Lightner: Against All Odds: A 4,000-mile RV Trip To Bring Mother-in-law Home

How to transport your elderly mother-in-law during a pandemic.

May 26, 20206 min read

Mother in law cowboy state daily
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Within the given parameters, the task was daunting. How during a pandemic, that is killing hundreds of thousands of people, to transport a package across the country in as little time as possible —  with assurance you will not expose it the disease?

The package, in this case, was my spry 79-year old mother-in-law who’d fought her way to the top of the male dominated industry of trademark law. She’d been “sheltered in place” for two months in Atlanta and was sick of it. And who could blame her. It’s Atlanta.

Every Spring she boards up her place in Georgia to move to Lander and be near her beautiful daughter, Liz, and smart-ass son-in-law. However, this is the Covid spring, so those a-for mentioned parameters were disrupting her plans.

Considering the package, Federal Express, even with next-day-air, was out. They’d shipped a live rhino to a zoo once, but despite some similarities, mother in laws don’t travel like rhinos.

They get cranky when you try and put them in an envelope. Also, the rhino-shipment had cost over half a million dollars and involved a lot of personal contact between the rhinoceros and his handlers. So, no Fed-Ex.

Putting her in a hazmat suit and sticking her on a plane was also not an option. This Package comes with two schnauzers, Drool and Drool-more, and they wouldn’t ride well with the luggage.

The Package didn’t feel up to the traverse of North America on her own, and we couldn’t just drive out and drive back in the family car. Half the hotels between Atlanta and Lander were closed, and there was no way to know that the rooms were as Covid-free as we’d like them to be. What’s more, one needs food on a big drive like that, and we had taken all the precautions to make sure our food was sans-Covid for that two months.

Liz and I had been as diligent about social-distancing as Matt Damon in The Martian, thus we knew we could be a part of the plan to get The Package out west. 

With her brother’s advice, we decided to rent an RV, sanitize it, and make the drive, sleeping, eating, and pottying in the camper for the estimated six days of out and back. A few phone calls, a couple shots of bourbon, and we committed. Liz, I and our smallest dog Dasher, loaded the minivan the following morning and Operation Elder Extraction was under way.

We rented the RV, a “Chateau” as it was called, from John Russell in Cheyenne. The vehicle was in excellent shape and was germ-free as Mr. Russell had sanitized it himself.

We continued to sterilize the surfaces as he explained, properly distanced and masked, how to work all the systems. Within an hour we were passing Pine Bluffs in a 50-mph cross wind. There is nothing like sailing a Schooner across the plains along the route of the Oregon Trail.

We gassed up, wiping down all surfaces at the station with Sani-wipes, in Kearney, Nebraska, then found a place to camp to its east.  I don’t know if you have been to central Nebraska, but it reminded me of a scene in the classic film “The Unforgiven.”

“I heard you were dead, Bill,” says English Bob. “Yeah, I heard that one too Bob . . . turns out I was in Nebraska.”

So, we moved on. The next day had a little less wind, a few more trees, and ended with a stopover in St. Louis with Liz’s step mom. We had dinner on her patio while she sat inside, thus staying distanced.

The following day we crossed onto the east coast, that being the other side of the Mississippi, and suddenly there was traffic. I’m not sure how people in the eastern third of our country can socially distance. They are packed in like hibernating wasps.

As we caught our first glimpse of the Atlanta skyline, ACDC’s “Highway to Hell” came on the radio. I had to agree. Angus Young repeated his three chords as I thought how wise General William T. Sherman approach to the Peach State had been in his famous March to the Sea.

Or maybe I was just grumpy about driving across the country and still only being half way home. We pulled in to the driveway of The Package, from here on known as Mommy Dillon, to tears of joy. She appeared to be as ready to get out of there as General Sherman and I.

The next morning, we packed the RV and turned north for the Mason Dixon Line. And then, as we passed Chattanooga and the Chickamauga Battle Site, it happened; Liz coughed.

I glanced at her as she stifled another cough, and she turned to me with saucer-size, tear filled eyes. We’ve been together for a while, so I could read her mind: “I gave my mom Covid19!”

“No,” I said. “We haven’t been within 15 feet of anyone without a mask on in two months, and our hands have been washed so many times they are permanently scented like lilac. You are in the allergy capital of North America and that’s why you coughed.”

As Mommy Dillon watched the majestic Lookout Mountain out the huge side window of the Chateau, Liz ran for her suitcase. Clothes flew as she rifled for something.

Moments later she was back in the passenger seat, digital thermometer in mouth. It came back 98.2. Then 98.1, 98.4, 97.9, and 97.6, and all that before we hit Kentucky. A bad night’s sleep was had for Liz and I near Hannibal, Missouri. Mommy Dillon was comfortably tucked in with the Drool-brothers.

The following day we managed to reach the Cabela’s campground in Sidney, Nebraska. It’s a step up from Kearney, probably cuz you can smell Wyoming.

The 37 temperature recordings taken that day maintained the low trend, and the coughing eased as we got further west. We crossed back into Heaven about 9 a.m. on the 6th day, exchanged the RV for the family minivan by 11, and at 3 p.m. Liz, I, Dasher, Mommy Dillon, and the two Schnauzers pulled into Lander.

But it wasn’t over yet.

The Covid-cough had to be confirmed as Bluegrass-infused phlegm. Fremont County Healthcare was now able to test anyone who had as much as a sunburn. One deep poke in the nose, followed by a long weekend of staring at the phone while waiting for results, and we were in the clear.

 Liz had not infected her mother, and Operation Elder Extraction was a complete success.

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