I hate flying. I hated flying even back when they served hot meals on crockery with metal tableware and fabric napkins - in coach! I hated flying even when international flights included menus on heavy card stock painted in watercolors. I still have the menu from my flight to Shannon Airport in 1969. The beverages offered included, but were not limited to, Sherry, Manhattan, Martini, Whiskey Sour, Gin, Vodka, assorted wines...and more. A split of champagne cost $1.00. The meal consisted of Hors d'Oeuvre, Medaillon de Boeuf grille, Legumes de Jardin au Beurre, Salade, Fromage, dessert, coffee and tea. I could have ordered a Chivas on the rocks for $.50 (and probably did.) Nevertheless, even in the days when one "dressed" to travel and when every effort was made to accommodate the traveler's comfort, I hated flying. Today, I am certain I would find it a nightmare.
I was determined to spend Thanksgiving week in Chicago visiting my daughter, Katharine, and my brother, "Uncle Rudy," so I decided to drive. My son promised to look after the house and my pets. The journey takes about 16 hours of solid driving, and, of course, the occasional stopping to re-fuel, walk around and grab a snack. I divided the trip into two 8-hour drives, stopping half-way in Nashville each way. Luckily, my oldest and dearest friend lives there, and was gracious enough to provide me overnight refuge. Since I avoid public restrooms if at all possible, I am very fortunate that I can go at least eight hours without having to use "the facilities."
The scenery on the drive was pleasant; some of it was quite beautiful, particularly the mountains in North Georgia and Southern Tennessee and the rolling farmland in Kentucky. Indiana, on the other hand, was dreary verging on dismal. This was especially true when I entered what was apparently a windmill farm area. The windmills are erected on what was once working farmland - and might still be farmland for all I know. The houses and barns and silos remain, but I can't imagine living in such oppressive surroundings. The first windmill I saw, tall, slender and white, was simply an oddity. But like the sorcerers apprentice they multiplied as I drove on, first by rows, then by acres, and then by miles. The sky was white, the ground was misty, and they filled the horizon waiving their ghostly, bony arms around and around. The effect was utterly depressing and a little like being in the presence of Harry Potter's dementors, i.e. the feeling I'd never be happy again.
One of the benefits of a long road trip is the ability to listen to books and I had wonderful company in Elizabeth Von Arnim, Agatha Christie and Lilian Jackson Braun. I began with The Enchanted April, followed by Appointment With Death, and Taken At The Flood. The Christies were read by Hugh Fraser, who plays Captain Hastings in both the A&E Poirot series and the PBS Mystery! series. They were all extremely satisfying until I reached the end of Taken At the Flood which made me furious. Whatever was Agatha Christie thinking? It is outrageous that a woman would come to the realization that the man attempting to choke her to death was her one true love. True, as it turned out he was not the murderer after all, but nevertheless...I think I would have run very quickly in the opposite direction. "When Rolly told me that if he couldn't have me no one else would, and then started strangling me, I realized I really did love him after all" she confides to Poirot. Good grief! What?? I began to drive erratically and very nearly swerved off the road, so great was my utter disbelief in what I had just heard. It was not just maudlin, it was dumb. And what did Poirot do? What did he say? Nothing! Where was the outrage? Aaargh. Had it not been rented from the library the last disc would have been Frisbeed out the window as I drove through Chattanooga.
About an hour out of Savannah I slipped the first disc of The Cat Who Talked To Ghosts into the CD player. I wasn't at all certain I'd be interested in this series. I had seen Lilian Jackson Braun's books lining the shelves at the library and bookstore; she's very prolific. I am happy to report I was hooked from the first track and, notwithstanding the end of a long journey, was actually a little sorry I didn't have farther to travel. I have fallen in love with ex-journalist Jim Qwilleran aka Qwill, and his two Siamese, crime-solving cats in this breezy mystery. I have also been warned that his girlfriend/librarian is bright, witty, attractive...and jealous, so I'll admire him from afar. I may not wait for the audio book to be finished before I run out and grab all "the cat" books I can carry from the library shelves. I do so love a good find.
I did take one hardbound book with me on the trip. When I went to hear James Swanson speak, I also signed up to volunteer for the Savannah Book Festival which takes place next February. Lisa Genova is the keynote speaker for the Festival and I checked Still Alice out of the library the day before I left for Chicago to gain some familiarity with her work. Dr. Alice Howland (the Alice of Still Alice) is a Harvard professor who is an expert in cognitive psychology. She is brilliant, highly respected, widely published, and is married to a man who is also a professor at Harvard. Together they share interesting friends, accomplished careers, successful children, collaborative projects, and they are happily married. At the height of her career, at the age of 50, Alice is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease. The novel takes us, month by month, through Alice's decline, as she is slowly robbed of her brilliance. Although the book is fiction, Genova (who is also a Harvard professor) has thoroughly researched this hideous disease and the destruction it leaves in its wake. If any project deserves funding, finding a cure for this insidious and cruel monster should be high on everyone's list. It is not a selective thief - it takes everything one has and is no respecter of persons. Still Alice will frighten you, anger you, and it will stay with you. We reside in our minds; it is where we are stored. In losing our minds we lose ourselves.
Katharine and I had Thanksgiving dinner at "Uncle Rudy's" house and stayed the night. The table was beautiful and bountiful. There were two turkeys (one deep fried and one roasted) and a duck and all the trimmings and plenty of wine and lots of good company. I could have cried with happiness. The time flew by too quickly, as time is wont to do.
When I walked in my front door after being gone a week, Tallulah the cat was waiting to greet me. Typical of Lulu, she lead me straight to her food bowl, meowing at its emptiness, the remains of breakfast scattered on the floor. Her brother, Blue, was hiding under the bed and hissed his disapproval of my absence. He apparently deigned to forgive me because a little while later he crawled onto my right shoulder and fell asleep. Saji, the arthritic dog, got up with some difficulty and stretched and wagged his tail and wanted a biscuit. I was home - my books on their shelves, photographs in frames, a basket of mail - small insights into the life lived there. I was home with a renewed appreciation for my journey, my family, my friends. I was thankful; my cup runneth over.