Mom's Traveling Handkerchief
I remember Mom often retelling her biggest travel adventure. One time, she took an overnight train from Buffalo to Cleveland. Her most memorable tale from that journey was being able to sleep using her suitcase for a pillow. I often think of her when I am about to fall asleep on an intercontinental flight and say to myself, "Yes, Mom, we do travel well."
Life was tough when I was a little girl. There were five of us children — one older sister, two older brothers, me, and my younger sister — with only seven years between the oldest and youngest. Dad was an alcoholic and missing a lot. We survived through the help of a strong neighborhood, a supportive church, and supportive relatives. Dad eventually stopped drinking and became a leader in the Buffalo, N.Y., Alcoholics Anonymous group.
My mom was the major influence in the lives of my siblings and me, although I did not recognize it at the time. Through all this, Mom soldiered on, raising us to be hardworking, respectful, and always inquisitive. But sadly, there wasn’t much money for extras, such as traveling.
Mom always talked of wanting to see the world. She was always reading. I acquired a love of reading and a love of books from her. I remember Mom often retelling her biggest travel adventure. One time, she took an overnight train from Buffalo to Cleveland. Her most memorable tale from that journey was being able to sleep using her suitcase for a pillow. For this reason, she always believed she could travel well over great distances. I often think of her when I am about to fall asleep on an intercontinental flight and say to myself, “Yes, Mom, we do travel well.”
She was a stay-at-home mom and enjoyed crafts, crocheting being one of the things that relaxed her. I still have a handkerchief she crocheted. Mom gave her handkerchiefs to all of us sibs. I have taken mine all over the world as I traveled for pleasure and business. I carry Mom’s handkerchief as a tribute to her and a surrogate for what she wanted but was never able to obtain.
I put the handkerchief into my purse after my first flight — from Cleveland to Buffalo, incidentally — to see Mom one last time as she lay dying in the hospital. I remember being torn between emotions: the wonder of the surreal view of the Earth from the air as the snow fell and the anxiety of going to see Mom for what was likely the last time, hoping I arrived in time to say goodbye.
I was a graduate student at Kent State University at the time, working on my master’s in physics. I now feel like that part of Mom has visited more than 40 countries and most states. I traveled for business, working as a physicist. I even lived in Taiwan in the late 1980s on assignment for my company. There, I became very close to a local family; they still call me Mom and Grandma. I also traveled for pleasure with my spouse and, for the past 38 years, with an international nonprofit home-hosting organization, Friendship Force International.
I have a photo of me with Mom’s traveling handkerchief on a train near Kaiserslautern, Germany. My older brother was stationed there with the Army. He saved every letter Mom sent him, each one seven or eight pages long. All my siblings have found it enlightening and enjoyable to sit around at reunions and read our family history, as recorded by Mom’s letters. In one revealing letter she wrote to my brother on June 19, 1957, 8:30 a.m.: “... thanks so much for the booklet of scenes of Washington. Must be a beautiful place. Would love to travel and see different places but I don’t think I ever will.”
Mom never made it to Washington or Kaiserslautern, but her handkerchief did. And I later retired to a suburb of D.C., relocating from Fort Worth, Texas, a decision I wonder if that letter influenced.
Mom lived through the 1918 pandemic and still wanted to travel to see the world. Her handkerchief remains in my purse, ready to go international or domestic with me. When this pandemic is over, we will travel the world together, living Mom’s dream and mine.