America. Independence. Fireworks. Three separate words that, placed together, conjure an image and feeling.
We celebrate our independence on July Fourth with traditions including fireworks, cookouts, family gatherings, and taking time to reflect and celebrate. Independence and freedom is a big deal for us as Americans. We have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the freedom to pursue lines of work and pleasure, and the freedom to travel where we want to go and when we want to go, providing we have the means.
This, of course, enables a lot of family gatherings and festivities, which strikes home for me. My family fled Estonia in World War II rather than succumb to the restrictive nature that would envelope any nation that fell to the Soviet Union. So, we made it to America, and have never taken for granted our freedom to travel.
Travel can be celebratory in nature. How happy it made my mother to travel halfway across the country to see and hold her first great-grandchild in her arms. Reunions virtually always involve travel and are times of joyful celebration as well. As time marches on, families evolve and change as some members pass away and new members are born.
My mother became ill earlier in the year and needed major heart surgery. But what did she reflect upon during recovery? She absolutely couldn’t wait until late spring for a family reunion cruise where members of the family from thousands of miles away would all converge for a week of fun and fellowship. The opportunity to see her precious great-grandchild, Oliver, was icing on the cake.
Her fear was she wouldn’t recover in time for the cruise or may not recover at all. But, as she took stock of life, its value, and what she really wanted to do, it all boiled down to making the trip so she could see her loved ones. As we are in America, and her son is in the business, if she could bring the health, it would happen. And it did.
Sadly, partway through the cruise, her medical condition deteriorated. She lost consciousness, never to regain it again. While this was, like all passings of family members, incredibly heavy on the heart, I took pleasure in knowing her final wish was granted in the last weeks of her life and I will cling to that memory.
In fact, so many of my cherished memories of my beloved mother involve travel: our reunion cruise, our tour of Europe, family vacations to Maine as a youth, discovering Amish country, touring the museums in D.C., seeing the majesty of Luray Caverns and Skyline Drive, motoring about the Chesapeake Bay, seeing Williamsburg, Vermont getaways, visiting the beaches — the list seems endless.
I dedicate this issue to the late Alice Teel, the woman who birthed me, raised me, and gave me a love of travel and writing.
Her life shall carry on through the actions and hearts of her surviving family members, and I will, among other things, carry on her love of travel and continue to explore the world and spread the virtues of travel to all who will listen, until I
see her again at my final destination.