Thelma and Louise ride again

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My story this week is about my trip to see Patty in Michigan.

I can’t remember when I first heard about Patty, but it may have been as many as twenty-five or more years ago. Patty is the penfriend of Bill, who lives in Brisbane and is married to my schoolfriend Milly. Patty and Bill have been corresponding for over 30 years and I have seen some of the gifts she has sent at different times, and heard about her wonderful craft skills. She has visited Australia twice in recent years, and while I had heard about the adventures and seen photos, I had not met her. I knew that over the past couple of years she had made it through two lots of cancer.

I was hoping that during the time we would be here, Peter and I would get the chance to make the 6 hour trip to get up just north of Detroit where she lives. I had emailed Patty last year expressing that hope, but no definite arrangements were made. Late last year, I learned from Milly that the cancer had recurred for the second time and Patty’s doctor had advised her that her options were not all that great. I emailed her again to offer my prayers and support and I was totally amazed by the positive energy in the response I received. Despite everything she was going through (and was yet to endure in terms of treatment), Patty was bright and bouncy and told me about the gifts she was preparing for Christmas to send to Bill and co in Australia, and about a new quilt she was working on which she was hoping to finish before the chemo made such work impossible. We exchanged more emails, with her sending me photos of her quilting and craft projects and quietly describing some of the hard times she was having with the treatment. I determined that I would have to make the trip to meet this extraordinary woman.

Time was running out for us in terms of long weekends away. Our spring break was the last chance that Peter would have to make a long trip, so I decided I would have to try to do the trip by myself, something I was not keen to do. Thankfully, my dear friend Sue agreed to come with me, even offering to take one of their cars so that Peter would not be left carless as well as wifeless for the duration. Kent and Sue have many cars, included among them a red Corvette. Unfortunately for this story (can’t you picture the two of us, scarves blowing in the wind, heading out into the wide world in our red Corvette with the top down!!!), the Corvette is not currently registered, so we had to “make do” with their HUGE black pick-up truck. I’m sure that’s conjured up a whole new image – two wild women ready to take on anything in this vehicle! And we were!

I didn’t want our visit to cause Patty any unnecessary effort or inconvenience so we planned to break our journey before we got to her place and then spend a day with her before driving back home. Robert Closs’s brother and his family live in Toledo which was only about an hour or so south of Patty’s place, and thanks to Robert’s kind introduction we were invited by Thom and Susan to spend the night with them. When I told Patty of our plans, she insisted we spend a night with her as well, and she assured us that although she was somewhat weakened by her chemo (she had her final treatment the week before we got there), she was fit enough to drive and she wanted to show us around Detroit, take us to Canada for dinner, and visit her friend Pam who has an industrial size quilting machine in her basement. Sue and her family kindly agreed that she could be away for two nights and we prepared for our adventure. The plan was to leave about 8am Tuesday morning, drive up to visit the antique and craft shops at Shipshewana in northern Indiana, and get across to Toledo, Ohio, about 3pm. From there we would make an early start the next morning up to Clinton Township where Patty lived, have the day and night with her, then leave very early on Thursday morning so Sue could get home to try to catch up on all the things she could not get done while on the road with me.

Our similarity to Thelma and Louise was more in our imagination than in reality, as at least one of us had family responsibilities and work commitments that made getting away more difficult. Sue phoned Tuesday morning to say that husband Kent and son Nick were both ill and she had to stay long enough to do some chores for them and to see that they were okay. Her morning was further complicated by a street full of emergency vehicles, including police cars, detectives and the coroner, which pulled up at the house across the road from them. It was with some concern and I’m sure considerable regret that Sue finally met me at 10.30 to start our voyage. I had of course suggested we cancel our plans, but she said things would be fine. Phone calls home later helped assure her that Kent and Nick were feeling better. Unfortunately the 22 year old son of the family across the road had been found dead in bed by his younger brother so that was sad news.

Our rather inauspicious start was perhaps a premonition of how our travels would go that day. Sue and I enjoy each other’s company very much and sometimes our lively conversation tended to distract us from the details of navigation – not my strong suit at the best of times. We missed a few critical turnoffs, at one stage having to take a detour through the grounds of the State Psychiatric Hospital to get us back on track. After a few more miles than were absolutely necessary, we arrived in Shipshewana. Our late start and meandering route meant that we could only spend a short time in the shops there, and as daylight saving time in Ohio stole another hour from our day, we called Susan to advise of our later arrival and we headed on to Toledo as soon as we could.

There is a wonderful site on the web called Mapquest which provides step by step directions between any two addresses in the United States. It is really useful as you can imagine. The only problem with it is that sometimes it is wrong. We used it to get us into Toledo and were following the directions carefully. I was smugly congratulating ourselves on how well we had done, when the directions started to make no sense. Streets that we were supposed to be near did not appear to be there at all. We stopped at a school and asked directions from one of the mothers. She told us we were in fact many miles from where we should be. Instead of heading north along a particular street, we had gone south (Mapquest’s fault, not ours!) and were in a completely different part of town from where we were meant to be. Sue rang Kent to see how things were going at home and he reminded us that the truck has a digital compass readout. We thought we should start watching it. It wasn’t long before we were back on track and we finally arrived at Thom and Susan’s. It was closer to 6.30 pm than 3 pm, and we were soon all in their car with their two youngest children, Laine aged 6, and Eric aged 4, to be taken out to dinner at their Country Club.

Having been elegantly wined and dined, we went back to their home and after putting the younger children to bed, we went outside to enjoy Thom’s latest acquisition – a gas fire-pit on their back patio. It was actually a pretty cold evening, but the fire soon warmed our fronts nicely, although our backsides were not so snug. We enjoyed some Australian red wine and good conversation, sharing stories about Robert and Pam, and Thom’s visit to Australia. Robert and Pam’s son, Colin, is staying with the family between postings in the US Army. He has been in Germany for the past 3 years and will go to Kentucky in a couple of weeks’ time. He and his mates had been to a couple of baseball games and when they got home they joined us by the fire. It was a pleasure to complete my acquaintance with the Closs clan, and I was struck by how much Colin looked like Pam. We also met Thom and Susan’s two older daughters, Erin and Andrea. We were charmed by the warmth and friendliness of the whole family and were grateful for their hospitality.

Next morning we had a couple of hiccups getting away, but finally made it to Patty’s place at about 10.30 am without taking a single wrong turn. Patty was waiting for us and ushered us into her delightful apartment. Now, I have already admitted that Sue and I like a bit of a chat, but Patty outclassed both of us. The three of us established an immediate rapport and a lively and often loud conversation was soon underway as we discussed a very wide range of issues and listened to some of Patty’s amazing life story. Her latest treatment has been successful and her recent scan was clear. She has weathered many personal difficulties apart from her current health concerns and she really does have enough material to write two or three books about it all. I hope one day she will. The first time anyone drew breath we noticed that it was lunch time so we took time out to eat the meal that Patty had prepared for us.

After lunch we resumed our conversation spending considerable time debating the range of activities Patty had planned. Sue decided to try to have a rest as she was feeling poorly and had not slept well the night before. Patty and I retired to the “craft room”. I was green with envy – it was like her own private Lincraft store! She showed me some of the Christmas decorations she makes and I browsed through some of her many quilting books. We were soon laughing and talking again and Sue eventually came in to join us as she was sure she was missing out on too much fun. Patty gave us each a spider ornament for our Christmas tree.

The next time we stopped for a breath it was approaching 5pm. Plans to go to Canada for dinner were obviously out, as we were to be at Pam’s by 7.30. Patty took us in her car and showed us where she had lived previously and we went downtown into her local area. We thought we would have a quick meal, go to Pam’s earlier and go to Canada for dessert. Sue and I wanted to take Patty out for the evening meal, so asked her to select a nice restaurant. We dined at a lovely Italian restaurant and continued to chat happily. By the time we left the restaurant and made our way to Pam’s place, it was almost 7.30 anyway.

Pam had lots of quilts and we spent some time admiring those and then Sue and I went down to the basement to try to operate the quilting machine. It was not as easy as it looked so I’m not sure that I will be racing out to buy one for myself just yet. Pam’s husband Bill joined us and we sat down to enjoy dessert which she had prepared. We had all but decided that Canada could wait for another time. Around about 9pm, Patty declared that she really wanted me to get to Canada. We could drive down, cross the border bridge into the Canadian city of Windsor, take a photo to prove that we had been there and then take the tunnel back. It sounded like a great idea to me and Sue, so the three of us headed for the border.

From my vast experience of crossing borders with Americans (going to Mexico with Genny and Murray), I knew that I would need my passport and visa but that US citizens could get by with little or no identification. However, the Canadians have tightened up their borders since September 11 and the Canadian border patrol asked for identification from all of us. Patty had her passport because she had heard that she might need it, and I had mine, but Sue only had a drivers licence. The woman at the gate became quite annoyed and asked if she also had her birth certificate as that would do instead of her passport. I don’t know about you, but I don’t routinely carry my birth certificate and unluckily, neither does Sue. The woman interrogated us all, asking where we were from, where we were going in Canada, and then looking squarely at Sue in the back seat asked if she had any weapons or mace. Luckily Sue had left all that at home with her birth certificate so we were okay there. When we told her that we were only going into Canada long enough to take a photo, she seemed quite offended that we would treat her country with such disdain and waved us through to undergo a second interrogation with immigration officers in a demountable office building just ahead.

We were again questioned at length about where we lived, where we were going, if we had been to Canada before, if we had been refused admission before, when I was planning to return to Australia, where my husband was, etc, etc. We answered all questions politely and satisfactorily and were at last allowed to proceed. As planned, we drove down a couple of streets, stopped in a park where we could get a good view across the river to Detroit on the other side, returned to the car and headed back through the tunnel into the United States border patrol area. We were expecting an even tougher grilling there. A much more amiable officer than we had encountered on the other side asked our nationalities. “US, US and Australian.” He looked at me and laughed. This was the same reaction my statement of nationality had produced when I crossed from Mexico to the US. He checked my documents, asked how long we had been in Canada, to which Patty again replied that we had been there just long enough for me to say I had been to Canada. Unlike his Canadian counterpart, he found this very amusing and waved us off with little ado. I’d say there is no doubt we spent more time getting in and out of Canada than we did actually being there. But we did it!

We drove back home and called Milly. It was great to hear her and to let her know that I had finally met the famous Patty. We then watched a video that Milly, Bill and family had put together for Patty for Christmas. It made me quite homesick. It was well after midnight by the time we retired for the night.

We were advised by Patty, Pam and Bill that leaving at 6 in the morning would not be a good idea as we would get caught in Detroit’s rush hour traffic, so we decided to sleep a little later and head off about 8. Our route home would be different from the way we had come in as it was more direct to head west towards Ann Arbor, go across the bottom of Michigan then head south towards home. To help us on our way, Patty told us she would drive ahead in her car to direct us to a service station that would sell diesel for the truck and that was near the entrance to the highway we needed. We did not say good-bye, as we planned to do that at the service station. Patty headed off and we lost sight of her immediately, even before getting out of the apartment complex. We drove around the complex for a while and then found the exit. Assuming she had gone out that way, we headed in what we thought was the right direction hoping to catch sight of her. After a while, we glanced at the truck’s compass readout only to realise we were heading north – definitely not the way we wanted to be going. We turned around, went back past the apartment complex – still no sign of Patty. We headed south along the road hoping that we would find the service station and Patty waiting patiently there for us. We actually took another wrong turn before we got our bearings correctly and at last found a diesel outlet. By this time, we had given up hope of ever seeing Patty again. We’d just have to fuel up and head for home. We called the apartment to see if she was there. She had never left. When we went the wrong way the first time, she had tried to get our attention and then decided to go back and wait for us to return to the apartment to go with her. We had already driven for about half an hour and really needed to be on the road for home, so we said our fond farewells over the phone and promised to keep in touch. Thelma and Louise really didn’t have a planned route, so I’m sure that’s the only reason they never got lost.

Our drive home was long and relatively uneventful. We started taking more note of the compass. Sue and I continued our chat and Sue started to think about all the things that awaited her attention on her return. As I said, she is a good friend.

We arrived home safe and sound and completely exhausted. How long does it take to drive to Detroit? Probably a couple of hours less than it took us!

Stephen asked last week about the term Hoosier and how it came to apply to Indiana folk. It originally was used to refer to yokels or bumpkins, but the people of Indiana have transformed it from a disparaging term and wear the label with pride. Sitting by the gas-fire in Toledo, Susan provided me with the question for this week. She has a PhD in anatomy.

Which part of the human body is called the philtrum?
If you don’t know, Robert, ask Pam. Susan said she’d know!