My father’s health has declined a good bit over the past few years in a number of ways. I wrote about that to some extent in Blazing 80. Unfortunately, the therapy I mentioned in that blog post was unsuccessful and the feeding tube has become permanent.
In addition to his lung issues, my dad has developed some other health issues, including the onset of dementia. So when the opportunity presented itself last fall, my wife and I began planning a family vacation to take our two daughters to Disney World. Even before dad’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, we decided to take my parents with us to Disney World. Because we love to travel by train, we booked tickets for the whole family to take the train to Florida. Although it still takes much longer than flying, the train adds another leisurely facet to the vacation experience.
My wife and I each scheduled our work vacations to coincide with our younger daughter’s spring break from kindergarten. Our 21 year old daughter managed to do the same with her job, but she could not get quite as much time off, so she skipped the train ride and got airline tickets instead to shave a few days off either end of the trip.
We decided to ride the auto train from Lorton, Virginia to Sanford, Florida so that we could have our own car with us while in Florida. So rather than a 20+ hour car ride from Ohio to Florida, we only had to make a six hour drive from Ohio to Washington D.C. to catch our train. In order to build in enough lead time we figured we needed to leave my parents’ house no later than 5:00 a.m. to be sure we got to the auto train in time. So the plan was to arrive at their house as early as possible on Thursday evening, get the entire car packed, and get everyone to bed as early as possible for an early rise on Friday.
Without a minivan, we knew it would be a cramped car ride with the back seat occupied by two adults and a six year old in a car seat, plus whatever extra items we needed for the trip that could not be packed in the trunk. Dad’s breathing machines would also occupy space equivalent to a small suitcase. It concerned me enough that I made a special solo trip down to my parents’ house the week before our vacation — just to pack up the trunk and back seat to see how much (if any) wiggle room we had. I expected a tight fit. It was even tighter than I imagined! To generate more room, we planned to move the car seat from the right side window to the center of the back seat and allow my parents to each sit on either side. During the week in between the dry run and the real deal, my wife and I bought a smaller booster car seat to use in place of the full regular seat. Problem solved!
The day for our departure came and we got to Grandma’s at about 7:00 in the evening. After a quick dinner, I began packing up the car — just as I had planned it the week before! This suitcase in the trunk facing THIS way; that suitcase on one edge facing THAT way; one of my dad’s medical devices on top of another one in the left nook behind the wheel well, etc. Everything fitting together like a puzzle. But when it came time to put in the new car seat, we discovered for the very first time that the base was too wide to fit in between the two seat belt sockets on either side so that there was no way to secure it in the center of the back seat of our car.
We talked about adjusting the back seat arrangements, but I didn’t like the idea of EITHER of my parents sitting in the middle in back from both a comfort and a safety standpoint. My dad even talked about staying home by himself instead! Despite his insistence, there was no way mom was going to go for that idea. Ultimately, we measured the car seat and the clearance between the two seat belt sockets, and decided to take a trip to the local Wal-Mart to see if we could find a seat with a narrower base. By this time, it was already past 9:00 (my intended bed time), but there were no other better options.
We left the six year old with Grandma and Pop and my wife and I drove out to Wal-Mart. Once at the store, we started walking toward the area where car seats are displayed. I put on the brakes, thinking we might need a shopping cart. So I went back out to get one while my wife continued on toward the car seats. As I pushed a shopping cart back down the aisle a few moments later, I saw my wife laughing/smiling as she was stopped and talking to someone. My wife did not grow up in my hometown, which is over three hours away from her hometown where we currently live. There are literally only a small handful of people there that she could know.
As I took a few more steps, I then saw the broad smile on my cousin Lori’s face. She and her husband, Jeff, were doing some late evening shopping for Easter. You know that feeling you get when you are out in public and you see someone who looks like someone you know, but it really just resembles the person and is not him or her? You know it can’t be who you think it is, because either you or they are out of town and not where you would expect to see him/her. Lori thought that she recognized my wife from a distance, but obviously did not see me with her (since I had gone back for the shopping cart). She thought it unusual to see Linda, alone, in Steubenville late on a Thursday evening. But she still approached her and once they made close eye contact each recognized the other right away.
So the four of us ended up chatting for probably 20 minutes or more in the main aisle of Wal-Mart. We talked about our trip to Disney the next day, they discussed their son’s upcoming high school graduation, we each gave updates on our parents’ conditions, and generally had a good time catching up. When it was all said and done, I probably ended up getting to bed around midnight, but the surprise catch-up meeting with my cousin and her husband was well worth it! Had we taken the time in advance to check the width of the seat belt sockets to the booster seat (we did find another perfect fit on the Wal-Mart trip), we would have never had that chance meeting.
And Disney World was a fabulous trip — the very first visit for ALL of us other than Linda who went with her mom and sisters when she was 10.