My mama, Bertha LeBlanc Quimby, left this earthly life on Sunday, November 23, 2014. She was 88 years old and her physical body and mental capacity had declined to such an extent that near the end we all prayed for her release from the pain she had been in for too long. Once she told me, “I didn’t want to live this long, but I guess I’m still fighting it. I guess God doesn’t want me and the devil won’t have me.” Well, no doubt God has her enveloped in loving arms now, and the devil should be thankful he didn’t have to tangle with my mama!
And today I am glad that her passing was so peaceful and that she no longer is living an existence that she swore she never wanted to endure – I just can’t figure out why I now feel so lost and alone when I thought I was so prepared for this event.
Like most mother/daughter relationships, ours was not always smooth and often complicated by misunderstandings and harsh judgments about each other. As a teenager, there were times I really thought I hated her and I bet there were times she wished she had never had me. But the one thing I am most grateful for is that we had enough quality time together to have been able to work through all the past hurts, talk about our feelings and perceptions and in the process came to a better understanding of each other, no matter our differences and belief systems.
I don’t know how old I was when I first saw this picture taken of her when she was 19. I must have been young and silly enough to have been shocked at how pretty she was and that I couldn’t believe she had ever been that young. When I told her that, she told me how she always hated that picture – because she hadn’t noticed the rip below the shoulder of the dress and she said she was always embarrassed that she thought she looked like a “poor little country girl who didn’t know better.” I remember thinking at at the time that until she brought it up, I hadn’t even noticed the tear. As I’ve thought on her comment since then, I realize now she had a lot of insecurities from her childhood and like so many of us, those insecurities haunted her and kept her from being as happy as she could have been, even long into adulthood.
But this post is all about sharing and remembering the most wonderful travel times with my mom. She often told me those days were the happiest ones for her and I am thrilled that between my brother and myself, we were able to make that possible for her. So I’m going to compile everything here so I can take a stroll down this memory lane and relive some really fun times with my mommy.
You Wanna Be a Whaaattt????
Now backtracking for a bit, in 2001 when I first told her I wanted to become a fulltime RVer, once I explained what that was and what they did, these were the words she had for me: “Little girl, you’ve done some stupid things in your life, but this is by far the stupidist!” As we can see, my mama never was one to mince words or leave you guessing how she really felt.
But she quickly (and with a hint of miraculously) had a change of heart, and as I relate in the “Long Story” of how I became a fulltime RVer:
“One of the most amazing miracles was the revelation my mom came to. Needless to say, she was not happy with my decision – saw it as absolutely crazy, irresponsible, not to mention what she felt it was doing to her life since we lived right next door to each other and she believed she needed me there. It led to a bit of dissension and stress between us. But she came over one morning and said “I know you might think this is crazy, but God talked to me last night. He told me you are on a mission and I was to help you. I don’t think you’re crazy anymore and I will do all I can to help you.” She has always told me she wished she had the guts to do the “crazy” things I’ve done, but I am inspired by the guts she shows in being as open minded as she is, especially at an age when most people feel perfectly justified in having an opinion and sticking with it no matter what and well past the point where it serves their highest purpose.”
I always appreciated how supportive she was after that, even though sometimes she still had her doubts. However, once we came up with the idea of her joining me on parts of my trips, even those doubts were erased.
After our trips I would prepare photo albums and scrapbooks for her and long after she could no longer travel with me, she said she would look through them again and again and relive all the fun we had and the amazing sights she saw.
It wasn’t always easy traveling with mom – she would forget about things like conserving water when we didn’t have full hookups, or being careful about what appliances to use when we just had 30 amps, etc. But the memories of those times are so precious, whatever hassles there were are eclipsed now with total gratitude that we had that kind of time together.
Florida & Disney World – Spring, 2002:
My Journal Excerpts: Mom arrived on March 2 to join me on the grand tour of southern Florida. She was especially excited because we arranged a visit to the Magic Kingdom before we left Orlando. We saw the beautiful magic castle again and then headed out for the world tour at Epcot. That was truly a great day – my mom was like a little kid – her eyes lit up at Cinderella’s show, also, and she was so grateful Don could push her around in a wheelchair so that she could see everything. There is so much of the world to see at Epcot there’s no way she could have walked the whole way. She was sure that was a dream that had passed her by and that she’d never see Disney World, so it was doubly nice to make a liar out of her and to see the universe prove again that you should never really give up on your dreams.
When we stopped here for picture, she was crying, sobbing, “I never thought I’d really get to meet Mickey Mouse!” We treated ourselves to lunch at Cinderella’s Castle.
Our tour around Florida included many beautiful beaches, Sanibel Island, the Everglades, Key West, and the quirky Coral Castle.
Here began our tradition of posing by any interesting tree – here a wonderful banyon.
Here she said to this gator, “Watch it buddy or I’ll make a purse out of you!”
Thinking about this story can still make me cry I laugh so hard – I can still hear the panic in her voice and I feel wicked because I thought it was so funny.
From my Journal Entries:
One of the funniest things that had us laughing until tears threatened to drive me off the road was when she went back to the bathroom while I was driving. She didn’t close the door tight enough and at a very critical point for her the door flew open. Now, there’s a huge double window that is on the wall directly across from the bathroom. I heard my mother shriek, “Help, the door is open and I can’t get off the toilet to close it!!!” Anyone driving by my motor home at that point would have been treated to a view of my mom’s butt on the toilet and she was not at all happy about that prospect as she could see the cars whizz (pardon the pun) by. Since I was driving I could be of no help except to drown out her combination of laughter and screaming with my own. Thank God a curve in the road resulted in the door swinging itself shut and as far as we know, no police reports were made about a little old lady mooning Florida motorists.
(I asked mom to recreate her dismay for the picture above – she thought I was nuts but complied anyway.)
We could make each laugh like crazy sometimes over the silliest stuff: I never let mom pick another campground once she led us to a park whose driveway sign boasted of their “Sparkling POO.” I never realized how important the letter “L” could be until it was left off that word…
I thought it was interesting to read again the last part of that entry I wrote at the end of that trip:
“My mom did say this trip served a two-fold purpose – it fulfilled a dream she always had of traveling in RV – and it also cured her of it. She realized she had either outgrown it and does not feel it would be the life for her, at least not at this point in her life. That’s another reason I’m glad I started this while I’m younger than most people in this full-time RV lifestyle. I’m “set in my ways” enough at 50.”
I had forgotten she had said that at the time and that she didn’t really want to go on any more trips.
However…. later when I started talking about going to Alaska, who started “hinting” about how much she would like to go??? (And when my mom “hinted” there was no mistaking her intent!)
Alaska and Canadian Rockies – 2003:
Mom is still in the “I can’t believe I’m really in Alaska” stage and it’s fun to see her pinch herself to make sure she’s not dreaming anymore. She says of all the places she’s ever seen in her life, this is certainly the most beautiful. Her favorite, like mine, is the larger-than-life mountains – just the sheer size and scope of such beauty can be overwhelming and incredibly powerful. All this, being framed by the most vividly colored flowers imaginable growing in profusion at the side of the road, makes your neck ache from looking back and forth trying not to miss anything.
We were treated to a rare view of Denali during our Alaska trip in August 2003 – we said it was her 77th birthday present that month.
We treated ourselves to a Flightseeing Denali tour of that wondrous mountain aptly named “The High One.”
My brother treated us to the Kenai Fjords Glacier Cruise and we saw massive “calving” where huge chucks of the glacier fell into the water. Mom almost drowned when she was a girl and was always afraid of water – she wouldn’t swim at all, but she enjoyed these kind of cruises.
From BC Journal – August, 2003: “My mom says she’s so thankful for her two kids that made this trip possible for her. She has one son (traditionally the “good” kid of the family) who has plenty of money and provided the plane trip to Anchorage, and her daughter (traditionally the “black sheep” of the family) who is just crazy enough to do this trip without an overage of money, so she’s enjoyed the best of both worlds she helped create. We’ve had interesting conversations about how each of us chose to escape the poverty of our upbringing – Johnny saw education and making money as his escape and has done so well for himself and his family. As a flower child shaped by the 60’s, I sought simply the freedom and courage to do what I wanted to do despite what I didn’t have, and miraculously I’ve managed to do most of what I’ve really wanted to do, despite how crazy it sounded.”
Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of the wonder in her eyes as she looked out onto scenes like this. There was a kind of peaceful joy to her that always made me happy to see.
She’d sometimes doze off and then I’d see her rouse herself as she’d say she didn’t want to sleep because she was afraid she might miss something. She’d say there was something different about every tree and mountain crevice and she wanted to see it all. “I’m trying to make up my mind if I like the trees, the mountains or the clouds better – I just can’t make up my mind!”
It was here that she told me that she would get aggravated with me sometimes because I didn’t get up early enough or it took me too long to get ready to go. “I can’t wait to get up on my co-pilot seat – I feel like the queen of the world. My favorite time of day is when I buckle my seat belt and we take off – I don’t even care where we’re going!”
Neither one of us could quite believe the color of the blue of Lake Louise.
We took a tour of the Athabasca Glacier and we were just amazed and thrilled to be walking on ice so thick and massive it could be seen from the space station.
It’s really been a blast sharing this last leg of my journey with my mother. I had worried that we’d end up wanting to kill each other at some point since we’re both such independent, opinionated and just plain cussed women, but instead we’re giggling ourselves to death – over the stupidest stuff, too – especially when we’re tired we start babbling and laughing so hard about it until we both have tears in our eyes over something so dim-witted that certainly no one else in the universe would get the joke. We both joke about how unlikely it would have seemed when I was 16 that we would ever even end up friendly, much less as close as we are now. Back then she worried that I was so rebellious I would kill her with a heart attack or something – now she hates being killed by me at Skip-Bo. (Sorry, mom, I couldn’t resist…)
Thankfully, our sense of humor was similar – both a little warped and inappropriate at times. Our favorite book during this trip was Today I Will Nourish My Inner Martyr: Affirmations for Cynics. We kept it on the table and would pick it up and read to each other while trying not to fall on the floor laughing. Sometimes we couldn’t even get the words out and would just hand the page to the other one saying, “This is soooo you!” Even in the midst of all our fun, we could never stay positive all the time and could always find inane things to complain about. Mom made up her own cynical affirmation one day and I wrote it in our book, “The world is against me today – I can just feel it.”
But mostly we knew how blessed we were to have this opportunity together, both the laughing and the crying times.
We were both totally ga-ga at the size of the mountains here!
We both loved the architecture of Banff Springs Hotel.
On a boat tour to Spirit Island, we saw a deer swimming across in front of us and we both agreed that was magical.
We never did get used to it never really getting dark. Mom hardly ever stayed up this late, but here we are at 10:00 p.m. having a campfire with the hosts at Russian River State Park.
This picture still cracks me up – I woke up early one morning just to go to the bathroom and found her all bundled up with gloves and everything reading her book. “Mom, I’ll turn up the heat.” She replied, “No, that’s ok, you should save your propane.” By that time she was getting the hang of living in an RV when you don’t have hookups.
Glacier National Park – Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park – Sept. 2003
We took this route back to Austin from Alaska and due to some medical appointments mom had to deal with, we only had a few days in this area – not nearly enough, but mom was totally thrilled to see how “weird” Yellowstone is and to see Old Faithful in person. We really got a kick out of watching bison stroll through our campsite. Yellowstone National Park pages. Grand Teton pages. We loved Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, but due to wildfires then, we couldn’t go all the way.
It’s a big regret of mine that we never did get back there because we knew there was so much more we would have loved to see in these three parks.
Oregon / California Coast – September, 2005:
September, 2005 – Inspiration’s Journey: Mom arrived in Portland on September 20 to begin our long-awaited Oregon/California Coast exploration. It had always been a shared dream to hug the huge redwood trees and we were anxious to get started. But first, I had to share the beautiful Columbia River Gorge with her. It had been a favorite of mine when I lived in Portland in 2002 and no way could I be near there and not visit again.
I did several website pages on that trip starting with Views From Vista House at Crown Point, getting Lost Among the Dahlias and finally getting to Eureka. (All pages of trip are linked in left column.)
It was at Gold Beach where my mom found a feather on the beach that I still think of to this day and before she died, I told her to do the same thing with me. She told me, “Okay, but you know I have such a bad memory, I hope I don’t forget.” So far, no feather…
I totally got a kick out of her reaction to her first jetboat ride at Jerry’s Rogue Jets. She looked absolutely exhilarated here, dripping with water from the spray made by the boat’s sharp turns. But of another view, I wrote:
“As we went further down the river, the sights, sounds and scents of the river became more and more enticing and she seemed to really enjoy herself. Look at that little grin – I think she looks positively at peace and very content here, don’t you think? She said she absolutely had a blast and I was pretty proud of my mom that day for pushing past one of her major fears, especially at her “tender” age. You rock, mama!
We both agreed that the Oregon Coast was one of the most beautiful spots in the world.
Redwoods – October, 2005:
As we were entering we were both like little kids so excited to be visiting the humongous trees!
I got my love of trees and not being able to resist hugging them from my mother for sure!
Being able to drive through this Prairie Creek State Park section in the motorhome made us especially thankful for the huge windshield.
Fern Canyon turned out to be one of our favorite places. This was an unplanned stop and by the time we got there, mom said she was too tired to make the trek into it. She was content to sit on a bench a short distance away from the entrance and wait for me there where she could watch the ocean. I went a ways back into the canyon, and was so intrigued by it that I had made up my mind I would just insist she had to see this – the deep canyon walls covered by shimmering emerald green ferns, the little foot bridges giving you access across the sparkling streams – there was just no way she could miss this! She was a trooper and couldn’t resist that description, so we made it together.
Yosemite – November, 2005:
This was a trip my brother told us we should not miss – good advice Johnny! Start of Malia’s Miles pages on our Yosemite trip.
At Glacier Point
I just adore this picture of her – she was absolutely enthralled that we could be above the clouds and not be in a plane!
My mom – at age 79 with a bum knee – was bound and determined to get to the top of Moro Rock. I wasn’t even sure that I was up to those 400+ steps myself, but we just trudged on and took it slow. I think she’d ask everyone she saw on the way down if it was much farther to the top, and they’d just encourage her saying it was worth it. I’d hear her talking to herself every now and then, “Keep going, Bertha!” I was so proud of her!
Sequoia National Park – November, 2005:
We were so glad we didn’t listen to the guy who told us that if we’d seen the groves in Yosemite, we might as well skip Sequoia – that was definitely the worst advice in the world!
Sometimes it was really hard to believe how ancient and huge these majestic creatures are.
Besides the massively wonderful trees, here was another chance to be on land yet soar above the clouds! She told me that she just loved feeling the mist of the clouds on her face and that “It felt like angels were blessing me – it felt holy.”
San Diego – November, 2005
We made a stop in San Diego to visit my nephew, Kevin, and his wife, Vera.
Kevin is a pilot and he flew us to some neat place just for lunch. Mom was saying, “I can’t believe that’s “little Kevin” flying this plane! I think Kevin was amused…
California Trip – June, 2006
During this trip through Arizona, she made me stop here in the Painted Desert and take her picture with the Ancient Landscapes because she said she was one of those, too.
My cousin Melinda set us up at a Napa Valley winery she worked with where we were treated like queens. Both of us said we could easily get used to such treatment! It was a blast acting like we were wine connoisseurs and that we knew what we were talking about. “Yummy, yeah, this is great – those oak barrels really make the difference!”
Great Grandma: The main purpose of that trip was for us to get to meet my youngest daughter’s daughter, Annabella Melody. Post at Grandma Malia!
Savannah – Wormsloe – July, 2007
Before embarking on our Blue Ridge Parkway tour, we began in Savannah and I couldn’t resist showing my Southern Belle mama the trees that line the drive to Wormsloe Historic Site. We’ve both always been crazy about plantation style homes, and even though the home is gone, the grove of trees that once welcomed long ago visitors here still welcomed us.
Just going down the 1-1/2 miles from the entrance, she had me stop several times to get out just so she could be among those trees and wave to them in person.
Blue Ridge Parkway – Summer, 2007:
We were determined that we would see every one of the 469 mileposts on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so whenever we had to get off for gas, food or campgrounds, we always made sure we came back to where we left off.
We totally agreed this sign was appropriate for both of us, so we couldn’t resist.
My friend Julianne Crane, who was a reporter with the Spokesman Review at the time, wrote this article, Mom, Daughter Tackle Blue Ridge about that trip, who quoted mom, “My favorite part of the trip was being way up high on the parkway,” says Quimby. “It’s kind of like soaring, you know.”
Me and my mommy at Mabry Mill
Blue Ridge article I wrote for MotorHome Magazine. My mom always said after Alaska, this was her favorite trip. But then she’d get to thinking about it and say, “Oh, but the redwoods were amazing… I can’t make up my mind which was my favorite – I’m just so lucky I was able to do it all!”
I thought she looked particularly happy here among the blooms on the Blue Ridge. There was a part of the Appalachian Trail by here and she trudged down it a few feet with her walker and said, “Now I can say I hiked the Appalachian Trail!”
My favorite Mom story from this trip:
Whenever there were things I wanted to do that she couldn’t manage, she was happy to stay in the RV and read or sit outside enjoying the views. But once when I was taking a walk to get some pictures, when she wanted to get something out of the car, she used the key to unlock it instead of the remote which is the way I lock it. This makes the car think someone is trying to break in, so it starts sounding the horn alarm. She didn’t know how to stop it and when a couple pulled over, she explained the dilemma. He asked if I had taken the remote and at first she didn’t even know what he was talking about, but when she showed him what she had, he took the remote and pressed the button to stop the horn. She told him “I feel like a perfect idiot – I don’t know what I would have done if I would have had to listen to that noise until she came back!” She profusely thanked him while he reached in his pocket and handed her a dime. He replied, “It’s our pleasure – I want to give you this for letting us help you.” My mom was flabbergasted and said “Why are you paying me for your helping me???” He replied, “It’s just a little thing to help you remember to pass it along.” I think this just blew her mind, but when they later returned from their walk, she thanked him again and laughingly said, “I’ve never heard of anyone doing what you did, but you’re not getting your dime back – I’m going to keep it to remember your kindness.” He laughed and said that was OK and that he wouldn’t have taken it back anyway, but he did hope she would pass along the kindness. She was so excited when she told me this story and she made sure she kept that dime separate so she’d never forget. When her memory was getting worse, at some point she lost the dime and she would ask me about it, so she never forgot the story anyway.
This trip ended after Skyline Drive in Shenandoah in July, 2007 and mom and I never traveled together again in the RV after this. I spent the rest of the summer in Shenandoah and made the return trip in the fall. Once I got back to Austin, mom’s physical and mental health really began deteriorating.
I’m so thankful I have all these pictures and memories and that I wrote down so much to remember since my memory is almost as bad as hers. During one of our trips she looked me right in the eye and told me, “When I die, you can say you gave me the happiest times of my life.” Wow, now that’s really saying something!
Then she couldn’t resist adding, “If you feel somebody with you, it will be me. I’ll be taking care of you then – I’ll be praying for you: Don’t let this idiot get in any trouble.” Thanks, mom!
April, 2008 – when we were all together at mom’s house. Both my daughters and their daughters and my granddaughter’s daughters – 5 generations of crazy Cajun women!
December, 2012 – the last Christmas we were all together in New Orleans. My brother’s side of the family along with my cousin, Tony. My brother’s wife, Lois (my sister-in-heart) took this picture, but we never managed to get one when we were all together in one spot.
Here’s Lois & Johnny with mom in May, 2011 at Swan Lake in South Carolina. They took such excellent care of her for the last four years of her life – I am in awe of anyone with such nursing skills – something I never inherited that’s for sure.
So, mommy, now that you’re at peace, where’s my feather??? 🙂
Update: December, 2014 – We got the feathers!
The best medicine I’ve had yet was getting to see my great grand-twins after 1-1/2 years away from Austin – it was just the salve my heart needed (here at Blanco State Park). And it wasn’t until we were all out on a walk together that we all found feathers that we took as a sweet hello from my mom. Angelique and I shed a few tears and the twins made beds of cypress leaves for their feathers. Feathers or not, I know my mom is with us and sending her love in many ways and memories.
It has also been heartwarming to receive condolence messages from family and friends. My cousin, Cindy, sent this poem to me along with some sweet memories she had of my mom as well. I like to think this message is really true and that the rest of her family was there to greet her on the other side. My mom was Godmother to Cindy, and Cindy’s mom, my Aunt Loretta, was my Godmother (called “Nanny” by us Cajuns). My mom and Loretta, who passed in 2010, were especially close, so we know they were happy to see each other again!
Gone From My Sight
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!”
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!” there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: “Here she comes!”
And that is dying.
-Henry Van Dyke
Update January 15, 2015:
In the process of “Selling All My Stuff – Again” – I came across a box of cards and letters I’ve kept for years because I’m a sentimental sap. I literally fell to the floor on my knees when I came across this card:
It’s not dated, but I think she gave me this not long after I decided to start fulltime RVing when she finally accepted that decision. I love you, too, Mama.
I didn’t pack this one away again – I’m keeping it by my bedside as a constant reminder of my mama’s support from heaven.
Here the online memorial I created with many more stories and pictures: ForeverMissed.com