My grandmother, one of my earliest muses, died when she was ninety-five. She slipped away in her sleep late one December night in 2013.
My family doesn’t believe in cremation, so, long before she passed, my grandmother had made it known she wanted to be buried next to her brothers and sisters in the family plot behind her church. (One of two family plots, I might add. Since my father’s side of the family belongs to a different church than my mother’s, all my relatives on his side of the family are interred in a different cemetery. But that’s a story in itself).
Years ago, my grandmother helped instill in me my inveterate love of travel.
When I finished college, my high school English teacher gave me a graduation gift: a plane ticket to the destination of my choice. I was young and (secretly) gay, so I naturally picked San Francisco, a magical city that was worlds away from my tiny hometown of Sardis, Georgia.
When the plane ticket to San Francisco arrived in the mail, I immediately booked a room at a B&B in the Castro and counted down the days until I would be able to walk the streets of a town I had seen only in the movies and a neighborhood I had visualized only in my dreams.
The very idea of the trip nearly scared my parents to death because 1) I was their only child, 2) I had never been on a plane before, and 3) I had never ventured so far from home. (I was also the first person in my family to attend college, let alone graduate, but that’s also a story in itself). Despite my parents’ misgivings, my grandmother was elated.
“Go while you’re young and able,” she said. “See everything you can. And if your mother and father ever have a problem with you wanting to venture somewhere, just go. You can tell them about it when you get back.”
Like they say, it’s always easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
San Francisco was my first vacation destination. But thanks to my grandmother’s advice, it hasn’t been the last. I’ve visited fifteen states and five countries since my first wide-eyed trip to California twenty-three years ago. Hopefully, I’m not done yet. There’s a book called 1,001 Places to See Before You Die and my wish list of places to see might be even longer than that.
When she was younger, my grandmother moved more times than I can count, shuttling between rural towns in south Georgia and larger ones in central Florida as she tried to find the best place to settle her family of six kids. If given her druthers, however, she would have chosen New York. She moved there for several months when she was in her early twenties and would have loved to stay there permanently, but she was the oldest of her nine siblings and her mother had begged her to come home and help take care of the household. My grandmother followed her head and dutifully made the return trip down south, but she always regretted not following her heart, which gave me added incentive to follow mine.
When we shuffle off this mortal coil, my partner and I want to be cremated and have our ashes spread in the cities we considered our favorite vacation destinations. Dita has chosen Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. We’ve been twice and have had an incredibly relaxing time on both occasions.
As for my final resting place, I’m still undecided. Probably because I have yet to see Paris, a city that, thanks to my minor in French, has always been my dream destination. Until I lay eyes on the Eiffel Tower or stand beneath the Arc de Triomphe, Key West will have to do.
A road trip to Key West was the first vacation Dita and I took as a couple. We’ve returned to the tropical paradise several times in the thirteen years since then and I’m getting the itch to go again. To have a drink at Sloppy Joe’s, pet a descendant of one of Ernest Hemingway’s six-toed cats, and take part in the Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square. Perhaps next year Dita and I will pick a long weekend, hit the open road, and make the twelve-hour drive from Savannah to Margaritaville.
I would love to take my grandmother with me on my travels—to sprinkle her ashes in some of the many cities she never got to see when she was alive. Instead, she’ll have to see them through my eyes. Because, no matter where I go, she’ll always be in my heart.