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  • Elizabeth Vazquez

Take Time To Travel

The family I grew up in was not the traveling kind. My mother was a single mom, raising 3 daughters with the help of her mother and sister. There were no trips to Disney, no tropical cruises, no beach house vacations. We went on a camping trip to Pennsylvania once when I was 12. We lived in NJ. My mother flew on a plane for the first time at the age of 58 to attend my sister’s destination wedding in Jamaica. I remember she squeezed my hand so tight during take-off, but judging by the smile on her face, I was sure it was due to excitement and not fear.

My mother talked about all the places she would love to see. She adored plants and gardens and birds, so Hawaii and England were high on her list. She watched tons of nature programs and talked about the Galapagos as if she’d been there. She oohed and aahed out the window during the few road trips I took her on in my 20’s. We went to the Smokies in Tennessee, the Maine coast and Washington DC. She relentlessly pointed out cows and horses and pigs and “oooh did you see that rosebush?? I wonder if they’d let me clip a piece?” We would stop in seaside towns and find delicious seafood and eat it while sitting on a bench watching the waves. I would stroll off for a walk and typically come back to find her chatting up a stranger as if they were old friends. I remember we went to a bingo hall in Ogunquit Maine on a Friday night and she won the jackpot and I just thought “of course!” while all the locals glared at us beneath their bedazzled glasses.

Sadly, the end came early for mom. She died from complications of COPD at the age of 67 after a long, long battle during which I was her primary caregiver. I was left bereft and empty. Unmoored. Once the sharp sword of grief was pulled from my battered body, I realized I was starting my life anew. There were no more appointments to make, prescriptions to organize or insurance claims to check. So, I started making lists. I was going to go back to school, better myself, volunteer, make her proud. But most of all, I was going to TRAVEL! Early on, I realized I had the wanderlust. I always felt more alive away from home, in an unfamiliar environment. My senses heighten. My mind slows down. I notice more. I was 38 years old. I had a family, a partner I loved, the man who had been by my side for 16 years and we had a brilliant son who was the perfect fusion of him and me.

Two years ago, my best friend, who is not the traveling type, said “My kids are taking me to Ireland. Do you want to come?” I don’t think I ever packed a bag that fast. While we were there, we were walking down a crowded street in Kilkenny. The shops and pubs were bright and loud and competing for my attention. At one point I was jostled from behind and paused to look down a quiet alley. There, hanging proudly off a stone building was the name of a restaurant. One word “Petronella”. It couldn’t be...I thought to myself. But it is! Petronella was my mother’s name! It was almost as if she was beside me on that street. I stood, rooted, tears in my eyes with my friends’ concerned pleas at my ears. All I could do was point. “She’s with me,” I said.

I have plans for more trips. I just returned from Ireland Take #2, on which my 10 year old son accompanied me. I don’t think I had even been out of the state at 10 years old and he has a green shamrock stamp on his passport. He has a passport! Every day, since we’ve been home, I ask him, “Where should we go next?” He throws out France, Spain and Japan (so I can visit Nintendo)” and usually ends up with “anywhere with you Mommy.” And that fills my heart.

I’m no world traveler yet. My heart still skips a beat every time I toe the line at the TSA checkpoint, my fingers frantically feeling for my passport, my boarding pass and my common sense. But, my best friend, her kids, my son and I have formed our own little traveller collective dubbed the International Picnic Society or something similar. We send each other travel deals and Instagram stories labeled “Next Trip??” at least once a day. And I know my mom is right beside me waiting for just the right moment to yell out “Oooooh look at those sheep!”