Regina Garson's Blog

On The Road – Solo And 60

LifeChange – It could be that “change” is the definition of life. Whether you like it or not and whether you are ready or not, change is going to happen. I just turned 60 and I was the one who was never going to retire. Ever. I was going to work until I died, and I had my life planned out to the minute.

One thing I never considered though was that mortality might get in the way and make some changes that I didn’t expect. Things that were not on my list.

It’s not like I took my health for granted. I have worked out all my life, starting in high school. I learned Tai Chi instead of getting surgery when I first had back problems, and I kept at it. I learned about nutrition and I ate right. Started that in high school too.

I was as healthy as a so called horse, and then I choked on a handful of junk food. Talk about karma or poetic justice – or something. I didn’t just choke. I spent upwards of a month in the hospital, living on tubes, and then I went back, a couple of times. Change. Unintended. Unexpected. And a doozey. On a brighter note, thinking positive and all that, the doc said if I hadn’t been in such good shape, I would not have survived. There is something to be said for survival. Change too, I suppose.

The thing is, in a so-called blink of the eye, I went from right near the best shape of my life, to the slow doddering woman who takes way too much time at the front of the grocery store line. Just like that. In one instant.

This was not a slow progressive aging process. This was a blink of an eye and everything changes process. To say I was not prepared for the change would be the understatement of the millennium.

I’m not dead yet though and I’m still at it, huffing and puffing and tweaking those workouts one more time. Dreams and ambitions, I got plenty. Always did, but sometimes they need some rearranging along the way. Change and all that. You’d think I was the only one who had ever been in such a boat.

Despite the fact that I have no diseases, and I am still as healthy as a proverbial horse, I am a mangled mess. Kind of like a healthy, hobbling, rickety, but still running jalopy. Can’t get far at a whack, and my work outs these days are more a candidate for a meme gone awry than a fitness show. But as the saying goes: “I’m in really good shape for the shape that I’m in.”

I’m still working too, but to say it has been a challenge would be another great big understatement. The various surgeries and repercussions from the internal injuries left my digestive system a dubious mess, not to be discussed in polite company. The inordinate length of time I spent on an inordinate number of IVs left me without the full functionality of either hand. That cut my typing speed considerably, actually I had to learn to type all over again. I’m still pecking though. And my hands are a lot better than they were, but still nowhere close to as good as they used to be. See above about the grocery store line and trying to open your wallet when you are suddenly down to three fingers on each hand, still trying to figure how to do things all over again, with your current state of ability, and you got a line of people standing “patiently” behind you.

Could be all that sounds like too much information, but I, like many others, live by what they call the spoon theory. I have to pace myself, what can I do and what is realistic. How long is it really going to take?

If we are going to be blogging about going on the road in our elder years, which I’ll get to in a minute, every one of us in that boat has got something we got to deal with. If I go three days without eating right, I feel it. And if you are going on the road and you are not in the best of shape, unless you want the whole thing to turn into a nightmare, spend your time in the hotel room, or your tent, or your camper, if not the nearest ER, you are going to have to be prudent, and as the saying goes – act your age – at least on the health front.

Despite it all, I have mostly worked most of the time since the accident. Except maybe the five months that I was completely bedridden. I am not going to be quitting any time soon, but if I had any sense, I’d have put up a help wanted ad for a husband. A roommate. Or something. Could be I should have done that before I got to the shape that I was or am in now.

Actually, though, I am pretty happily single, so there is that.

I sure got side tracked.

But anyway, somewhere in the middle of all this, I get the idea, as many budding senior citizens have before me, that what I really need to do is to get some kind of RV, a camper of some sort and take to the road. Never mind the fact that I am flat broke, count it a blessing that I can now make it successfully through a grocery store line, and have to plan a year in advance to make it three hours away to visit family. I can get a fixer upper camper and fix it up. And wherever I park, I can sit a spell and write, do my work while I check out the scenery. And while I am at it, write about the world from the perspective of barely making it but still on this side of the daisies, a la the fantasies of a Lonely Planet existence, a world to see, not as young as I used to be and all that. It’s not just that. But it sure would be fun.

Convicts leased to harvest timber circa 1915

Convicts laborers @1915, Florida.

I write and edit too, but back when I first decided that writing was what I wanted to do, it wasn’t about roadtripping and having a good time, it was things my granddaddy (William Joseph “Bill” Pickett) told me about the coal mines and convict labor that really touched my soul. Whatever else I did, I wanted to write about the things that I thought were important, about real people and the real story of things, real life stories that tend to get left out along the way. I always felt that way. And I have always tried to include what I could to inform people in my work as well. Stories and the side of things that needed telling.

There was this one poet in particular that I met and loved her work. She really influenced me in the way she thought and did things with her writing. Her name was Lucille Clifton. Although she was an activist type, she had her own style. She loved to travel and she’d visit all these plantations, which are a trendy tourist destination all over the South. None of that reminiscing about bygone Southern glory for her, she was African American, and she would go on these tours and ask about the slaves who built the place and did the work, and why weren’t they mentioned on the tour.

It was always about the grand life of the plantation owners, not about the slaves and what they went through to build and keep the place going. Anyway, Lucille Clifton kept pushing at the plantation tours, until folks started including both sides of the story. And actually, that was progress. I always admired Lucille Clifton, her poetry was awesome. See: The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 (American Poets Continuum). She inspired me and there is no doubt about that. I wouldn’t mind revisiting some old places too, getting down to the other side of some of those old stories.

Saturn V

Saturn V

There is always another side of the story to what you get on the tours. Like in Huntsville “The Rocket City,” with Von Braun and the space program. Everybody loves the Space Museum at the US Space and Rocket Center. I’m a space geek for sure. But talk about slave drivers, what in the world does Von Braun have to do with slavery? Wasn’t he German? A Nazi at that. The way they talk about those old plantation owners, you’d think they were the only ones, or hopefully, at the very least, the last slave drivers in the South. Does Peenemünde ring any kind of bell? We’ll be back to that another day. I still love all things space, but reality is reality.

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And what about the old mills?

Closing Hour at the Dallas Mill in Huntsville, Alabama

Workers at the Dallas Mill, Huntsville

Those old mill buildings have intrigued me since I first moved to Huntsville. There are several in the area. Lowe Mill is now one of the most trendy arts centers in the South, but another side of the mill history was that way back in the day, a photographer traveled through the area and took pictures of the kids working the machines. To say those pictures caused an uproar was an understatement. Those pictures were instrumental in drawing attention to/and ultimately the push toward changing the child labor laws in this whole country. Those were”some” pictures. Huntsville was actually pretty important in the history of children’s rights and the child labor laws in this country. Bet you didn’t know that about “The Rocket City.”

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In the meantime, I have a tent, and I have been checking out options. Pop-ups, campers, RVs, etc., the pros and cons of them all from the perspective of a 60 something single solo, somewhat rickety, female traveler with Lonely Planet fantasies and for whom a three-hour journey is a monumental undertaking. But more on all that later, including each and every option you look for when you get the itch to hit the road and you are a single woman of a certain age in fair to dubious condition.

People are always writing about how to travel with the kiddos. From the beginning of time, college students have been taking to the road, but what about the oldsters? I know a few who have. But to say they have their own set of travel issues is another one of those understatements. And it’s not like I haven’t hit the road on my own before, but that was before the accident and although I am in a whole lot better shape than I was (when I was on various and sundry life support systems), I am not in anywhere close to the same shape I was in before that fateful handful of junk food.

So there’s that.

We will see where it all leads. I had many good years of good physical ability. I learned some things along the way, about the outdoors and such. At various times, I led Cub Scout and Girl Scout groups both. In my mind, I still do it all, but things are most definitely different now. However, I am not the only one on this planet to reach a certain age and realize that. The realization of the difference, I mean change. Getting older. In the best of circumstances, it tends to creep up on you, but sometimes life happens, and it gets a pretty fair jump-start.

Even if we do the best we can with our health and our workouts, eat right, and really think we got it right, we are all subject to the whelms of nature and the reality of our own mortality. That doesn’t mean that life stops, or that we can’t get out there and enjoy it. It does mean that we might have to do a little more thinking and planning, but we’ll touch on that along the way too. There was a time not too very long ago that I never honestly thought I’d ever hit the road again to go anywhere, much less see 60, but I did and my feet are itching.

Now let’s see what we can get into next.

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Copyright 2015 Regina Pickett Garson
All Rights Reserved
Originally published on Regina Garson’s Blog on Blogspot/Blogger

Image: Closing hour, Saturday noon, at Dallas Mill. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine. Department of Commerce and Labor. Children’s Bureau (1912 – 1913).
Saturn V: NASA Image

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