NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 30, 2013

Road trippin'

As I See It
Kathy Gates Milewski

---- — There’s nothing quite like the open road in northern New England — quaint, narrow back roads that weave in and out of secluded historic small towns, long stretches of highway framed by towering green giants and rolling grassy hillsides, and the ever-present reminder that we live in 2013 — a pair of golden arches peeking above the trees in the distance.

In late July, I asked my 77-year-old mother to accompany me on a road trip from western Massachusetts through the peaceful countryside of Vermont, and on to the glorious mountain ranges of Franconia, N.H., to visit my daughter, and she agreed. The trip would include light hiking, dining out, multiple shopping excursions and, hopefully, a few laughs.

Once on the road, our discussions touched on family eccentricities, childhood memories and current events. Halfway there we visited the “Golden Arches,” where I learned of mom’s love for iced coffee. On arriving in Franconia, we ate lunch at an earthy-crunchy eclectic deli fashioned with worn cushy couches, went to a private sale hosted by the company where my daughter was interning, and later met her at a dimly lit martini bar in Littleton, N.H. We laughed about mom tickling the keys on one of Littleton’s artsy sidewalk pianos, listened to my daughter recount her work day and then told the tale of the private sale.

“Your mother was like a machine,” Mom said, laughing about me stuffing garbage bags with discounted bedding and dragging them through the crowded store. The evening continued with my daughter teaching her grandmother how to use Instagram over salad, salmon and chilled glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.

Later, we talked over tea in my daughter’s apartment and then settled in for the night; the double bed for mom and the bunks for the girls. The next day, as we rushed mom through her makeup ritual to make an early breakfast, papa bear sat outside the bedroom window looking wistfully at the bird feeders located far overhead. Mom took a hesitant peek, quietly shrieked and retreated quickly.

After a hearty breakfast at the infamous Polly’s Pancake Parlor, mom and I headed for the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway. As we ascended, we viewed dozens of mountain tops rippling over endless miles of landscape. Once on top, we took a narrow trail bound for the observation deck. The path stones were wet, so I held mom’s hand as we climbed. The view was stunning — well worth the sometimes challenging conditions — but as I watched mom struggle, I questioned whether our upcoming hike at The Flume would be too much.

From the tram we passed by the decrepit remains of the Old Man’s face and headed to The Basin to see the powerful funneling collection of water, a perfect photo op. Finally, we arrived at our last stop — The Flume. We rested numerous times along the trails and wooden walkways to catch our breath. We snapped photos of the thundering waters, read multiple plant identification tags, and breathed in the glorious scent of fresh hemlock greens. At every break, I worried just a little that my mother’s pacemaker might be compromised, but she continued on like a trooper.

“This has to be the last incline,” I promised as we neared the end. At one break I snapped a photo of mom for my sisters — back arched, hands braced on thighs, but still a triumphant smile for the camera. “The text read, “My daughter’s trying to kill me at The Flume; we laughed — isn’t texting great!

After a quick visit to the gift store and a stretch of the hamstrings we ventured down the road to dine at a Greek restaurant in Lincoln where we sat outside and bonded over marinated chicken sandwiches. From there we headed for home with one last stop in mind — The Tanger Outlets in Tilton, N.H.

My mom is a “selective shopper” and she knows it. There would be no quick grabs, no fast decisions — patience would be my middle name on this shopping trip. I bought a pizza paddle, a few shirts and Mom, after multiple tries at buying shoes, left empty-footed. We made it back to my house by 7 p.m., unloaded the car, poured some wine and had a late dinner.

The following day we bonded over more shoes in Lord and Taylor — again with no success, grabbed an iced coffee, and then headed home to meet my husband and Dad for dinner. It wasn’t until the next morning that I truly felt the impact of the road trip. As I stood in the kitchen waiting for the troops to assemble for a breakfast in Portsmouth, my mom slowly walked by me, stopped and gently grabbed me around the waist, laying her head lovingly on my shoulder.

Road trippin’ with my mom — it was a simple idea that produced dozens of memories. Together we drove, we shopped, we hiked, we ate, we talked, we laughed — it was three days full of unique experiences that culminated with one tender moment — a simple hug that told the entire story without the utterance of a single word.

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Kathy Gates Milewski lives in Merrimac.