Friends, Near & Far

I have discovered a major downside to my new carefree lifestyle.  A dear friend back in Virginia has been dealing with a husband who has been fighting a major illness, and I can’t be there to help her.  Another friend’s husband is undergoing surgery for cancer soon.  And I can’t be there to support her.

I can call them.  Write emails and texts.  Be available with open ears and heart.  But I cannot drive my little house back up north until the potential for ice and snow is past.  I cannot be there, at least not during the cold winter months.

Then I have to wonder what would happen if my son or another family member–all of whom live in northern climes–has some kind of emergency?  I suppose I would find a kennel for Dawny, park my rig somewhere safe, and take a flight to go help.  It would be very hard being away from Dawny and our little house, though.  And expensive.

This is a challenge faced by anyone who moves away from family and friends, not just someone who has swapped the stability of a long-time home for the fluidity of life on the road.  And even if we stay put, friends move, family members move.  Children grow up and move on with their own lives.  Sometimes those we love the most are the furthest out of reach.  And they live next door.

I have no answers to any of this right now.  I can only hope that if and when something happens that requires me to travel, that it waits until warmer weather.  And if it doesn’t wait, then I will deal with that when I must.

Meanwhile, I am grateful for new friends I am making here in my winter campground.  Tonight my house door locked by itself when I went outside briefly for something (the gremlins are back!!).  My keys, my purse, my phone, my doggie–everything was inside.  Heavy rains started coming through, and the Friday jam session was underway.

My best dog-walking friend, Lee (she has a sweet little puffball of a doggie) got drenched with me as we sought help and made calls to Roadside Assistance.  Before they came, she found a fellow camper who works for an RV shop and possesses a magic key ring full of master keys.  Wallah!  Success!  Access!

It sure is nice to have people watching out for you.  Near and far.  And when we are too far from each other to be of immediate help, it is not all that uncommon to find another gem of a friend nearby.  We just need to look.  To be open.  To be grateful.

(Picture is of a Trumpet Lily transplanted to the edge of the swamp behind the campground by Lee’s husband a few years ago.  Lee and her dog, Dusty, welcome newcomers and help new doggies and their people get comfortable and acclimated.  Dawny and I love our walks with them!)

Home with a Heart

Six months ago, when I started researching how to pull off this full-time RV dream, one of the (many) important steps was to decide which state was best for establishing residency.  You can travel around all you want, but you have to have an address somewhere for official purposes (IRS dealings, for example) and a place to handle your mail if you do not have other arrangements.

There are so many factors that go into this decision that there is no one right answer.  For me, the thing that convinced me to go with Texas and The Escapees RV Club/Mail Service was one very special and unique feature that showed this group of people has tremendous heart.

This feature is the Escapees CARE program (website:  www.escapeescare.org) that they have established adjacent to their campground property at Rainbow’s End near Livingston, Texas.  CARE stands for Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees.  This is the first (and apparently only) center designed by and for RV’ers to assist members who need that extra level of care.  In addition to a wonderful staff, the program is served by a multitude of member volunteers and funded by donations.  I was extraordinarily touched by this community who has devoted such time, energy, and resources to help their fellow travelers when the road becomes too rough to continue and respite and assistance are needed.

Anyone who has worked in a field related to senior services or who has walked the path of declining health with a loved one is likely familiar with the types of care available as people age, including facilities that range from independent living, assisted living, and nursing home.  A CCRC (continuing care retirement community) has all of these levels within one large campus.  In my work with seniors, I often found tremendous resistance to moving into any of these situations, and a deep desire to stay in one’s own home as long as possible.  Indeed, the Aging in Place movement that is spreading throughout our country helps people to achieve this goal.

The beauty of the Escapees CARE program is that it is like a melding of Aging in Place with Assisted Living.  The member’s home (their RV) gets a site near the CARE building.  A wheelchair ramp and a small storage shed is on their site pad.  Staff is available to help them in their home with things like housekeeping, laundry, and waste-tank management.  The large CARE building (shown in the photo above) houses the dining room (supplying three meals a day, seven days a week), activity center, library, nurse’s station, and other rooms.  Several vans are available to drive people to doctor appointments, shopping trips, and other outings.

In addition to serving the residents, CARE also has an adult care program (ADC).  Participants can come to the main building Monday through Friday for just the day.  CNA’s (certified nurse assistants) are on staff to help them with activities of daily living, including hygiene, eating, exercise, and entertainment.  Some of the people who benefit from the ADC program are the spouses of those who participate.  By having a safe place for their loved one to spend the day, they are given respite from caregiving responsibilities and can regenerate their own energy.  Their loved one comes home at the end of the day.  Caregiver support groups exist so that experiences can be shared and burdens eased.

Home, with a heart.  The Escapees who built CARE are a loose assortment of people from all walks of life who have delighted in years, sometimes decades of independence and widespread travel.  Many were full-time RV’ers, and their homes were wherever they happened to be parked that night.  Their network of friendships were woven from chance encounters and often maintained over great distances, with perhaps only occasional face-to-face meetings.  But their bonds, their hearts, and their love was and continues to be strong, strong enough to have built something like CARE.

I feel honored and blessed to be able to be a part of such a community.

(This post was edited on 6/27/15 after my first week of volunteering at CARE.  After learning about it in more depth, I felt it was important to correct some of the previous details.)

And Daddy Walked…

Daddy dreamed of sailboats.  And he walked.

His first taste of adult freedom was joining the Navy at the tail end of WWII.  He served in the Pacific.  He didn’t speak a lot about it, but when he did, you could hear a mix of pride, hard realism, and gratitude to have made it home whole.  He came home with a lifelong love of boats.  And the sea.  And he walked.

Twenty years or so into their marriage, Momma got cancer and a 6-month death sentence.  I think it jolted Daddy to the core.  It must have.  For he packed the family up–Momma, my younger brother, and me (the two older siblings were in college)–and moved us from New York to Florida.  He bought a franchise to build ferro-cement boats.  We lived on an island in the Intercoastal Waterway.  The half we lived on used to be a junk yard and the other half had an old fish camp and boat ramp on it.

And Momma healed.

Daddy’s cement boat business did not float, so he started selling power boats instead.  My little brother and I swam in that water, helped scrape barnacles off of boat hulls while alligators uttered their oddly distinct croak in the swamp on the other shore.  We also made lifelong friends of the one couple who did buy a set of sailboat plans and built their beautiful hull in front of our trailer (if steel can float, why not cement?  think about it!).

The motorboats didn’t sell too well either.  But Momma did great.  And Daddy was living his dream, or at least the version of it that he was able, within the constraints of his family, his responsibilities.

Yes, Daddy dreamed of sailboats.  And he walked.

He eventually gave up on the Florida venture, moved back North for a job in credit counseling, and continued to keep an eye on Momma, who had a relapse and some difficult treatment–the radiation burned most of one of her lungs–but she managed to pull through that time.

We lost Momma to her third bout with cancer 20 years after her first battle had been won.  As I look back on it now, I realize the huge impact Daddy had on the course of her struggle, her war, her victories, her defeat.

Daddy walked with Momma every step of the way.  Not only did he not give up, he lead them on a path few others would have chosen, let alone imagined.  A path that lead to a dream, that took one’s mind off of harsh medical realities and focused energies on new challenges, new places, new friends.

And Momma healed.  Even though the doctors had given her six months to live.  Daddy had not told her that part until much, much later, when it looked like the battle was safely won.  Yes, it turned out there was still a second, then a third battle to fight.  But she made it twenty years–not six months–twenty years!

Yes, Daddy dreamed of sailboats, and he walked.

After Momma passed, Daddy moved from Cleveland to the DC suburbs where my younger brother and I had settled.  When I got married, he bought my DC condominium that overlooked the Virginia skyline across the Potomac River.  And he walked and he walked and he walked.

One of his favorite walks was to the Southwest waterfront just two blocks away.  With its marina.  Full of sailboats.

Daddy’s memory finally deteriorated so badly that he was no longer safe living on his own.  His was probably one of the slowest descents into Alzheimer’s I’ve ever heard of.  My siblings and I had been concerned about him even when Momma was still with us, but the signs were so vague (yet nagging) that we all pushed the issue into the background as long as we could.

I think he knew, though, and that was one reason why he moved near his children after losing Momma.

Ten, fifteen, twenty years after Momma passed… Daddy was still dreaming of sailboats.  And walking.

When he left his Assisted Living Facility for a long walk down a busy neighborhood highway, the police found him a few miles up the highway and brought him back.  He was at a grocery store parking lot.  Looking at the boats.  It was real to him.  And they were so beautiful.  I can still see the happiness on his face as he described them to me.

They gave us a week to find another place for Daddy to live.  It was locked.  Daddy didn’t walk much there.  What was the point?

Daddy passed twenty years after Momma.  I hope they have found each other again, in spirit.  I hope they have a lovely view of a marina full of beautiful, elegant sailboats.  Now that illness and familial responsibilities no longer tether them to an earthen path, I hope they are sailing away in one of those boats–it would have to be a wooden hull… or cement!–relishing a delightful, salty breeze, the sun warming their faces, their love and their dreams fulfilled.

(6-15-14 in loving memory of my father, WDD)