Thursday, April 7, 2016
Day Trip into the Past
Yesterday, Joyce and I drove over to Pittsburgh for a meeting, and whenever we take a trip to that city (not often), I can't help thinking about my mother.
In the late 1950s, teaching English at James A. Garfield High School in Garrettsville, Ohio (three miles from our Hiram home), Mom decided she would work for her Ph.D. She settled on the University of Pittsburgh, a bit over 100 miles away (several other universities are closer, but Pitt's programs excited her).
Her three sons--born in 1941, 1944, and 1948--were not all that understanding about all of this. In fact, I was just starting high school and was morphing into Super Jerk, a role I would not relinquish for a long, long time (some might tell you I've not relinquished it). On the other hand, Dad's cooking skills were somewhat limited to grilling beef and making pancakes (he loved the buckwheat kind)--and I kind of approved of that diet, mind you. He also liked to drive over to Ravenna to the A&W Root Beer stand; I approved of that, as well.
During the school year Mom took classes at Pitt on Tues-Thurs evenings, a routine that meant she would teach all day, drive 100+ miles to Pittsburgh for night classes, drive another 100+ miles home, arriving between 11 and 12 pm, get up the next day and teach all day again ... It was astonishing, though Super Jerk Dan thought it was merely annoying and inconvenient ... for him.
In the summers, she would spend the week down in Pittsburgh in a tiny room, then come home on weekends.
Dad--to his immense credit--thoroughly supported her efforts and would brook no nonsense from the Super Jerk or his brothers.
Mom got her degree and in 1966 headed out to Des Moines, Iowa, where she and Dad taught at Drake University--the years, I think, that were the happiest of her life. They retired out in Cannon Beach, Oregon (Dad was an Oregonian), then moved to Massachusetts when Dad began his slow, slow decline. He died at the end of November 1999.
Mom, now 96, still lives in an assisted-living place in Lenox. She can do very little for herself now. But she remains in astonishingly good spirits (no raging against the dying of the light--at least not in my presence). I write snail-mail letters now, for she can no longer get her computer turned on and off; her fingers will not cooperate with typing. And I always, always address them to "Dr. Prudence Dyer." She has always liked that--the "Dr." part.
Anyhow, yesterday, driving along the Ohio Turnpike, I pointed out the entrance/exit she used to use on her trips--at Warren (used to be Exit 12--now it's got some milepost-number that I haven't bothered to memorize). We followed her old route--pretty much--as we drove into the city, our GPS woman desperately trying to keep up with the quick changes; she failed, miserably. But we got there. Had our meeting. Then drove home, giving a silent salute at old Exit 12, where Mom, exhausted, would leave the Turnpike (just outside Warren) and drive the 20 miles or so to Hiram, where her loving husband awaited her, her three sons (including Super Jerk), her bed, where she would catch a few hours' sleep before rising at 5 to begin yet another amazing day.