Road Trippin'

Rose Jakubaszek

Winner 2022 Travel Story
© Copyright 2022 Rose Jakubaszek 

Photo courtesy of Pexels.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.

When my mother got formally diagnosed with dementia, the first thing my brother wanted to do was take a family road trip to keep things “normal”. About a month later, we were checking into a hotel room on the first leg of our trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park. While my brother investigated dinner options at the hotel desk, I released the death grip on my Xanax bottle just long enough to put my mother down for a nap.

I was horrified to find my mother gone after I had stepped briefly into the bathroom to unpack some toiletries. She had slipped out the door and down the hallway wearing only a T-shirt, diaper, and no shoes.

Tiny, unsteady on her feet, and in a strange place to boot, I was out of my mind thinking what kind of predicament my mother could get herself into. When I did find her however, she looked like she was having the time of her life, happily chatting away and holding court with some workmen outside.

She tottered hesitantly towards me when I called out to her, escorted by one of the men. Relieved, but furious, I began scolding her. Looking right at me, the man who had walked her back interrupted in a calm voice, “It’s OK, miss. We wouldn’t let anything happen to your mom. She told us she was taking her kids on vacation, and she lost them somewhere, but that she’d find them in time for supper. She wasn’t scared. She’s a hot ticket! You have a good day.” Then he kissed my mother on the cheek, handed her over, and went back to work.

When we got to our room, my mother headed straight for bed, pulling the covers all the way over her head. My brother came in right behind us, and I wasted no time blubbering through the story of my mother’s escapade. Then I plopped on the floor, frustrated and ashamed for yelling at my clueless, demented mother. My brother dropped down next to me, gently wrapping his arms around me, and whispered “You guys are OK, right? We’re all going to be fine, really. You’ll see. We’ll be laughing about this before you know it, just like we always do about Mom’s shenanigans. BUT, from now on, someone MUST always have eyes on Mom, and it won’t just be you. I promise.”

I started day two of the Yosemite trek chomping on a handful of antacid tablets and affirming “All is well in my life”, but my stomach dropped anyways when my mother demanded that we stop at a gas station so that she could buy a hat. My mother loved hats and loved shopping for them even more, although why she needed one right then was a mystery.

She did the senior citizen shuffle into the gas station’s store, completely bypassing a display of old lady bucket hats in pastel colors that were normally her preferred type of head covering. Instead, she headed straight for a rack of baseball caps. Most had sayings or corporate logos, definitely not her style. But one did catch her eye, and after teetering momentarily on tip toes to grab it, she immediately planted it on her head. “This one,” she said firmly. My brother and I shot each other a look. The cap she had selected was light coffee colored with a huge green marijuana leaf covering the front. “Are you sure, Ma? Why that one?” I asked. She looked at me like I was ridiculous, and started ambling away, her new lid tipping precariously to the left. “Wait, we have to pay,” my brother called after her, laughing. “Get the same hat, and show it to the cashier. We’ll meet you outside,” he shouted my way.

After paying, I turned to see my mother slowly approaching the door being held open by two big biker dudes. They were grinning like Cheshire cats, and once she passed, they entered laughing. “What happened?” I asked my brother once we were all in the car. “Oh, the biker boys told Mom they liked her hat, and she said “Of course”, and just walked away. I peeked at my mother in the backseat and saw her looking out the window, her eyes shining more brightly than I had seen in weeks.

Despite our light-hearted rest stop surprise, I worried that the rest of the trip would be more Jurassic Park than Yosemite Park, with unknown dangers lurking everywhere. Little did I know that the high hat hijinks were just beginning.

At Yosemite in the wheelchair with her marijuana leaf hat front and center, my mother attracted attention from everyone. A group of women approached, pointed to her hat and giggled, along with big thumbs up. Some snarky teenage boys asked “How high are you?” and then ran away. One older guy commented on her hat, asking if she would sell it. “Yes,” she said impishly. “For you, only a million dollars.” “Well,” he guffawed. “That’s too high a price for me!” Then he winked and walked away. My mother beamed.

At one point, my mother announced that she wanted to take home some trail pebbles. She whipped off her brand-new cap and insisted we deposit all the dusty, dirty stones she pointed to, directly into it. Then she cradled the cap carefully in her lap so that none of her tiny treasures spilled. When it was time to leave, she automatically just lifted the cap onto her head, and the pebbles rained down around her. My mother looked at me, stuck out her tongue, yelled “Oh S***!”, and began laughing maniacally. “Best. Road. Trip. Ever.” my brother declared, and he swung my mother’s wheelchair around and ran toward the parking lot, howling along with her loony laughter all the way.

After that, road tripping became one of our favorite things to do with Mom. As long as she wore her weed hat, we were OK and almost “normal”. We can’t remember what happened to the hat after Mom passed, but we’ll never forget that our family trip down Dementia Drive was a little less bumpy because of it.

Rose Jakubaszek lives in the hilly City by the Bay of San Francisco, California. She writes personal essays and poetry about her experiences growing up in a multicultural household; Spanish- a little spice, and Polish- a little ice, and the impact that's had on her life. Her mantra when writing is “Make ‘em feel it, and make it funny.”

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