We just got back to Safford from Grand Junction, Colorado, where we spent a few days helping my sister Cheryl and her husband empty our mother's apartment. No need for condolences, gentle reader, my mother isn't dead. She said a couple years ago that she planned to live to be 100, and at the moment it's looking like she might do it.
My mother is 94 and has been living in an assisted living facility for a number of years. Assisted living facilities provide a person with a fair amount of independence: depending on the facility, you may have an apartment that isn't much different than what you'd have in any regular apartment complex except the unit will have features making it handicapped accessible (aka more user friendly and safe for the elderly), like a shower stall with a built in seat or bench and grab bars, outlets placed higher up the wall than in most conventional construction. and so on. When my aunt Thelma was in assisted living, she had a studio apartment that included a pretty decent kitchenette so she could have cooked real meals if she ever felt like it. My mom's apartment is a one bedroom, but has less of a kitchen than Thelma's did: my mother just has a microwave and a dorm-size refrigerator.
Anyway, assisted living facilities operate on the premise that the residents are still basically independent but for various reasons no longer feel comfortable living totally on their own. Residents are supposed to be able to take care of most of the activities of daily life (aka ADLs) like getting dressed or going to the bathroom on their own. There may be aides who will help residents with some ADLs, like taking a shower, and there are housekeepers who do things like change the linens on beds, take out the trash, and vacuum, but in general you're still living pretty independently. And, just like in a typical apartment complex, the units come unfurnished. You get to bring in all your own stuff so it really does feel like your own home.
Well, a couple weeks ago my mother fell. She had been having an upset stomach for a few days, wound up dehydrated, felt light-headed, and did a spectacular face plant while walking to the bathroom. Through sheer dumb luck she did the face plant into a bucket instead of right on to the floor, which meant no broken nose, black eyes, or smashed glasses, but it still resulted in one of the more interesting bruises I've seen: a vivid, clearly defined semi-circle across her forehead. To use her own words, it looked like she'd tried painting on clown eyebrows. Bruises tend to take a long time to fade when you're in your 90s so the line was still highly visible as of 48 hours ago.
Anyway, end result was a trip to the emergency room, a stay in the hospital that led to the discovery of another problem (like most nonagenarians she has a number of chronic comorbidities), several more days in the hospital, all while being totally bedridden, and now a stay at a rehabilitation center/skilled nursing facility. It is remarkably depressing to see how quickly a person's muscles atrophy and how weak one gets after only a few days of forced bed rest. The being on a clear liquid diet for several days didn't help much either. She's back to eating real food and a relatively normal routine, but she's still going to be at the rehab center for a few weeks. She can't go back to assisted living until she's strong enough again to be able to take care of basic ADLs like going to the bathroom without having help, and although the doctor is optimistic that she can rebuild her strength with physical therapy, it's not going to happen overnight.
Bottom line: she's not going to be able to get back into her current apartment before the end of the month. If she's not going to be in the apartment (and may never be able to get back to the apartment) there's no point in paying the March rent. So she told us to clean it out, pack things up, and then we'll all deal with what to do next when she's stronger. Cheryl has storage space for the furniture and other items that would be needed for a move back into an apartment so what we did was more of a thinning than a liquidation. The apartment had been a little crowded for its size so we figured do some editing and create a little more open floor space and provide a little more maneuvering room for her walker and wheelchair. A few things went to Salvation Army, but most just got carefully packed away for awhile. If it turns out the next step for our mother is permanent residency in a nursing home, Cheryl will deal with whatever furniture and household goods are left later in the spring. .
So what do my mother's health issues have to do with changes in our itinerary? Furniture. A couple of the items that will not be stashed at Cheryl's very long are bookcases my father made. Cheryl and Wally suggested donating the bigger one to Salvation Army. I couldn't do it. The thing is solidly built, it was designed to hold books, and there is actually a space in the Retirement Bunker that would be perfect for it. And the Old Man made it. I had (for me) a rare attack of sentimentality. The S.O. measured it and figures there'd be no problem (other than its weight and general awkwardness) in putting it up on the bunk over the cab and hauling it home that way. The smaller bookcase (also made by the Old Man) will fit on the back seat of my car.
Bottom line: instead of waltzing across Texas in March, we're going to Colorado. We'll hang out there for a couple weeks, doing stuff like going through old photo albums with my sister and (if we're lucky) helping my mother get moved back into assisted living, and then will figure out just what route we want to follow home. We'll have to talk with my other brother-in-law about highways and campgrounds. For various reasons he prefers not to get on airplanes so whenever he and my sister Valerie go to Colorado from Alabama they use their camper. By now, I'm reasonably sure the man knows every good spot to boondock between Grand Junction and the Mississippi.
We do wish there was a better way to get from here to Grand Junction. In the Rand McNally (or even on Mapquest) US-191 looks like the most direct route. Well, we know that's not the best idea -- we've been over US-191 here in Arizona. There's about a 90-mile stretch of it going through the mountains from Morenci to Alpine where you average 30 mph or less thanks to all the switchbacks and hairpin turns. It's extremely scenic, a truly lovely stretch of road, but a royal pain to drive. The Guppy could do it (it's only 27 feet long; the road is closed to anything over 40 feet) but the S.O. has no desire to try it.
Because we'd heard that sometimes people will go over to US-180 in New Mexico and take it up to Alpine instead of driving US-191, we decided to check it out and came back that way, sort of. We drove down from Gallup on state highways and connected with US-180 near Reserve, which is east of Alpine. We discovered that route's not such a hot idea either. It's slightly less of a corkscrew than US-191, but it also felt much too empty. We went for a long, long way between Gallup, New Mexico, and here without seeing much in the way of gas stations. When you're driving something that sucks down petrol the way the Guppy does, seeing signs saying stuff like "Next services 95 miles" is not a happy prospect. It's a bit weird. I always thought of Maine as the "you can't get there from here" state, but apparently I was wrong.
On the bright side, if the most logical route north would be a slight variation on what we did last week (US-70 [Safford] to US-60 [Globe] to US-191 [St. Johns] to I-70 [Utah] to Grand Junction), it could mean camping for a night or two at Chinle, which would not be a horrible thing.