Mom’s Bucket List: Marking Milestones with a Lifetime of Travel

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  • Published on December 12, 2022
  • Last Updated December 22, 2022

Faith celebrates her ever-traveling mother by sending her on bucket-list worthy trips including Mexico, Europe, Russia, and Egypt.

Over her birthday dinner last week, Mom reminded me of my inheritance: “Top shelf of the garage has all my travel notebooks,” she said. Thinking about the culled-to-600 children’s books below that shelf, the culled-to-6,000 books lining the walls of her house, and my own house — currently a candidate for a hoarding intervention reality show — I fought the urge to scream.

As the daughter of Nordic immigrants who taught history and political science for three decades and raised a half-Nigerian child, my mother is obsessed with the world. Before the term “bucket list” entered the lexicon, she made a list of great civilizations she longed to visit. She raised me to believe in the holy trinity: books, food and travel. No matter how temporarily broke we were, trips, gourmet meals and fully stocked personal libraries were essential.

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Faith’s husband pushing her mom through Night of the Radishes (México). Courtesy of Faith Adiele

Mom’s childhood consisted of family reunions on the Oregon or Washington coast and camping with her parents. They rode horses into the mountains, fished in snow-fed rivers and lakes and slept in tents. When I came along, they graduated to cabins and eventually a camp trailer. Mom tolerated it, stuffing her pack with as few clothes and as many paperbacks as possible. What she acquired was a middle-class appreciation for leisure travel, which I refined into a practice of commemorating milestones with trips. Yes, I understood the assignment.

Once she graduated and started teaching, we were able to afford trips that involved visiting attractions, not just family. Two summers were devoted to meticulously planning, saving for and executing ambitious train trips. We swooped through the southwest, visiting pueblos and missions. We zigzagged back east, stopping in at living history museums and miniature collections (my obsession), then looping home through the Canadian Rockies. Afterward, Mom assembled detailed scrapbooks of maps, itineraries, postcards and menus in hefty three-ring binders.

After I discovered the economics of studying abroad, we went international. She boasted about sending me to countries to do recon and then visiting once I learned the language and culture. At 15, I studied in México City; she signed on as a chaperone. Aztecs & Teotihuacán: check. At 16, I did a year exchange in Chiangrai, Thailand; she visited and took me to Singapore. Siam & Temasek: check. At 21, I met her in Europe after my college year abroad. Roman Empire, Renaissance/Baroque Italy, Medieval France, Tudor England & Moorish Spain: check times five. At 26, I won a graduate fellowship to Nigeria, and we went to Mali. Hausa Empire & Medieval Mali: check.

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Faith’s mom connects with school groups (India). Courtesy of Faith Adiele

On Mom’s 50th birthday, I introduced the idea of luxury solo travel, sending her vouchers for bed and breakfasts in British Columbia. Six years later she took early retirement, settling for a smaller pension, precisely because her parents had died young. “There are so many countries, books and restaurants left on my list!” she said, signing up for tours. Ancient China & Classical Greece: check and check.

For her 60th, I invited 60 friends to our hometown to see the documentary PBS was filming about my roots journey and a new local tradition — the Annual Lighted Farm Implement Parade, which is exactly what it sounds like. My actual gift was a summer roots trip to Finland, Sweden and St. Petersburg. Vikings, Medieval Finland & Imperial Russia: check. She is now close with the cousins we found and holds Finnish residency.

For her 65th, we commemorated her outliving her parents with a trip to the 100 elaborately carved Hindu, Buddhist and Jain caves in Ajanta and Ellora, entire classrooms of fresh-faced schoolchildren encircling her to practice their English. We then flew to southern India to spend Christmas in the Kerala Backwaters. Mughals & Golden Hindu Age: check.

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Faith’s mom volunteers to review a teacher’s curriculum (India). Courtesy of Faith Adiele

For her 70th, I bought a Groupon to Istanbul, where we wandered, mouths agape at the evocative confluence of Asia and Europe. I began to notice that the world’s great civilizations weren’t constructed with debilitating arthritis in mind. Ottoman & Byzantine Empires: check.

We nearly missed her 75th birthday and ended up crowdsourcing it. She told us not to bother: “It’s not a big birthday,” she explained brightly, “it doesn’t end in a zero!” My husband was outraged: “Three-quarters of a century is huge!” said. He bought her a flight to Oakland, which she thought was her gift. I threw together a surprise birthday party, which she thought was her gift. Guests showed up with Egyptian-themed treats, eventually tipping her off to the real gift: a limited mobility tour for seniors to Egypt that a friend suggested. Ancient Egypt & Kush: check.

Last week we landed in the Yucatán, where she promptly sped off, beeping, leaving me behind. She’d made the move from backpack to motorized scooter, buying, of course, one that collapses into the size of a kid’s Big Wheel and can be checked at the airplane gate. For her first international trip since the pandemic and bout with cancer, she chose our old friend México. On Sunday, she turned 80, outliving both her parents and her own calculations by nearly 20 years. We celebrated with a 21-course meal that she left to me to document. Mayans: check.

This story was originally published December 12, 2022 12:36 PM.

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