Marketing mechanisms have managed to squeeze the “Free Continental Breakfast” into some very small lobby areas of old motels. The Super 8 in Wisconsin where we slept last night was one such place. Four tables: two by the structural support column in the middle of the area and two by the wall, looking like they were trying the patience of the local fire marshal as to whether they were blocking an exit hallway or not.
The two teenage girls who had been caring for the Alaskan Husky dogs this morning were there. When I was walking my dog first thing in the morning I had commented on their dogs and they had quickly stated “they’re not ours”, “ they are my great aunt’s; she keeps them for… I don’t know… companionship I guess. We’re just helping her.” Their mother shared their table.
Two middle-aged women occupied another table, in conversation with the loud, lonely, socially inept truck driver at the first table along the wall.
I had my bagel & cream cheese, and a cup of tea. A seat would be nice. There was an open chair or two at any table, but no empty table. Table 4 was occupied partly by the weathered elderly woman on supplemental oxygen. Most of any space around her was used up by her medicine suitcase, a portable oxygen tank on wheels, and an oxygen concentrator plugged into the wall.
But there was an empty chair.
She saw me surveying the scene for a seat.
Just at the moment when I wound up the courage to approach and ask if I could eat at her table she met my eye and motioned me to come and sit. No word required; and she moved her medicine suitcase.
“Hi, I’m Marty.” “ I’m Jo, short for Josephine.” “Pleased to meet you. Thank you for space to eat breakfast.”
We traded bits and pieces of our story. She wondered if my eight children were a blended household. I guessed correctly that she was the great aunt of Husky-owning fame. She was glad I liked her dogs. She sadly reported that one was “thirteen, and declining”. She was plenty old enough that the love and loss of dogs were no stranger to her experience. I was on my way to Delaware to see friends and take my children to the ocean for the 4th of July. Jo said she just got out of the hospital 4 days ago. She’d taken sick a week before the scheduled trip to her cabin in Canada, west of Sudbury. Her nephew and family were helping her make the trip. She needed the help. “I’ve been going up there every summer for 83 years now”, she said. “It’s beautiful there, but I’m not in very good shape for going to the cabin, am I?” I told her that it is probably the very best place for her to be right now. She replied, “Yes. It is. I’ll either get better or die…” and left the implication hanging unspoken that the cabin was a good place to come to an end of her days, if indeed it was time for that. I told her about the RootBeer Lady in the Boundary Waters Canoe area, who lived there all her life, received good help from her family and friends, and came to the end of her days in her remote cabin. Jo liked that.
She’d seen the forest come back from clear-cut & burning eighty years ago. She knew the trees when they were seedlings. She knew the big old fallen ones when they’d stood tall and strong in the sky and wind. She knew the wild creatures were fewer now than they were when she was a little girl. And a few years ago she’d heard a wolf, the first and only time since “they killed them off back in the 40’s”.
Her nephew came to collect her supplies and switched her oxygen from the concentrator to the portable tank. He indicated it might be a crazy idea to be traveling to the cabin so soon after hospitalization, “maybe a little stubbornness” involved. “Tenacity,” said Jo, “It’s tenacity.”
The last remnants of the bagel were gone, and my tea was swallowed down the same hatch. My food had been eaten slowly, the plate had been empty for some time now. And I needed to be on my way, just like Jo needed to be on her way. We parted with firm and friendly handshake; and mutual best wishes for the travels and the summer ahead.
I’ll be present with my wife and children this month of July travels, and I’ll be present in the relationships we engage along the way. Each family we visit holds a very special place in our hearts, and we hope to find ways to be as much blessing to them as they are to us
And I will think often of my breakfast with Josephine as she spends her summer of being 87, living or perhaps dying, at her cabin in the Canadian wilderness. May love carry her strong; regardless of what the days of summer bring.