Mom traveled nearly every year until her early 80s. She became a wheelchair advocate for seniors at airports as soon as it became available to her. The wheelchair service, in fact, helped extend her travel years, as it may have also prolonged her life.
She had felt safe and secure traveling, even alone, to the United States in particular, a favorite and frequent destination. Of course, it further helped that a relative or friend was on hand to meet her.
If mom were living still she’d be glad to know I have myself become a wheelchair regular as a traveler.
Mom started availing herself of the wheelchair soon after she reached seniorhood. But, more concerned about image than my comfort, afraid that if anyone saw me in a wheelchair it might start a rumor I had had a stroke or something worse, I have waited 15 more years or so.
It’s hard to imagine any senior refusing the luxury, although Vergel, well qualified by age, is still holding out. I guess, while he’s still winning tennis tournaments—at singles!— against much younger men, I’ll let him be.
But me—I’m beyond recall. It’s the only way I can go through any airport with any sense of security. And Vergel is only delighted himself to share in the indirect benefit of a burden lifted off him—me and my stuff (I’m still learning to travel light—he himself travels very light, and I suspect that is compensatory).
Mom must have made a lot of wheelchair assistants happy. She was a generous tipper. I try to keep to the tradition, but, on a recent trip from Japan, I was surprised by the reaction of my pusher.
“Huwag po dito, bawal, ma’am, may CCTV. Sa labas na po.”
Mom, herself, would not have let good service go un-tipped, rule or no rule.
However, the wheelchair was as far as she’d go for her comfort. When in her late 70s I suggested she fly business class, she gave me that I-thought-you-were-smart look, which she reserved for unwelcome suggestions.
“Kalokohan, sayang ang pera! If the plane goes down, everybody goes down with it whatever class you’re in—first or economy!”
For some reason, mom disdained credit cards, too, and preferred to carry cash. On my insistence, she began carrying one, but never used it. On one of her last yearly trips to the US, I got an SOS from her for money. She had lost her cash and was convinced her seatmate had stolen it during one of her toilet trips.
After that incident she stopped traveling altogether. Strangely enough, she also stopped all medications, including the daily pricking of her fingertip for sugar count. Soon enough, after a lechon dinner, obviously in defiance of all dietary prescriptions, she slept and took her last bon voyage to heaven. She had left five years of American visa unused.
I have many memories of trips with mom. I loved most our trips to Europe before my first marriage. She was an energetic and tireless companion who believed one had to maximize time abroad, surrendering only to sleep after spending all waking hours touring or shopping.
She languished in long bubble baths late at night, taking time off her sleep but never from daytime tourist activities. I’d be asleep before she was done.
In recent travels with Vergel in Europe, I was again reminded of a trip to Paris with mom. I picked a small quaint hotel strategically located in an older part of Paris with soft fluffy beds one could disappear into.
Her main concern was the bathroom, and, when she couldn’t find one inside our room, I was as shocked as she! The huge, lavish bathroom was down the corridor! And that wasn’t the worst part: It was common to the two rooms on our floor!
Traveling with mom made me realize she was a truly giving person, although she limited the virtue to bargains, which made her a self-proclaimed wise buyer.
But she surprised even me when, after we watched a fashion show at the Balenciaga house in Madrid and I became enamored of a blue belted summer dress with an off-the-shoulder collar, she bought it for me.
Travels with mom turned out to be precious bonding time. I grew up with my paternal grandparents and moved back with my parents in high school, and after high school I left for Spain where my grandparents were waiting to meet me and two cousins to put us in school there. Mom and I hardly had time living together.
On those trips by ourselves we made up, and in the company of others, much about us was revealed to both ourselves and each other. She was easy and organized, and got along well with everybody. It made me see her in a different light and under circumstances out of the ordinary situations at home.
Despite her strong opposition to the breakup of my first marriage, she did the grand thing of taking me with her to the US to keep me company on my first Christmas as a separated woman.
I look at our travels together as mother and daughter as God-given opportunities to more than make up for all the lost time—for which I am so very grateful.