Twenty-five years ago my husband bought himself a vintage motor home and began rallying with one group composed of seniors from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma and another from the Southern states east of us.
I was working then and couldn’t join him every time — unless it was to some place I really wanted to visit like Santa Fe or Aspen or Breckenridge, or to a destination like Mackinaw Island off Michigan, where I insisted we stay at least one night in the Grand Hotel that I’d admired in the movie “Time after Time.”
He’d caravan with the group to the site of the rallies, and I’d fly out to meet them, sometimes driving back, too.
We were in our 50s when we went on the road and most of the others were in their 60s, 70s and even 80s. What neat people the motor-homers were! We found out after a few trips together that this slightly ditzy little blonde in her 70s had been a member of the fleet of women pilots who’d delivered bombers from the east coast to England for missions over Europe during World War II.
Another woman had joined the Women’s Army Corps when her soldier brother was killed in the early days of the war, and she was quartermaster to U.S. Army nurses on New Guinea, where she met her husband, a young officer. It was a story straight out of “South Pacific.”
The guys in the motor home clubs had colorful histories, too. Many of them had been military pilots and one had had engine trouble over Yugoslavia, putting down in a field and then taking off again after he fixed it. The other veterans laughed and called him a member of the Yugoslav air force.
In addition to their wartime adventures, they were a bunch who had seen the rest of the world, too, but when I talked about an upcoming trip to Europe or Asia, they just sighed in a “been there, done that” kind of way, insisting that they were content just to be sitting around a campfire with good friends somewhere in Arkansas or Tennessee.
That puzzled me, then. I was at a time of my life when if anyone said “go,” I was onboard. My husband and I hadn’t started our world travels until I was in my 30s; you know how it is — little kids and trips to the Smokey Mountains, DisneyWorld and Six Flags Over Texas, Williamsburg and beach vacations in Florida.
Then one summer our son and daughter both were booked for a month at camps in Tennessee and we realized this was our big chance to cross an ocean.
I’d always wanted to see the world, as a child imagining myself driving down the Appian Way, sailing on the Nile, poking around Stonehenge, walking on the Great Wall of China.
My husband was less struck by wanderlust, but now he credits me with inspiring him to get out and go to faraway places. For this I forgot about things like new curtains and living room furniture — our house was never “decorated looking.” Many of our “new” cars were used. We saved pennies to take trips. And the memories are priceless.
But now I’m getting more like my old motor-home buddies than I ever thought possible. I begin to see where they were coming from. It’s hard to tell when the comforts of home began to outweigh the excitement of travel. Maybe it’s fortunate for us that when the flesh becomes unwilling, the mind does, too.
Nevertheless, I’ve signed up to visit China again this fall. The trip won’t be an easy one: 13 hours on a plane just getting there. Too much for an old lady? We’ll see. I know that I’ve got to start training, walking in the mall in the mornings if I plan — and I do — to take another short stroll on the Great Wall.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living Section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.