On our first trip together, we covered only a few blocks in a neighborhood of two-story white wooden houses in Columbus Ohio. I was pushing my sister Paula's stroller. (Ask her. She would no doubt say that I was always pushy.) At a few months old, she was oblivious to the great world around us--the bulbous cars parked along the street, the empty lot, dusty in the summer sun, or the brick store buildings up ahead on Cleveland Avenue. I, on the other hand, being ten years older, ten and a half when she was only six months old, I knew about everything.
As I walked, and she patted her chubby hands together, I daydreamed about how she would grow up with fond memories of her loving big sister and be eternally grateful for my attention and care. (Always about me, wasn't it, Paula?)
These little walks down the block were definitely not the only trips we took as children. Our parents loved to load up the car and go--most anywhere. Sometimes long car trips, sometimes just a drive down to the Scioto River for a picnic. On Sunday drives in the Ohio countryside, seeing the landscape between our father's salt and pepper crewcut hair and our mother's black bun, we would shout out “Go left” or “Go right” or “Go straight” at each interseciton--a kind of sibling Mapquest. It was a democratic route finding that our dad adventurously accepted. “Go” was the operative word.
It is no wonder that I grew up with a restless yearning to travel, or that my sister and her husband explored by car every corner of each state they lived in--Ohio, Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Virginia, and neighboring states as well.
As adults, we have not had many opportunities to travel together. Once, when her now-adult sons were babies, I planned a car trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone Park for her family, mine, and our parents. However, we arrived in separate cars. My family stayed in a snug cabin by Jenny Lake, while she and her husband and babies camped in a tent. I never could figure out why Paula wanted to suffer in that drafty tent, when there were log cabins. With electricity.
Our lives diverged after I moved from Ohio to Arizona. Paula and her family lived in Arizona for a time, but in recent years, she has lived near Richmond, Virginia. There she and her husband found a spacious home on a dirt road, surrounded by trees. They both drove in to Richmond to work, and they enjoyed weekend jaunts to mountains, rivers and historic sites. It was a beautiful life. Then her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Despite their positive attitude and the care of brilliant specialists, the cancer won--but not before they took a car trip to a folk music festival in southern Virginia, a trip she will never forget.
I flew to Virginia for his memorial service, and Paula's attitude was good. “I can either curl up and feel sorry for myself, or I can figure out what I'm going to do with the rest of my life,” she said. That week was the most concentrated time we had spent together since we reluctantly shared a bedroom when I was a boy-crazy college coed, and she was a baseball-crazy elementary school student. As often happens when someone close to you dies, my sister and I had a renewed sense of the quick passage of time and a desire to cling tightly to this sister-relationship we had taken for granted for so long.
I suggested that the following year we should take a road trip together. Just the two of us. How about Nova Scotia? She agreed and because I take a lot of long trips (or possibly because I am bossy) I became the planner. Whenever I asked her preferences, she said, “I'm just along for the ride.” Of course that made me nervous. With a spouse, that reply can be a trap. Would she, spouse-like, question everything after it was too late to change plans?
I knew that this trip would never pass muster at a Match.com for travel partners.
She goes to bed early and gets up early. I hate to go to bed and get up at the last possible moment.
She wants coffee when she pops out of bed. I can't stand the smell, let alone the taste.
We are not only registered with opposing political parties, we both actively have worked for candidates of those parties.
She likes Rock 'n Roll and NASCAR. I like Frank Sinatra and believe NASCAR stands for what The Reduced Shakespeare Company calls “Non-Athletic Sport Centered Around Rednecks.”
I am almost always too cool and need heaters and piles of blankets. She likes to sleep with the window open. In the winter. (Or in a tent in Yellowstone Park in June when there is still snow on the ground.)
I take half an hour to get my make up right, she doesn't even wear lipstick.
So our trip would be a disaster, right? Wrong. It was an extraordinary time. We discovered that all those differences were superficial in the face of the wonders of Nova Scotia.
What difference do cosmetics make when you get to play adult dress up at a dinner party for French Colonists in Louisbourg at the Beggar's Banquet. "More ale, wench!"
Who cares whether you are drinking coffee or tea when you drive the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island and see cliffs dropping down to the crashing waves of the Atlantic? (She said she saw a whale, but I didn't see it, so it doesn't count.)
Who cares what time you go to bed, when you climb, warm from a bath in a claw-foot tub, into an antique bed with a comfy mattress in a 19th century house in the historic town of Annapolis Royal?
Who cares what kind of music you usually listen to when you can hear home grown Celtic musicians perform at a Ceilidh in the parish hall of a Catholic church in Baddeck?
Who cares what time you eat dinner when it comes with fresh seafood--lobster and fat scallops from Dingle and tender haddock cooked twenty different ways.
We finished each others' sentences. We needed rest stops at exactly the same time. We found the same things funny. We collapsed into hilarity with the kind of laughter that chokes you and has you belly-dancing in your car seat and keeps sneaking back to shatter your composure again and again. (All because of a sign offering Provincial Information. We figured as Americans, we probably asked some pretty provincial questions. Well, maybe you had to be there, seeing all '?' signs denoting information stops seemingly at every intersection.)
Our ancestral gypsy spirit kicked in. Our genetic similarities overrode the environmentally-influenced habits we have acquired since she was a baby and I was big sis back there in Ohio.
And for our next trip? Maybe we'll even let our brother come along.
Vera Marie Badertscher travels as often as possible. When she's not traveling, she is reading and writing about books about travel at her blog, A Traveler's Library. Her travels these days include book signing for Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist, (http://tahomablog.com) which she wrote with Charnell Havens.