Reflections from the Belly of a Blue Whale
I never miss my mother half so much as when I'm traveling.
Part of this is that for so much of the past five or six years, the vast majority of my air travel was to go spend time with her. Part of it is that whenever I was traveling elsewhere, she was the one most interested in knowing that I got there safely and was having a good time, outside of my likely travel companions.
The little ritual of messaging her before take-off and after landing is when I feel her absence the way I feel a numb leg starting to wake up after I've been sitting on it for too long. I feel a more dull ache when doing something I know she would have enjoyed, or enjoyed hearing about. When we visited the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa last week, for instance, there were times when I couldn't think about much except how much she would have loved it, or all the pictures she would have taken.
When we walked a portion of their extensive grounds, which includes an English garden, walking trails, an art installation the size (and shape) of a rustic cabin, I thought about how some portions of it would have been completely inaccessible to her in later years, and the rest kind of a mixed bag. Level, evenly paved paths are more accessible to someone with an electric wheelchair or scooter than they are to most people on foot. The terraced garden would not have been navigable, though it was designed to provide vivid views from above and below.
The View From Below
There's a different sort of missing her whenever I know she'd have been dubious about the merits of something, like our trip up a portion of old Route 66 to visit the fabled Blue Whale of Catoosa. I think she would have liked the idea of nostalgic Americana, but I don't know that she'd have been able to get past a streak of cynicism about what is, from a certain point of view, a decaying tourist trap and not very impressive by the standards of imagineering to which she had grown accustomed.
American Vorer Story
It's not to say she would have hated it. I think a lot would have depended on her mood. But from my own experience, her skepticism would usually come to the forefront when it came to decisions her children made, if only as a protective instinct. I think if she'd been privy to our plans ,she probably would have felt the need to ask me if I was sure it was a good idea, if it was safe, if it wasn't a rip-off, etc. And then possibly hopped on the Google to research other things in the area in case it proved to be a bust, so our twenty minute journey to a free attraction wasn't a waste.
So, it was partly in memory of her that I wound up doing something similar. While looking up the directions, I decided to zoom in the map and scroll around a bit, and in the process I found the D.W. Correll Museum, housing the private collections of a prominent Catoosa resident of yesteryear. The photos that came up in the preview included antique (not merely vintage but genuinely antiquated) cars, which is something that another member of the family is interested in.
I honestly don't know that my mother would have been terribly impressed with a lot of the Correll museum, which included a lot of old toys, mineral specimens, and collectible glass and ceramic liquor bottles and decanters. I think she would have thought the old cars and carriages were cool (and probably would have compared several of them to vehicles in mystery books and shows), but I think she would have preferred a more artful arrangement of the other objects, which were more just collected and displayed.
I don't think she would have found fault with the price, at $3 a person.
One thing I'm learning about living with loss is that I can't keep doing things the way she would have done them just because she would have done them that way, nor avoid doing things because she would have disapproved. When our family gathered in her memory and to settle some details in person back in July, I made a point of watching A Capitol Fourth and making sure everybody knew I would be doing so. It's what she would have done, and so what I would have done, too.
Even though she created the habit, I still would have watched it on my own. What I wouldn't have done for my own sake is make sure it was added to the DVR recording list, which I did do, because I knew she would have done so, and it felt wrong that it wasn't there.
But she's not going to be there anymore, looking for vicarious experiences to share with her children and relatives who visit, when she could no longer go with them to concerts or shows. No one's going to watch it. It's just going to take up space in digital storage until the space is needed for something else.
We enjoyed the Correll museum and the Blue Whale both a lot. In each case, we got what we were looking out of them, which is to say a unique experience, and honestly I have to say they both exceeded my expectations. I came away having discovered some unexpected little gems, and with some story seeds, and maybe even a slightly deeper understanding about an aspect of my country's history I had never really seen up close and personal-like.
When we ate at a retro diner on Route 66 (Tally's, for locals), I made a point of getting a group picture in front of one of their Route 66 signs. Years ago, when my parents and I went to Key West, Florida together, I took a similar picture of the pair of them in front of an ornamental "Mile Marker 0" sign for US Route 1. So, I thought this might be something my dad might enjoy seeing.
This was before our pilgrimage to the whale, so the choice of going to that Tally's and not a slightly closer location had been more a "just to say we did" kind of thing to me. Like going down and putting your toes in the ocean, as long as you're right there anyway. But I had a feeling that it would mean more to him, so I wanted to have something I could point to say, "Look, we were there."
As I was processing things like our Philbrook trip -- and still before the whale -- I found myself writing an email to my father to tell him about our trip and point to the pictures we'd taken.
It started out of a realization that when she was alive, my mother would have made sure he saw anything that needed seeing, so I only needed to tell her. But my relationship with him has never been the relationship I had with her... not in a "better/worse" way, but in a "different people" way. I think I would say I was closer to her, but also more guarded... worried that she would be worried, if nothing else.
So the message I wrote to him and the conversation that resulted was not the same as it would have been, but it was good, and I think it shaped how I went into the experience of visiting the Blue Whale, which helped shaped some of the thoughts I later shared on Twitter:
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