My wife and I used to travel…a lot. Not so much any more. Nowadays, our adventure schedule remains whittled down to a few short weekend excursions sprinkled throughout the summer months, and one short family vacation during which we spend hours standing in line. In the past, I’ve been all too eager to attribute our lack of adventure to our age. Recently, I’ve realized that this just simply isn’t true. In fact, older people tend to travel more if anything at all. I see these brave souls prowling the interstates and back roads on their Harleys and in their RVs, stoking the fires of adventure with the kids inheritance and searching for all those missed experiences deferred for family life during middle-age. Armed to the teeth with bank accounts bulging from abstinent lifestyles, and saddlebags, and fanny-packs swollen just slightly larger than a sixty year old prostate, they trudge onwards wielding their testosterone gels with great exuberance in search of that certain road with that odd little Bar-B-Q joint/bar where they shared that other joint with that strange hippie couple thirty-odd years ago. Retirement seems to create a restless stir in the hearts of the older generation. So, what is it then that tethers two fifty-ish people to their home? Did we travel before because we just didn’t have anything better to do? Maybe. Were we searching for something? If so, what? As I look around this place, I see a possible answer: stability. And how is this defined?
From my front porch I can see a garden. It needs tended constantly. There’s always a beetle or an aphid that begs discouraging, or a previously unknown blight that sends me to my laptop and off into the land of Google in search of an accurate identification and an organic method of control. Blessed with substantial rainfall, watering isn’t a problem this year. Most years, however, it isn’t like this, and regular irrigation is a must to insure that fresh, GMO-free produce will fill our bellies. I order seeds from reputable heirloom seed companies, established with the express interest of preserving pure strains, free from harmful GMO genetics. After planting a rare variety of tomato from a seed no larger than a flea, and nurturing the tender sprout into a mature plant, I find it difficult to sleep at night if I’m away from home for more than a couple of days. (Obsession? Possibly.) The fertile garden is also a perfect arena for competition among plants. Anything utilizing resources from the garden soil that doesn’t offer a tasty return for its human counter-parts earns classification as a weed, and indifference is the only fertilizer weeds require. In my garden, however, they can also grow fat on steady applications of nitrogen via worm castings. If I don’t visit the garden for a couple of days, I return to find my veggies struggling on the loosing end of a power-grab. The annual family vacation is always punctuated with a vigorous plunge into the garden, and a cardio inducing weed scramble.
As I ponder the garden, my pug brushes herself against my legs. Lucy gets impatient: if I don’t rub her, she rubs herself…on me. She is another facet of our stability–an irreplaceable, high-ranking member of the Perkins family unit. A pug certainly wouldn’t have been our breed of choice, but we really weren’t allowed a say in the matter. She was a gift from a patient at the dialysis unit where my wife works. I often feel that her presence here strikes a more profound note that what was originally intended. Fundamentally, a pug is the same as any other breed of dog, but due to limitations imposed upon this breed by their respiratory systems, they don’t catch frisbees, hunt, or make acceptable jogging partners. This runs converse to the pug’s personality, which is as unrestrained and outgoing as the most athletic of canines. They are also sensitive to certain skin disorders and allergies that demand diligent observation and treatment practices. Where they do excel, however, is with the one aspect of human existence that we all crave; companionship. Above all else, pugs are lap dogs that require frequent human interaction to remain healthy in mind and body.
Despite Lucy’s high maintenance needs and incessant snoring, she quickly found the path to our hearts, snorting the whole way. The constant, undying daily affection she provides her humans, offers us insight into the patient/nurse relationship that thrives within a caregiver environment. She has never made mention of it, but I know my wife must feel that her efforts on the dialysis floor inspire love and appreciation in the hearts of the patients whom she cares for each time she sees the gratitude in Lucy’s actions at home–her weird happy bark, her odd smile, her quirky tap-dance on the laminated floor as she anticipates her bacon snack. Even after we return home from the briefest of journeys she is bursting with joy. I prefer to believe that this sense of excitement rises also in the souls of those dependent upon my wife’s return to the clinic four days a week. I’m sure they’re not jumping out of their chairs and doing the bacon-snack dance, but I’ll wager their hearts are leaping just the same.
Perhaps the most common anchor used to moor couples to familiar surroundings is the decision to become parents. Alright, maybe it’s not always a conscious decision, but just the same, you’ve just swapped standing-room-only for waiting rooms and I-cant-feel-my-ass-anymore wooden bleachers. Also, anything with a kickstand just got listed on eBay. It’s not the children themselves that weld us in place so much as the subset of responsibilities that we inherit when we expand our gene-pool. Most recently, my sons drivers education has been the focus. I don’t recall this being such a complicated process when I was young. I learned how to drive, I passed a test and received a license. When did all these government employees get involved? After being forced repeatedly, and somewhat impolitely, to prove that me and my family are actually Americans (been here all our lives, not that it matters) I emerged feeling oddly unwelcome in my native country. In the end, however, what I choose to take away from this experience is a greater appreciation for the efforts put forth by my own parents as they prepared for me all the proper credentials necessary for a life on my own.
Stability isn’t necessarily defined as a house, a dog, a garden and a family. I suppose it’s any lifestyle that secures us to familiar surroundings. It could just as easily be a job that keeps us on the go. While many long for the open road, others marvel at the patchwork quilt passing 30,000 ft. below them while en route to their next business meeting, and ponder all the diaper changing, time clock punching, birthday party planning, and methodical yard work that keep it neatly sewn together. For these frequent flyers, perhaps that’s where the real adventure exists.
When summer is in full-swing, the Perkins family will install the sprinklers in the garden and adjust the timers. Lucy will make new friends, and long for her old ones during a stay at a local kennel, and her favorite flavor of Blue Buffalo dog food, her allergy meds, and bacon/cheese treats will be in adequate supply. The calendar hanging on the walls at our jobs will prominently display a successive row of x’s in honor of our short absence. Alerted caretakers will bid us the time-honored, oxymoronic advisory to “have fun, and be careful”. We will cram a slightly reduced version of our worldly possessions into the SUV, leaving a cubby hole for each of us to occupy. Then, resembling a scaled-down, upgraded, and much more jovial version of the Joad family, we will coax the overloaded Envoy down the road, not in search of, nor in leiu of, but rather in wonderful celebration of our stability.