The car’s all packed with your gear. The tent, sleeping bags, extra pillows—there was room for everything you’ll need and some things you won’t. You’ve really been looking forward to going. This trip will be remarkable, especially if, as in “Driving Miss Norma” by Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle, your cargo is particularly precious.
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What will we do with our parents when they’re too old to care for themselves? It’s a question that Baby Boomers ask every day, and it’d crossed Bauerschmidt’s and Liddle’s minds. They decided they had time to make decisions. Their parents were older, but that didn’t seem any cause for concern; her mother and his mom and dad were in relatively good health. Until they weren’t.
Bauerschmidt and Liddle are nomads, and they travel around the country wherever the roads take them. On their routine annual trip to northern Michigan, they found what they hoped never to find: his father was desperately ill and his mother wasn’t coping well. Then Bauerschmidt’s father died. Two days later, Bauerschmidt’s mother, Norma, was diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer.
Bauerschmidt and Liddle were facing a frontier they never expected. And so they did the unexpected: they offered to take Norma with them on their travels, cross-country. Not wanting to live her last days in a hospital, she said “yes.”
The trip wasn’t without issues. Their first days were stuck in Michigan because high winds kept the RV off local bridges but Norma’s wide-eyed excitement showed the benefits of living in the moment. After all, there were regional foods to sample, horses to ride, hot air balloons to soar in and a Native American celebration to see. Norma visited Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone for the first time. She fell in love with Ringo, a standard poodle. Prescription medicines stopped working for her, so the 90-year-old went to a “Pot Store” in Colorado for relief. She went to a World War II museum in Louisiana. She was in a parade, became famous and blossomed.
“None of us knew what was coming next,” says Liddle. “But one thing we now knew was this: taking Norma on the road was… a good decision.”
I didn’t cry as much as I thought I would when I read “Driving Miss Norma.” I didn’t cry at all, in fact; there’s just too much joy here to cry.
While it bears mention that there are times when authors Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle get a little sappy, it’s not all that bothersome. Readers can overlook it because the bulk of this travelogue is so charming. Not only is it fun to watch “Miss Norma” go from housewife to hero for millions, but viewing the U.S. through her awe-struck eyes lends a fresher look at old monuments.
And the best part? As Bauerschmidt learns more about his mother, so do we—and it’s easy to like what we see, just as it’s easy to love this book. And you so will. For your vacation this summer, “Driving Miss Norma” is the book to pack.