown and living on our own before my parents purchased their first RV, a 10-foot truck camper that sat high atop my father’s green Dodge pickup.
We were shocked at their purchase, because my mother didn’t seem the camping type. She never left the house without applying makeup, and her dress was always color-coordinated and accessorized. She’d spent a lifetime raising kids and caring for family members while spending endless nights and weekends working alongside my father, remodeling the house we grew up in. To me, my parents were comfortably predictable.
The old homestead was perfectly decorated with flea market antiques my mother restored out of necessity rather than an affinity for old furniture. She like to describe her decorating style as “early attic.”
My father enjoyed an occasional hunting trip but wasn’t one for relaxation. He’d grow bored easily, heading for his garage where he’d build, fix, mend, or redo. He once built a cupola for our garage, just because.
And so we pictured these two people in this cute little RV that resembled something our friends would take on a biking excursion, together, for days on end, with nothing to do but relax and enjoy the scenery. We gave them a few weekends at best. We were rather amused at the old folks, who were maybe 45 years old at the time, an age that seems rather young to me now.
To our surprise, they loved the camping life. They met numerous people, made many friends, and became part of an RVer’s club. I guess I never knew they had wanderlust.
These two empty-nesters had a dream: to explore the United States, but not as tourists. They graduated from the tiny truck camper to an almost new 27-foot Fleetwood Jamboree motorhome. They took some time off from work and departed on their first cross-country tour, where they adapted quite nicely to the traveling lifestyle.
We were shocked a few years later when they sold their beautiful home lock, stock and barrel to purchase their dream motorhome – a 27 foot Gulf Stream Scenic Cruiser. As I said my final farewell to the house, I realized that my parents had spent their whole lives making a home for my brother and me. Now they deserved some time to call their own.
Mom and Dad spent about seven years after retirement living full-time on the road. They developed a close-knit circle of friends who spent the winter together in Mississippi, away from the bone-chilling cold and snow of the Northern Territories. I missed them. Teasingly, I told them to come home and stop all this nonsense. They laughed. Their friends laughed. And they all continued on their merry way.
Once they finally broke down and installed a phone, I called my mother all the time. I was used to having her around to share every minute detail of my life. Our frequent calls caused my father to gripe and roll his eyes. But their gang enjoyed his little stories about the daughter back home. I know that secretly, my parents were proud of the fact that we were so close. Nevertheless, Mom and Dad enjoyed their time away. I have to admit that there was an easiness in their voices when we spoke from afar.
Obviously, they relished their time with these newfound friends. And who could blame them? Their RVs were relatively small and easy to maintain, yet filled with all of life’s modern conveniences. They spent carefree days, able to come and go as they pleased. And for a few months at a time, they were completely free from unending family demands.
On June 16, 1998, my father died suddenly. My parents had just returned from the South to visit my family. Those first few days after his death were simply awful.
It was a miserable summer. The weather was so ferociously hot that you could fry the proverbial egg, and the humidity grew to levels that would rival a gym steam room. But an outpouring of love and support came from family and friends, including those in my parents’ traveling circle. People showed up at my door from all over the country. They embraced me as if I were one of their own, because, after all, they knew me through my parents’ hearts, as they all lived together on the road, sharing stories of their children and grandchildren.
These wonderfully nurturing souls brought food, cared for us, hugged us, and held my mother’s hand, and all the while sharing our grief as well as many treasured memories of my dad.
My mother spent a few months living with my husband and me. She reveled in the daily contact with my baby boy. But when she was strong enough, she returned to this loving enclave of friends. After selling the motorhome, she bought a 28-foot fifth-wheel trailer and parked it at the same site where she had spent winters with my dad. Her friends welcomed her back into the fray, kept her busy, and encouraged her to rejoin the world. Her new RV is large enough for guests, and she enjoys playing host to visitors.
My phone bills are outrageous again, but I’m thrilled that my mother can continue to share these happy times each winter. I know that she has continued on with her life without Dad. And I am grateful.
I am so very thankful that my father had these years in his life to pursue a dream he and my mother shared, a secret little plan to escape the daily burdens, let loose, and enjoy a bit of life’s sweet nectar – to cruise the highways, living life in a totally new and exciting way. I know that while he passed over way too young, he spent his last years having fun, instead of slaving away to maintain a home that had long ago met its obligations. I am comforted by these thoughts.
Follow your dream. Do it now. Even if it’s a tiny RV and a weekend at the beach, do it now. Dreams grow, but only if they’re nurtured and realized.