It comes as a shock to me that my mother prefers the window seat. I had always assumed she had no opinion one way or the other, except to defer to those who might have strong preferences of their own. But in actuality, my mother wants to sit by the window so that she can get a good look at the passing scenery. On our trip to Hawaii last month, she neither hesitated nor protested when it was offered to her. Who knew?
We’ve traveled together before, so I was already familiar with my mother’s predilections. She drinks a couple of gallons of hot water each day, prefers to skip lunch but wants an ample dinner, and she can reliably walk many hours at a stretch but needs to be in bed by 8 or 9 p.m. I understood all this from before. But she might have been holding back a bit on the other trips, viewing herself as a lucky third wheel in someone else’s family vacation. This time, we were in Hawaii to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday. She was the journey’s raison d’être and belle of the ball, so perhaps she felt more entitled and, ipso facto, she gets the window seat.
That’s fine, I’m not complaining. But when she hurried down the row of bench seating on the boat that ferries tourists out to Pearl Harbor just to claim a spot closest to the water, I was a little surprised. And was I hallucinating when I heard a slightly giddy tone in her voice as we discussed our helicopter ride over Kauai? I had just explained that assigned seating was necessary to ensure an even distribution of weight in the vehicle, and my mother – who sometimes reaches 100 pounds – commented happily, “They must need skinny people in front, that’s why I got the best seat.”
You’d have to have been raised by my mother to understand how extremely bizarre it was for me to hear her celebrating the victory of her seat for that helicopter excursion. She might as well have been spiking the football and doing some crazy dance in the end zone. Normally, my mother would never dream of claiming anything – pleasure, success, certitude, superiority – aloud, and if she did, it would be presented with more caution and less smiling.
Along with my sister, I had planned this trip with the high-minded notion of creating a full-circle moment for my mother. The last time she had visited Hawaii, she was a homesick, seasick, war-weary 19-year-old from a tiny village in Wakayama, Japan. The year was 1952, and her ship refueled in Honolulu before reaching its final destination of San Francisco. My goal had been for her to return to the islands – flanked by her loved ones, unencumbered by any personal survival issues – to reflect on her 80 years on this earth and then understand the valuable role she has played in the great, grand scheme of existence.
I didn’t really expect her to have so much fun. But I guess at that age, you can afford to indulge a little. Who knew?