Family, friends and "If I were a carpenter..." Joel makes a trip to the lumber yard.

JULY 18

It’s a travel day, the quickest and easiest we’ve had to date. It took only about 2-and-a-half hours to get from the campground where we were staying near Galena, Illinois to Waterloo, Iowa, where we’re planning to stay for a few days while visiting my mother at her home in the nearby town of Waverly.

We had an easy drive to Waterloo and a quick setup at the very nice campground there. This is where I should point out that Deanna and I make a great travel team. As soon as we arrive and park the motor home at a new campground, Deanna knows what she needs to do, I know my duties and we can get everything put up and ready to go in a matter of minutes. It helps that our RV has the kind of amenities that make it easy to set up. Putting out the table lamps, doing the room slideouts and so on is actually part of the fun of camping and our favorite time of the day is when we’re all done with setup and can settle in for a relaxing afternoon or evening.

It’s always good to visit my mother and I know we’ll enjoy spending some quality time with her over the next few days. She’s 87 (I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me revealing her age; it’s not like it’s a big secret) and she suffers greatly from rheumatoid arthritis. Along with enjoying the visit, part of my responsibilities over the next few days will be to make some changes to her home to make her surroundings more user friendly for someone who struggles to get around.

We arrived at Mom’s house today in time to do some intense lounging and chatting, along with planning for how we would spend the next few days. It’s good to be here, as this visit with my mother was a major reason why we decided to take a tour of the Midwest in the first place.

JULY 19

We’re doing some shopping for a lift chair for Mom today. For the uninitiated, a power lift recliner is a chair that, with the push of a button, lifts the person sitting in it to a near-standing position.

The chair can be a God-send to someone like my mother who struggles to get out of a conventional recliner.

After shopping around and trying out several different models, Mom settled on one that had the appearance and features (including a massage function) that she was looking for. It’ll be delivered to her house next week. I think it’s a great move for her, since she always has a hard time getting up from the gliding rocking chair she uses now.

Our evening was spent having dinner at a casino in Waterloo with George, Pat and Bob, a few of my old friends from college (the University of Northern Iowa) whom I haven’t seen in years.

Which answers the question: You have friends?

Well, yes. I got to be friends with these fun people during the crazy times we had working together as disk jockeys and news people at radio stations around the Waterloo area, including the campus student-run station. Tonight, we had a great time and a lot of laughs sharing war stories about the strange people we worked with and unbelievable experiences we had in the somewhat insane environment that was live radio back in the ‘70s.

Astute readers will note from this picture that I look a bit different these days than I did before I retired (if I knew how to add an emoji to my blog, I would insert a smiley face here. With a goatee).

Readers should also note that George is very helpfully holding a copy of that terrific crime novel Ripoff and Run, (available on Amazon.com; makes a great gift!). And wouldn’t you know, Ripoff and Run was written by an outstanding writer who happens to be a really close friend of mine (insert another smiley face here. Man, I really gotta learn how to do that emoji thing!).

JULY 20

It was a work day for Deanna, while Mom and I visited her sister, my aunt Carol, at a senior citizens’ home in Waterloo today. My cousin Linda and her husband Chuck were there as well and we had a nice time catching up on each other’s lives (and we enjoyed some ice cream!).

My objective for today was to a build a new set of stair steps for Mom’s house. The wood planks, hand rails and related supplies that I picked up from Home Depot and a Waverly lumber yard should help me pretend to know what I’m doing. Right now, Mom really struggles to negotiate the one very large step that goes from her garage into the house, so my goal is to convert that single high step into three much shorter steps, with associated hand rails.

I am certainly no one’s idea of what a carpenter should be and it didn’t help things that the temperature inside the garage while I was working was approximately that of the surface of the sun, including about 593 percent humidity. By the time I was done, I looked like a soaked and red-faced hamster that had fallen off its wheel. It took me pretty much all day to complete a project that a real handyman would finish in the amount of time it took me to find the right drill bit (I swear, somebody should invent homing devices for tools; I spend half my time on any project just trying to track down where I tossed the hammer or the drill or the screwdriver).

So the final result of today’s project was something less than aesthetically pleasing (I was going for the natural wood look, a big seller at Ikea these days). But the ultimate goal was to make a set of stair steps that’s easier and safer for Mom to navigate, and I think I managed to accomplish that. Not pretty, but rock solid. I hope it works well for her.

JULY 21

Amazingly, for the first time since we took off on this trip nearly three weeks ago, we took a few minutes this morning to take pictures of ourselves with our beautiful home on wheels. We’re having such a great time in our RV, why haven’t we done this before?

Today was a day for Deanna and me to spend some quality time with my mother, something we don’t get to do enough of, since we live so far away from her.

We started the day with brunch at Mom’s favorite Waverly café, The Wild Carrot, with the bill taken care of by a Wild Carrot gift certificate Mom received as a birthday present from my sister last month (thanks, Kathy!). After brunch, we moved on to one of her favorite local gift shops, Love & Lace, where she bought a bracelet, a beautiful scarf and a funky pair of sunglasses.

Lookin’ good, Mom!

And look what else we found in Waverly. A covered bridge! Granted, it’s only about 10 feet long, it's not even close to being antique and the water it covers is nothing more than a shallow ditch, but hey… it’s a covered bridge, so we can add it to our list.

If we have a list. Which we really don't.

After a few hours of R & R, the three of us enjoyed a crackers-and-cheese party (wine was unfortunately out of the picture for Mom, due to her arthritis medication), and then it was time for a couple of cut-throat games of Scrabble. My mother has always been a big game and puzzle fan and she looks forward to a few hard-fought games of Scrabble – her favorite board game and ours as well.

Tonight is our last night with Mom before we have to say so long until the next time we see her, which will likely be months away. I always leave her wishing we had more time to chat, reminisce or just spend time together.

I know I see my mother in a different way than most people do. When I look at her, I don’t see an 87-year-old woman who struggles with every painful step. I see the young mother who taught her kids about grace, charity, honesty and respect for others. I see the mom who taught her youngest son how to play gin rummy and how to pop popcorn in a pan on the stovetop, in those long-ago days before microwave ovens made it easy.

When I was young and single, every girl I dated remarked about how I was the only guy they knew who would always open the door for them or help them on with their coat. You’re such a gentleman, they’d say. And I’d always respond, “Thank my mom.”

I learned a lot about life from my mother. From my late dad, too. I think one of the great revelations upon becoming a grown-up is the first time you hear words coming out of your mouth that sound exactly like something your mom or dad would say. It’s a shocker the first time, but a little more comfortable each time after that, till you reach the point where you’re pretty much OK with having turned into your parents. Turns out they had a pretty good handle on life all along.

So this is what’s called the circle of life. Mom took care of me when I was little. Now it’s time for me to return the favor.

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