My oldest son Jerod, has been working with me since he was in college and recently he went with me on a business trip to the Tennessee Banker’s Association’s annual meeting. Many of our clients attend these banker’s meetings and I like to take the opportunity to try and develop business relationships. Libby and I began taking our boys with us on these yearly trips to different resorts as soon as they were old enough to travel, coincidentally these meetings have always happened on our anniversary, June 9th.
During this most recent trip every place and every event reminded me of Libby,from the restaurants where we ate to the carriage rides and flower gardens. I discussed with Jerod that I might even write in my blog about our trip to explain what it was like to spend your anniversary in one of the places where we spent it before. But instead of me writing about what it was like without my wife, Jerod asked if he could write this entry about what it was like without his mom:
Jerod’s Perspective: I was eleven years old when I first visited the Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. Mom and Dad were attending a conference related to Dad’s business and this time, my brother and I got to tag along for the ride; and ride we did…up and down the eye-opening roller coaster of wealthy society. For a few days, we lived like kings and tried our best to not seem like aliens in this foreign realm of the finer things.
Our small town family was just three tips into our stay (the greeter, the doorman, and the bellhop) when my brother and I discovered that our hotel room had, in fact, two toilets; one of which featured some never before seen functions that we found quite amusing. The concept of a bidet was quickly explained to us and it became the first of many lessons in how the “other half” lived. Other personal firsts included morning coffee delivered to the room, afternoon tea in the grand hall, filet mignon via room service, boutique bowling, and most importantly, unlimited combs, lotions, and mouthwash in the men’s pool locker room. I was far less enthusiastic with the resort-wide mantra of, “A gentleman wears his jacket after 7”, but somehow I made due…mostly because of the free combs.
The fact remained, however, that green combs and fancy potties don’t pay for themselves so we all had to do our part, but because of our age, the roles my brother (almost 10 at the time) and myself were to play were quite simple…be polite and look cute. The role of my mother was far more important, yet, because mom was mom, her role was even simpler…be Libby. Each evening, the four of us would make our way to whatever reception or dinner the conference folks had planned and then work our way around the crowd to catch up with old friends and clients, and hopefully meet some new ones.
Typically, Dad would introduce Nathan and I to a new family, then Mom would further the conversation by explaining how we are all connected…usually through six or seven levels of relativity that included cousins twice removed, in-laws, babysitters and a plethora of other obscure relationships that only she could uncover or remember. It was clear from the nodding heads of folks being introduced that Mom had learned these things from some previous conversation that apparently occurred telepathically during few seconds of the initial encounter. Mind-reading aside, it was an experience our family would never forget because by the time our trip came to an end we had made connections that would blossom into life-long friendships and our family had grown closer to each other in the process.
Dad and I just returned from our second trip to the Greenbrier, attending the same conference that our family did 18 years ago. Nathan and his wife had their hands full with Nathan’s medical school exams and taking care of my beautiful baby niece so they couldn’t attend. Mom passed away just over a year ago (to a resort that puts the Greenbrier to shame) so Dad and I made the trek up to West Virginia by ourselves.
Pulling through the front gate of the resort brought back a wave of memories and walking through the mostly unchanged halls brought back even more. Much like our previous visit, our days were a mix of business and pleasure featuring conferences in the mornings, receptions in the evenings, and a healthy sprinkling of golf, pool-time, and red meat in between.
It was, yet again, a great experience complete with old friends and some friendly new faces. The scenery was breathtaking, the food was fantastic and the conversation was inspired, but it just wasn’t quite the same. Perhaps it was because now, 18 years later, I had to focus far more on the business end of the trip, or maybe, reality paled in comparison to the nostalgia colored lenses of my memories. It could just be that I am no longer terribly impressed by free combs and mouthwash or,more likely, it just wasn’t quite the same because Mom and Nate couldn’t make the trip.
Dad and I had a wonderful time and I know we both cherished the one on one time, but it was hard not to think that something was missing. We found it next to impossible to look around without being reminded of the last time our family visited, and Mom was still with us. But it was also impossible not to see the impact she had made on others. We were approached by dozens of people, many of whom mom had only known in passing, expressing condolences for our loss, followed by gratitude for having known her. And while it saddens me to know this is the first of many family trips we will take without Mom, it gives me joy to see the legacy she left behind.