Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Mom's Life

My mom was a woman that you couldn't pin down. She grew up in Detroit, Michigan. When she met a man she wanted to marry and her parents thought she was too young, she took off. I was born shortly thereafter in Memphis, Tennessee.
Mom at Detroit Yacht Club
Mom and Richie Andrews (my Father)

Detroit, Memphis, Honolulu

My father had joined the Navy and was soon transferred to Honolulu, Hawaii. Mom learned to surf and dance the hula. She put her 2 year old daughter on the front of the surfboard, and got me my own hula outfit. She told me years later that I was never in diapers - she just held me in the surf! Mom was nothing if not unconventional!



Fort Lauderdale, Florida

That marriage didn't work out, so she took me to live with her parents, then in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They had started a business called Florida Sea Life Aquarium in Dania beach and they got the whole family involved. Mom's twin brothers would go out into the ocean and get the critters for the tanks. We raised alligators in our back yard and when they were big enough they would go to the aquarium to be wrestled by one of her brothers while Mom held a microphone and called the action for the crowd.


Later she worked at a shell jewelry factory making necklaces, earrings, and bracelets from local shells. Then she went on to be a bet taker at Dania Jai Alai. This is where she met the last man she would marry - Tom Van Valkenburg. Tom was a photographer at the Jai Alai palace. The story I heard was that he wanted to get as far away from her parents as possible.

Seattle, Washington

We moved to Seattle, Washington - they got married at some stop along the way on this momentous journey. While living in Seattle, they were both in sales. Tom sold waterless cookware door to door while Mom sold Beauty Counselor products in home parties. In Seattle, they heard a lot about the land of opportunity in Alaska, so they packed up and took off, driving 1500 miles of dirt road known as the Alcan highway in 1959. We started living in Anchorage before Alaska became a state!

Mom's notes from the Seattle to Anchorage trip in July 1959, click to enlarge. You can then enlarge more by right-clicking -> Open in new window, then click with the + icon.



Alaska

Tom was an adventurous, pioneering type. Cars, boats, planes, he could manage any of them and Mom was thrilled to encourage the travels. They both got pilots licenses to fly our Cessna 180 plane. That plane never had wheels. In the summer it had floats, and in winter - skis. Camping meant putting some food in the plane and taking off from Lake Hood, flying to the interior of Alaska somewhere that they knew about a log cabin on a river. With the plane on floats, we would land in the river and stay in the cabin for a couple of nights before heading home. As an 8 year old girl I remember thinking that I may be walking on ground where no human foot had ever stepped. Pretty adventurous stuff.



One summer we took our river boat up the Yukon to the 40-Mile river. They had heard about gold in that river and equipped themselves with dive masks, compressor, and other gear to be able to dredge up some river bottom and sluice it into gold pans. We may have found a few nuggets, but the real gold was in the experience. We were there, in the wilderness, for a couple of months, a friend with his own plane would fly in and land on the river to bring us supplies.


While living in Anchorage, Dad (Tom) was a salesman. First on car lots, later for a shipping company (Puget Sound Alaska Van Lines.) Mom was a bookkeeper for the County - or "Borough" I think it was called. When this all got too dull, and winter got too cold, they attended a talk at the city library given by someone who said there were job openings in Ecuador for anyone who wanted to supervise a banana plantation. They thought that sounded like a great idea! They bought a truck camper, put our mobile home up for sale, and took off in the dead of winter. I was in 3d grade at the time. Mom got together with my teacher and got all the books she would need to teach me on the road. Home schooling before it was a thing!



Guatemala

Three months later we had made it as far as Guatemala - March 1962. We had met some people who invited us to stay at their coffee plantation - Finca La Paz - in Panajachel, Guatemala. While there, my Dad caught malaria and was totally incapacitated for a while. The rainy season came and made it impossible to travel south on the Pan-American highway. They decided to call off the rest of the journey and return home to Alaska. My Mom had to drive. The story I heard is that by the time we arrived back in Anchorage, they had no money at all. Luckily, our mobile home had not sold, so we had some place to live, they were able to find new jobs, and life went on.




Earthquake

We were still living in Anchorage on Good Friday, 1964 when one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded hit. Dad was now a professional photographer working in the camera shop at JC Penney's. He was commissioned to take the aerial photos of the area that got sent to Washington, D.C. and helped to declare us a national disaster area for purposes of relief funding.


Luckily for us, we had just returned from a trip to Florida, and neither of them went in to work that day, so we were all home together. Otherwise, my Dad may have been in the JC Penney building which collapsed during the earthquake.

Alaska to Florida

We finally had enough of the cold and snow and decided to move to Florida in 1966. They sold our house, bought a camper trailer, and fitted a rack on the top of the car for taking a boat with us. We took 3 months to travel across Canada and down the east coast. Another epic trip.



Mother-Daughter, CPA-Lawyer

The plan for living in Florida was for both Mom and Dad to join Mom's parents in their Real Estate company, and hopefully take over in a few years. That didn't work out and Mom decided it was time for her to get serious about making a professional income. When I was in my junior year of high school, she went back to college, got her MBA and took the exam to become a Certified Public Accountant. Yay Mom!
I went off to college then with Mom's encouragement to go on to law school. It took me a while, and a couple of detours to live in Canada and then California, but I did become a lawyer and established a practice in Morro Bay, California. Mom came to visit and helped me shop for more professional clothes than the jeans and jacket I wore.
Mom with Reed Ringle - a partner with the CPA firm, Ringle, Heeb and Assoc. This is at a reunion party that she organized, many years after leaving the firm.
Mom visits me in Morro Bay and takes me shopping for professional clothes.

Mom made a good, steady income while Dad worked real estate and made an occasional great deal. They were soon able to travel whenever they wanted. They both got certified as scuba divers in the late 70s and went on dive trips to the Bahamas, Cozumel, and the Caribbean. They got along best when they were traveling, so they did that a lot.
1978 When Mom and Dad got their scuba certification

They convinced me to get scuba certified while in California and then go with them on a dive trip to Cay Sal Banks. I loved it and soon decided to move back to Florida and join my Mom in the business venture she was cooking up called Computer Workshop. After being best friends with my Mom all my life, we were now business partners as well and it was great. That was 1983. We ran that business, later known as Computer Savvy, until we sold it in 1996.

She continued her non-conventional ways even in business. Instead of giving bonuses to employees, it was her idea to sign them up for scuba classes and take the whole company on a trip to Cozumel. We had open house demonstrations where she showed off new features of  Excel, exclaiming 'Oh Wow!" with every new demo. She encouraged me to take more leadership roles and she started taking more time off. By 1989 she left Tom, found an apartment of her own to share with her cat, and determined to travel by herself. Not one to take small steps, her first solo venture was trekking in Kathmandu! I remember picking her up at the airport upon her return with feet bandaged up that she could hardly put sandals on.

She and I went on a lot of scuba diving trips together. She was a great buddy - the primary goal in life was to have fun. She joined the dive club I belonged to - USADiveClub.com - and got very involved.
When I met Jim, and he became my main dive buddy, Mom was unhappy for a while. But then she realized how much she liked Jim and all 3 of us would go on dive trips together. I remember when she would call our house sometimes, she would talk to Jim for 20 minutes and he never would give the phone to me! Once she called late at night and said, there's a meteor shower supposed to happen between 3 and 4am. The best place for viewing is at the edge of the Everglades - about a 45 minute drive - wanna go? We did. What a great memory, resting against the hood of the car looking up into the sky watching all the falling stars with my 2 best friends!
For Mom's 70th birthday, Jim and I took her to Walker's Key in the Bahamas and went diving on their famous Shark Rodeo. We were in the water with at least 50 sharks circling around. It was a struggle to keep their little party hats on, but it was a great time.
When Jim and I took off in an RV in 2004, Mom continued to dive and travel with her dive club buddies: Red Sea, Palau, Wakatobi, Myanmar, Adaman Sea, Antarctica, Bhutan, Namibia, and on and on. I tried to compile a complete list on her blog.

Our last major trip together was in 2006 when she took both Jim and me to Fiji for a week on the liveaboard dive boat - Nai'a. What a fabulous trip. Her last year of travel was 2008, she went to Australia, North Korea (yes, you read that right), Cyprus, Jordan, and finally Petra. Her travel buddy, Sue, told me she was worried about Mom. I knew what she meant. Mom was confused all the time. I had to start going to doctor's appointments with her because she didn't understand what was going on. In 2009 she was officially diagnosed with dementia of the Alzheimer's type. I knew I couldn't let her live alone anymore when I noticed the smoke stains on the wall behind the toaster oven. This professional, CPA woman who had always done my tax returns for me, could not grasp the fact that she had missed the last 2 payments on her condo. She never openly acknowledged that anything was wrong, but I doubt that it was sheer coincidence that she took me to our wills and trusts attorney in 2007 and made sure that everything, including a Power of Attorney, was signed and in order. In 2009 and 10 we took her with us in the RV several times, and I planned a few trips just her and me. In November 2010, I moved her into an assisted living facility. She had a beautiful room with a view, and I think she enjoyed it ok. She continued to just slip away. Never complaining (well, except about Jim taking her car away) always smiling, but just fading, fading. My mom, the fearless traveler, the woman who loved having fun and coming up with ideas for others to have fun too, simply wasn't there anymore. Now, in 2018, she doesn't even know her own name. She hasn't recognized me in several years. She doesn't even know what a daughter is. If it weren't for the aides at her facility, she would never get out of bed.
People say, "you're lucky to still have your Mom." Uh - no I don't have her. She's been gone for nearly 10 years. Her body is still here, but she's gone. I don't know where she went.
Hospice has been called in now. Maybe this hell is nearly over.

Jim recorded when I gave this speech at our Toastmasters club. 

Thanks Mom!


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