Amidst all the usual gloom and doom rampant in the news every day, it’s always nice to find upbeat stories that once upon a time the Big Three Networks of yore (ABC, NBC, and CBS) would feature at the end of their Saturday night broadcasts. Those tales were usually about unique events or ordinary people (as if there is such a thing) doing extraordinary things.

One such narrative came to light this week in the person of a nonagenarian Ohio grandmother who told her grandson when she was 85 that she’d basically never been anywhere nor done anything. Since that time, he has made it his mission to accompany her to every U.S. national park, and the duo has now set their sights on visiting all seven continents. According to the report, they’ve been to North and South America already and are scheduling more trips.

As exciting and adventuresome as that may seem, I have to say she’s going to have to go a long way to equal my mother-in-law’s travels. Norma passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 93, but not until she’d packed a lot of living into those years.

She came into the world on January 1, 1931, and her local newspaper identified her as the first baby to be born that year in New Hanover County, North Carolina. Norma and her husband, Scott, had a son and a daughter, four grandkids, and four great-grandchildren. I obviously joined the family by marrying their daughter.

Norma was a card-carrying member of the “All Seven Continents Club” (which may not officially exist, but definitely should). She and Scott loved to travel and had made that a priority during retirement. Together they walked on the Great Wall of China, crawled through an Egyptian Pyramid, took in a show at the Sydney Opera House, viewed Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, hiked around, in, and through the Machu Picchu archaeological complex in Peru, and circled Denali, the Alaskan mountain peak, in a helicopter, among many other adventures.

With six continents already conquered, Norma was bound and determined to set foot on all seven. Scott, in his 80s, however, was not a fan of cold weather. But he encouraged Norma to pursue her goal. She asked her daughter to go along, but Susan inherited the cold gene from her dad. So, Norma’s niece became her traveling companion to Antarctica.

Besides walking near the penguins, one of the highlights of the trip was a chance to take a swim in the frigid Arctic Ocean. Norma declined, but her niece took the plunge. That evening at dinner onboard their cruise ship, the Captain asked all who had gone swimming to stand. After seating them, he asked all who had NOT jumped in to stand. Norma and several others did as instructed. Whereupon the Captain said, “You see before you the SMARTEST people on our trip.”

Norma was able to be so active in her retirement years because she really took good care of herself. Up until the last six months of her life, when cancer reared its ugly head, she stretched for 30 minutes every morning and walked three miles a day. And I mean every day. Even when she and Scott were on an African Safari and sleeping in tents (rather nicely appointed tents, I should add), she insisted on walking. When she asked the tour director if it was safe to walk there, he replied somewhat hesitantly, “Well, yes, but stay within the fenced-in compound.” What he was hinting at was for her to yell out to the rifle-toting guy if an animal looking for dinner came close to the fence.

Norma was the epitome of a Southern Lady. She always dressed well, got her hair done every Friday, and had more manners than Emily Post. But she was always game to get down on the floor with her grandchildren or play at the beach in the sand (and rarely, but every once in a while, in the surf), and go along with whatever adventure they made up.

I knew I was going to have a good relationship with my mother-in-law the first time we all ordered dessert at a restaurant. She and I both asked the waiter, “What’s the most chocolate-ty thing on the menu?” And at my first Easter brunch with the family, we both found ourselves hitting the dessert buffet before getting our entrees.

Norma was well-loved by family and countless friends. Her memorial service was jam-packed with admirers. Her unusual seven-continent accomplishment was even mentioned there. So good luck, Ohio grandmother. Norma would be proud to have you join the Club.

©MMXXIV. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer