“Think of the long trip home.”
–Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel
For almost all of my twenties and thirties I resided in Austin, Texas; my widowed mother lived 2,000 miles away in our ancestral home outside Asbury Park, New Jersey. Game to the last, she visited often, particularly after her grandsons appeared on the scene.
She would come out of the baggage claim with her roller bag and tote, a Carlton 100 clamped between her lips, and after a quick kiss I would inquire, “How was your trip?”
For my mother, the reply to this question was no routine nicety. “Tough,” she might pronounce, sucking on the skinny white cigarette smoked in the car despite all protests. Then she would dive into the account with relish, exuding the triumphant yet embittered air of a field marshal summarizing a battle won after many reversals.
As her visit proceeded, others would politely pose the same question, and she would tell her tale again and again. Certain words would float toward me over the hum of conversation at a party or bar — runway, turbulence, layover.
Later, when I moved to Pennsylvania, she could get almost as much of a nail-biter out of her three-hour drive on the turnpike, fraught as it was with overturned tractor-trailers, inexplicable jams at Bethlehem or Pottsville, mysterious aberrations in the operation of E-Z Pass.
Well, the only pursuit more delightful than recalling one’s mother’s quirks is re-enacting them. I find myself adopting so many of the questionable habits of lost loved ones these days, from my father’s bellowing and name-calling, to my grandmother’s bottomless dish of Hershey’s Kisses, to my first husband’s weakness for synthetic codeine. An odd sort of memorial, but a memorial nonetheless, and in that light I present this logistics-only account of a recent trip to Uganda with my mother’s namesake, my daughter Jane. We flew there the day after Christmas to visit our friends, Jim and Steve, a writer and a medical researcher, who are based in Kampala for a year.