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  • I was not quite as regular to call every Sunday, but today it was.


    That sing song voice... it used to annoy me, now I cherish it. "Hello, Alan!"

    She had figured out caller ID.

    "Hi Mom, how are you?'

    "Alan!! Where are you, that is the question."

    "I'm still in the Toronto area, this a great week visiting my friend Giulia, but I am heading out this morning."

    "Where are you going next?"

    "I hope to get to Montreal, but it's a long trip, so I'm planning on staying with my new friend, Andy. It's about halfway."

    "Well, be careful!"

    "Of course Mom... I wanted to see how you were 'cause I am thinking about you and it being ten years since Dad passed away."

    "it's hard, and I look at where his chair and say, 'Mick, why did you go?' I'm making my cookies today. Thanks for remembering."

    "I miss him too. Ten years is a long time. I am sure you will see lots of butterflies today."

    "He was so proud of you, you know that?"

    "Yes I do, Mom. Will you be ok?"

    "Yes, I have to make my cookies and do my rounds tomorrow. Thank you for calling Alan, you be careful, and CALL me!"

    "I love you, Mom"

    "I love you too."

    That's my recall. I know we did our usual teasing and laughing, something that actually did not come into a lot of our conversations until a few years ago. I'm still a long ways from Fort Myers, but am hoping to get there by early November, and maybe spend Thanksgiving with Mom, different from our last few years when she's flown out to Arizona to visit.

    Ten years. I find that hard to believe. When my Dad was my age, I was 11. There is some sort of perspective there.

    Leaving here after such a magical, unexpected week of fun and love is... to say, not easy. It's done with understanding- this was a special moment, such a special one, and I am going with no expectations either way.

    The drive clockwise around Lake Ontario is nothing remarkable except for the volume of traffic; is this returning from holiday weekend? Every other person seems to have "a cottage" somewhere north of here. I'm curious what that area looks like. Guess I will have to return.

    Needing a break, I look up and find on my map a hiking trail that is near the nuclear power plant at Picketing. That combination intrigues me with photographic potential, but alas, at the trail head I find little information and a closed gate. That's how it goes.

    Just be sending out a twitter message where I was, my friend Kim (who I just met in Hamilton) says I am near where she lives and we meet up for coffee somewhere outside of Oshawa. It's nice to talk, she is dealing with some health issues from her Dad, and I share my memories on this day.

    On my way out of the coffee shop I notice a convenience store across the parking lot. I realize I may be leaving Ontario in a day, and I still have not sent Mom a postcard from Ontario. On this road trip I'd been making it a habit to send her a postcard from every state/province. It was a throwback to a family relative I barely remember, Cousin Bobby, who was a world traveler (when he was not a postal worker). We would get this post cards that would say "Hi from Ecuador, Bobby" or "Hi from Vienna, Bobby".

    So Mom got a series of "Hi from Colorado, Alan" ... "Hi from Idaho, Alan" ... "Hi from Washington, Alan" ... "Hi from British Columbia, Alan" ... "Hi from Alberta, Alan" ... "Hi from Saskatchewan, Alan" ... "Hi from Manitoba, Alan" ...

    Ontario was big, but I was nearing the eastern end. I bought a card, and took it with me. I figured I would mail it tomorrow from Belleville, where Andy lived.

    The next few hours of driving highway 1 were un-remarkable. At the exit for Belleville, I noticed passing Quintee Mall, making me smile at the story told by another new friend met in Hamilton, Stephen, of his efforts to return an un-needed wedding ring.

    Somehow I had managed to be prompt and showed up ar the restaurant Andy had chosen to meet; he brought an educator colleague. Kent had similar interests in digital storytelling and the food (I think I had mussels), beer, and conversation was all comfortable.

    I glanced at my phone and saw a string of missed calls. A number in Florida, followed by three in a row from my sister, Harriet. That struck me as odd. Harriet usually texts me. So I stepped outside to make the call.

    My sister voice was not the normal tone I normally hear. "Mom is gone! She's dead! Irene found her."

    The world froze right there. This was the possibility I never imagined as possible. Mom was in great health, she had lots of friends, we talked and laughed. I was going to see her in a few weeks.


    We would never know exactly what happened besides her heart giving out, but sometime in the evening of the same day my Dad died, my Mom left this world too. She had baked some cookies, and was likely in her kitchen. She must have literally flown before she hit the floor, as she never even pressed the Life Alert she wore on her neck (and she had used it before).


    You never expect to be without parents in this world. What does that make you? I would find out.

    A few months later, when my sisters and I met to clean out Mom's house, we would find the tin of the last batch of cookies she made, hidden below the boxtop of a jigsaw puzzle. Harriet would complete the puzzle while we were there, then we laughed about all the times as kids we would hide the last piece to claim victory.

    On the counter in the kitchen was mounted all of the postcards I had sent along the way. At her funeral, I delivered the last postcard I had not gotten to send.

    Shock is not a word you truly understand until you are in it. And in the middle you actually do not understand it either. For some reason, seeking the comfort via the channel of how I am connected, I sent out a message on twitter (with my usual typos):

    Travel plans are scratched. Just got call my mom passed away. One day after anniversary if my Dad's death.

    (As a clarification on dates- today is the day Mom passed away, but she was not found until the next morning, and it was that evening I got the call).

    Why would I put the greatest loss out on tyhe internet? I needed to feel not alone, and that was where I had real friends, not the click-add type of Facebook. That's what I had been finding on this trip. And I would find even more in the next days, weeks. Heck, a friend I never met in Argentina would be among others making cookies in my Mom's name.

    My new friend's Andy and Kent could not have been more present. We somberly finished dinner. "What do you want / need to do?"

    They understood when I said I'd like to walk and take some photos. The evening light was glowing, and sunset is my favorite time.

    Andy could not have been a better friend that night, setting me up in his Curious George themed room, sharing with me whiskey and we played music in his living room. He dedicated and played The Stones song, "She's a Rainbow". This song would come up in my shuffle a few months later, at the 15,000 mile marker of my trip, 30 miles away from my home in Arizona.

    And now, everything planned would be different. Instead of the next day heading for more exploring and friends to connect with in Montreal, I would detour south to Baltimore to put my Mom's body in the earth.

    That last phone call this morning? When I looked back at the log of my calls, it was barely two minutes long. It was just like many calls we had shared early. It was like many I fully expected to have going forward.

    She comes in colors everywhere;
    She combs her hair
    She's like a rainbow
    Coming colors in the air
    Oh, everywhere
    She comes in colors

    Have you seen her all in gold
    Like a queen in days of old
    She shoots colors all around
    Like a sunset going down
    Have you seen the lady fairer

    Everything is different now on this path. It always works that way, you can tell others. But when it's you? Well, I could tell you all about it, I will try, but this is the truest of things I learned, have learned, will learn.

    And everything is what happened next, is happening right now...

    "Yes, Mom. I can hear you."

    I am using Cowbird to share the story of a 15,000 mile road odyssey I took in 2011, which started with me quitting my job in March and setting out in June for a loop around the US and Canada. It's less of a day by day narrative and more of an attempt to tell a story of the story, with some amounts of imagined bits that emerge on looking at the media from the trip, including the more than 1400 images, videos, and audio files collected in my digital time capsule, the Storybox.
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