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Letters of the Week

We don't know about you, but travel always makes us want to write long juicy letters to everyone we know. Maybe it's bragging rights, maybe it's a burst of poetic inspiration from seeing the Taj Mahal, but one way or another, suitcases and sunsets in strange places turn us into letter-writing fools. So, if it turns out you're the same way....be sure to include us in your list of people you just have to drop a line to. Don't worry, you will make us jealous...but hopefully we'll also be inspired by your adventures.

Want to see what other Savvy visitors have to say? Read our letters of the week, and be sure to tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you!

May 11, 2001

Adventures With Mom, Part I

Dear Rudy,

As a navy brat with a travel-addict for a mother, our family legends are rife with "travels with mother" stories. Here's one of my favorites:

When I was about 14, a family weekend at Cape Cod ended with a dinner at a nice crab restaurant. The menu offered two choices: pre-cracked or crack-it-yourself crab. Having never eaten a whole crab before but willing to try anything, Mother opted for crack-it-yourself. She carefully observed patrons at surrounding tables deftly de-shelling their meals with the nutcracker, and when hers arrived, she gamely attacked the claw joint -- and sent the claw sailing in a perfect arc halfway across the restaurant onto another diner's plate. Nonplussed, she calmly walked over to the shocked diner and removed the claw saying sweetly, "I believe this is mine, thank you." She returned to our table (and her now completely embarrassed teenager) amidst gasps and applause. And yes, she did eat the claw.


Adventures With Mom, Part II

Dear Rudy,

Recently, you requested stories about traveling with mom. This is a story about my first trip with my mom-in-law. Some background is required for the full effect.

In 1994, I impressed friends and family with my flamboyant exit from the practice of criminal law in Miami by running away with an artist on a sailboat. Gene, the artist, is now my husband and he came equipped with a plucky 81-year-old mom named Eunice. Unfortunately, a severe stroke had left her forgetful and, I must say, a bit wackier than she was naturally - which was pretty wacky (in a good way, mostly). But never a braver, gamer soul was born.

Anyway, seeing Miami in my rearview mirror was a blessed event. So I was pleased to set up housekeeping on the sailboat in Marathon, in the Florida Keys. My previous sailing experience involved laying on the deck scantily clad. The shakedown cruise for me was to be a trip up the coast to West Palm Beach - the site of my family's Christmas gathering. Eunice would fly in a few days before Christmas and meet us there.

Of course, the first rule of sailing is that the wind will always come from the direction in which you want to go. Accordingly, we were motoring into the wind through a narrow channel when an oil line ruptured. We could cut the engine immediately and be blown into a stationary cement channel marker or keep the engine going as far as it could to get clear of the danger. We chose the latter and seized the engine.

We sailed as far as we could with the inconvenient wind direction before calling a towboat. Where do you think he towed us? Miami, of course. He pulled us right into the very crowded anchorage off Dinner Key in Biscayne Bay, where the swells roll in with considerable force. My big escape to a happy life on the high seas had deteriorated into my getting a job as a barmaid and my beloved rebuilding the engine on the galley floor. Sounds great, huh? But it gets better when mom arrives.

Eunice's arrival was approaching rapidly. I managed to get back to Marathon and pick up our car. On the appointed day, I raced up to the West Palm Beach airport and picked mom up while poor Gene stayed bobbing in Biscayne Bay working on the engine. She had no idea whom I was, but wasn't a bit worried. She was having a grand time. We stayed with my parents overnight, and the next day I took her down to Miami to get on the boat.

When we arrived at the dock I could see the large swells, some of them breaking, in the bay. It was going to be a wet ride the mile or so out to the big boat in our little inflatable dinghy. Gene was waiting for us with a full foul weather suit for mom. We put the suit on her and carefully loaded her in the dinghy. Once we were outside the little marina basin, waves were splashing over the bow of the dinghy soaking us all as we made our way up, over and through the swells. I was frantically clutching Eunice for fear she would tip over backwards into the drink. Meanwhile, she was laughing, having the time of her life, and asking Gene why this girl was holding onto her so tightly.

Next we had to get her out of the dinghy and onto the mother ship. Have you ever tried to get onto a big boat (high) from a very small boat (low) in major surf? It's bad enough on your own, let alone trying to get an 81-year-old lady out of an inflatable dinghy and up a rope ladder. I scurried up on deck to receive her while Gene got her quasi upright and attached to the ladder. Once on the ladder, she did a darn good job. I grabbed her and set her in the cockpit. She thought it was more fun than she'd ever had. Meanwhile Gene and I still had a sort of deer-in-the-headlights look.

We installed mom on a settee in the saloon and went about getting some dinner. We were really bobbing around badly but mom seemed unphased. (No seasickness -- hurrah!) Eunice dove into her plate of pasta with gusto and got no end of amusement from her water glass sliding across the table as we rode the swells. Finally settled in, we relaxed and forgot about the grim state of our motor.

When it was time for bed, Eunice asked Gene to help her with her insulin shot. (Her eyesight was poor and she had trouble seeing how much insulin was in the syringe.) No problem. Then we hoisted her up into her bunk. Within five minutes, she called, "Gene, I think I'm going to be sick." Gene raced forward to help her out of the bunk and I raced on deck for the bucket. I made it just in time.

The hurling continued every few minutes for quite a while. We figured she was seasick from the motion in the bow where her bunk was. So we pulled the cushions off the settee and made her a bed on the galley floor, since that's where the least motion was. Eunice was completely game: "You want me to sleep on the kitchen floor? Okay!" But the new location had no immediate effect. We would lay in our bunk until we heard the call, "Bucket, please." Late at night while I was holding the bucket for her, Eunice said, "I'm really a pain in the neck, aren't I?" I told her that I hadn't expected to bond with her over a barf bucket, but it could have been worse.

Evenutally the hurling ceased and she dropped off to sleep. Laying in bed, I told Gene that I really wanted to get her off the boat and take her to my parents so she didn't have to go through that again. All he could say was, "I finally find the woman of my dreams and try to run away with her, and all I get is a seized engine and a puking mom."

The next morning she seemed fine - even after we filled her up with ham and eggs. And believe me, it wasn't because the anchorage was any more comfortable. When she asked Gene to help her with her shot that morning, he realized the shot he had given her the evening before was a mistake -- she didn't take insulin at night. She had gotten confused. Mystery of the hurling solved!

Now Gene's lament was, "Great! I seized the engine and almost killed my mom." All turned out fine. Gene got the motor running, Mom stopped hurling, and she was a great, wacky addition to my goofball family at Christmas. And yes, we finally got to run away to the Bahamas for a few months. Unfortunately, we lost mom in 1997, but not without having a few more adventures that would not have been the same without her.

Yours truly,

Molly Ebelhare


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