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Live from New Jersey: A new perspective

An emergency trip cost more than I wanted to spend. But you can't put a price on some things.

By Donna_Freedman Apr 9, 2010 10:40AM
Springtime in the country whips me into a fevered state. I want to garden and then preserve the harvest. I want to pitch a clothesline and buy a wood stove.

The best I could do this week was to hang out a couple of loads of wash, help my dad stack a pickup's worth of stove lengths, rake salt hay mulch off the garden patch and sneak covetous looks at the pressure canner in his basement.

See what happens to a Seattle resident after a few days in the boonies?

Six days ago I flew back to the rural New Jersey (that is not a typo) town where I grew up. I made the trip on the spur of the moment. It cost a lot more than I wanted to spend, even though I used both a discount ticket broker and a cash-back shopping site. I won't get home until 11:15 p.m. Sunday and I have jury duty at 8:30 Monday morning.

But boy, am I glad I'm here.

Defying the odds

I came here fully prepared to say goodbye to a gravely ill relative. In fact, I was afraid she would die before I got here.

Since I hadn't planned to visit my hometown until autumn, Aunt Dot was very surprised to see me. When she opened her eyes and saw me at her bedside, she whispered, "Is it September already?"

Then, bless her heart, she made liars out of the doctors. Although she is still very, very sick and will never get better (she's 87 years old and has emphysema and congestive heart failure), she somehow stabilized enough to be sent home two days after I arrived.

I've seen her every day and done whatever I could: massaged her swollen feet, helped her to the toilet chair, pleaded with her to eat (she’s down to less than 90 pounds) and listened to her reminisce.

This aunt is one of my last links with my mother, and I wanted at least one more chance to talk with her. I feel lucky to have gotten it. And as contrary as she is, maybe I really will see her in September. She loves to defy a prognosis.

Laundry and gunshots

I've also felt lucky to visit with my father, my stepmom and my brother. Later today, I'll see another aunt.

I've enjoyed some regional treats. A cheesesteak in Seattle is really just roast-beef scraps on a baguette.

I may have the chance to go "downashore" with my brother and his family. The boardwalk will be quiet at this time of year, but that's all right with me. What I really want is to hear Atlantic Ocean. I've forgotten how it sounds.
I'd also forgotten about the scent of laundry that dried in the wind and sun. If you have the chance to hang out your wash, then for heaven's sake, do.

I'd forgotten how good soil smells when it's freshly turned and begging for a handful of pepper or tomato seeds.

I'd forgotten how peaceful the country can be. (Except, of course, for the day when corrections officers at a nearby federal prison use the firing range.)

Dragged out of frugal lockdown

No, this wasn't a vacation I would have chosen. I had two deadlines to meet this week and more to the point, I didn't really want to spend the money. In the past two months I've made trips to Anchorage, Alaska, and to Phoenix. While both vacations were done as cheaply as possible, they did cost me.
I'd planned to go into frugal lockdown, pinching pennies to save for a summer trip to Alaska, where I've lined up a house-sitting gig. Instead, I dropped nearly $600 on airfare and rushed back out the door.

But I fully realize how lucky I am. Having resigned myself never to hear my aunt's voice again, I realized that I could because:

Having finished my degree, I had the flexibility to travel on the spur of the moment.

Having lived frugally, I was able to pay for the ticket.

Having relatives willing to meet me at the airport and put me up in the spare room made the trip more affordable. (A lot more bearable, too, because when I come back exhausted and sad each day, my dad and stepmom are here to listen.)

More right than wrong

You just can't put a price on some things. Sure, I'd love to have that $600 back. But I'm so glad I was able to get back here.

I'm also grateful for the perspective this trip has given me. During the layover in Minneapolis I was thinking about what has gone wrong in my life: losses I’ve suffered, setbacks I’ve been dealt. Yet I had to admit that things have gone more right than wrong.

I also had to acknowledge that even the "wrong" things ultimately were right. The tough times have either taught me something I needed to know or made the good times seem that much better.

No, I can't be happy that I'm facing the imminent loss of yet another family member. What I can do is realize that I was blessed to have had her at all.

I forget that sometimes, too.

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