Little House in the Valley


There isn’t a thing that I don’t love about living in my tiny new Airstream.

My mom and I were talking the other day, and it turns out my Grandmother had an Argosy Airstream (I was about 4, but I remember it parked in her driveway next to the horse stables.) My uncle is looking to see if he can find any pictures of it. If any turn up, I’ll be sure to post them here. I remember the look of it, and it looks a lot like the picture that I posted above (but, for the record, that’s just an image I borrowed from another Airstreamer on the internet.)

I’ve written about my Grandmother a bit, but I haven’t really told you the whole story about her and why she figures so prominently into the whole Airstream adventure. When I was young, she and her second husband Lenny (my grandfather had passed away years before), sold their house, retired, and hit the road. They lived in so many places and traveled so frequently that I literally couldn’t send her mail, because by the time it would get there, she’d be gone. I remember getting letters and cards from her from places as far flung as Bakersfield, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Rye Beach, New Hampshire; a bunch of places in Texas, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she died.

When I was 17, my mom and I flew out to Las Vegas and visited with my Grandma. We went to the Hoover Dam, hung out at a few casinos (which, when you’re 17 is way cooler than when you’re middle age), and went shopping at Montgomery Wards and Abercrombie and Fitch (at the time, as hard as it may be to believe, there were only three A&F stores in the country, so that was an especially rare treat.) We had a great visit and saw a lot of the city and desert. At the end of the day, we would go back to Grandma and Lenny’s trailer, and hang out. I was fascinated that their home moved with them, and was surprised to see that my Grandma still did a fair amount of sewing in her trailer. She had always been an avid seamstress, and she had a sewing machine set up, and a not-so-little sewing station with a little thread holder on the wall that probably had a couple hundred different color spools of thread on it. Her main project was letting out Lenny’s shirts, because he enjoyed hitting up the buffet after an afternoon at the casino.

At the end of that trip, Grandma gave me a little folding alarm clock. I remember vividly when she gave it to me, she said to my mom: “he’s going to need it. He is going to travel a lot.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, but for some reason her comment struck me. It was oddly out of character for her and seemed to presage some unknown plan that would shape my life. Or, maybe she just saw the same wanderlust in me that she had in herself. The day after she gave me the little alarm clock, was the last day I saw my Grandma. My mom and I left to head back home, and a short while later, my Grandma passed away.

Everyone thought my Grandmother was crazy for traveling so much. It certainly wasn’t the “normal” grey haired, cookie baking, grandma stereotype that most of my friends had. My Grandma was unique. She was a pioneer for her day, widowed early in her life in a time when single/working/strong women weren’t the norm. She worked hard to provide, and when it was time to stop working and live… she did. It’s taken me a few decades to appreciate that, but with each passing year, I can better understand that she knew one simple thing about life: that time is limited. You can make it an adventure or you can abstain from life and allow routine to take over. She most definitely chose adventure.  Amazingly, when I think of the miles she covered in her trailer and the things she saw: the painted desert, the old south, the old west, wintery New England, I’d say it’s not too shabby and damn near impressive accomplishment for a farm girl from Western Pennsylvania.

My grandmother, as it turned out, was right. I have travelled a lot. I’ve been to every major city that I’ve ever wanted to see, and dozens more. I can tell you my favorite Waitrose in London, the best flavor at Pinkberry in West Hollywood, “the” place to order patatas bravas in Barcelona. I can tell you that dinner at the restaurant voted “the best” in the world for three years running is a dreadful disappointment (unless you like to eat fermented pine needles), the best place to order dinner in Quepos, Costa Rica, and what aisle to find my favorite deodorant at the Super U in Pontivy. But, funny enough, after traveling so much for so long, I realized last summer that I haven’t had the opportunity to see much of my own continent! I’ve never driven coast to coast. I’ve never been to the Canadian Rockies, I’ve never been to Yellowstone and despite all the traveling I have done, I haven’t felt a sense of adventure, until I bought the Airstream. There is a freedom that comes with being able to hitch up your house and go. It’s exciting, liberating, and enchanting.

As the middle age me sits at my Airstream kitchen table and reflects on the younger me and my Grandma, I notice that I am sitting just like she did: my left leg bent under me. I noticed when I had my photo taken for my new ID at work today that I’m getting her trademark wrinkles and jowls, and hopefully with some luck… I’ll be getting some of her spirit of adventure as well. As my own minutes tick by on the alarm clock of my life, it seems I am nearing the jingle of the alarm that tells me that it’s time to wake up and enjoy a little bit of adventure before the clock stops ticking.