The doctor came and the news was better than expected. During the surgery it appeared the cancer had spread beyond the colon but the biopsy revealed no abnormalities in the lymph nodes. During the last two days Julie had taken a 24 hour shift caring for her mother, had a few hours at home without sleep and then returned for another 14 hour night shift. I stayed with her but she did most of the work and got less time to sleep due to her mother’s hallucinations, increased dementia, restlessness and attempts to remove the IV and get out of bed.
It was in the afternoon but we decided to drive to Albuquerque (about 5 hours), spend the night and finish the remaining 5 hours on Sunday morning. I began driving as she slept in spite of the fact that I was listening to a CD by the Flatlanders – not her type of music.
We stopped in Santa Rosa for gas. In the men’s room a truck driver suddenly asked “Are you going west?” To my affirmative reply he said “You might as well stay here. There’s an accident, a head-on collision, about six miles west that has both westbound lanes closed. It will be hours before it’s open.” We checked a map and found a detour that took us less than 10 miles out of our way. It was a beautiful drive along a secondary New Mexico road through desolate rolling land filled with Junipers and Fall flowers.
As we got close to Albuquerque I remembered it was the beginning of the annual balloon festival which would make it challenging to find a room for the night. In the cooler we had salmon, rice and the makings of a fine supper – if we could find a room with a microwave. After several tries we lost hope of finding any room and decided to drive another 77 miles to Grants, New Mexico.
Arriving in Grants the first motel was full as was the second. Full rooms in Albuquerque pushed others west and it appeared we may have to continue another hour west to Gallup. We learned the only rooms left were at a motel that looked anything but inviting. Even the dark couldn’t mask its scars, age and impending death. As we waited in line we looked at the dingy carpet, pealing paint, obvious signs of leaks on the ceiling and dirty windows. We checked into one of the few remaining rooms.
The door to our room wouldn’t lock unless we slammed it hard. Julie went to get hot water for tea and it’s uncertain whether she slammed the door hard enough after returning. She got up about 2 AM for a few moments and, on impulse as she passed the door, fastened the chain. A few minutes later someone opened the door and would have come into the room had the chain not prevented entrance. “Did you get another room?” someone asked. I got up, answered him, pushed the door shut and engaged the deadbolt.
You might think it was an unpleasant stay but it wasn’t. The young girl who checked us in was smiling, efficient and pleasant. We had a bowl of soup in the restaurant and the young man who waited on us was extremely outgoing and polite. He spilled soup on the arm of my chair but missed me and was genuine in his apology. On Sunday morning we had oatmeal which was excellent in comparison to the hospital’s oatmeal. The two women working that morning were real people who made eye contact and seemed to enjoy life. It turned out to be a good experience.
Sunday morning we stopped at the Painted Desert / Petrified Forest visitor center to get a drink and stretch our legs. Our National Parks Pass expired two days after we entered the Grand Canyon for our backpacking adventure in June so we took the opportunity to buy a new pass. Continuing west we stopped in Winslow (yes, Winslow as in the Eagles’s “standing on the corner in Winslow”) to get milk and a few perishable foods.
We have two choices when traveling west toward home. The first is to continue to the Winona exit and arrive home from the west side. The other is to take an exit farther east which crosses the Navajo Reservation. I prefer this route. It takes us over lonely roads with broad views of the cinder hills in the distance. As we drove, by coincidence, Julie began reading aloud a magazine article about a man who bought a trading post built in 1903 that is still in operation. He had bought and sold Native American rugs in Santa Fe and wanted to do something to encourage the art and the weavers. For the last 10 years he’s operated the trading post located on a dirt road in a remote corner of the Reservation in New Mexico. He always buys the first rug woven by Navajo children. We’ve visited historic trading posts but decided to take a day trip this winter to visit this and two or three other historic posts.
Leupp is the last community before home. It’s situated on the Reservation and isn’t large enough to be considered a town. Across from the store is a parking lot that becomes a swap meet on weekends. The weather was crisp and sunny and the lot was full. During World War II, for a few days, a small group of men – Americans, Mormons if my memory is correct but I don’t trust it -- where moved from a prison camp in Utah to Leupp. They were moved by wagon over unpaved roads. The account I read indicated the rough, jarring, bumpy ride was intended to improve their attitudes, as were the horrible accomodations provided them.
I don’t feel a sense of roots. I’ve lived six other states, in the mountains, on the plains, on the shores of Lake Erie and among the knobs of Kentucky. However, I am beginning to put down roots. Some people may drive across the desert and see barrenness but I see beauty, mystery and adventure. I see home. I can recognize and call the names of the hills from the East. Not so from the West. They look different and unrecognizable. It’s always a pleasant game to try to get my orientation and learn to recognize them by their new profiles.
One of my goals in life is to learn and know the place in which I live. I want to know the names of every flower, every type of bunch grass and each species of animal. I want to know the history of the land and the people who have lived here before me. I want to know the locations of Native American ruins. I want the thrill of finding pottery shards – but not the greed of taking and possessing them. I want to be able to predict more accurately the migrations of birds, the start of the monsoons, the first frost and the flowers that will bloom depending on the times the rains fall.
The more I age and the more I see people coming to the end of their lives, the more I'm determined to fill my remaining years with experiences, adventures, beauty, mystery, enthusiasm and love mixed with a little melancholy, sorrow, hardship and pain. I'm content to do my living here.
It's good to be home with Julie.