When my 93-year-old mother, Val Kimber, lost her husband of 69 years, her two sisters rallied around her. Nothing extraordinary about that, but for this trio, it meant packing up the car and heading off for a road trip. Again, nothing too remarkable about that, even — except her sisters were 94 and 84 years old.
Mum and Dad were married to their best friend for 69 years. Dad was a wheat and sheep farmer in South Australia who retired at age 58. He and my mother sold the farm and moved to the regional city of Port Lincoln. They were two of the lucky ones. They enjoyed good health for the next 35 years until Dad’s passing at the age of 93.
Why A Road Trip At This Time?
My father’s death was challenging for my mother to contend with. They lived in their own home with a large garden and managed without outside support. At 93, they were both still driving and cuddled together in their double bed every night. Sharing similar passions, they were entirely devoted to each other. Mum was lost without him. Everywhere she looked, there were memories of Dad; his empty chair, the smell of his clothes hanging in the robe, his towel hanging in the bathroom. She slept on his side of the bed because she couldn’t bear to see it empty.
When things settled down a little after Dad’s funeral, Mum’s youngest sister, 84-year-old Shirley, came to stay. She traveled from her home in Geelong, Victoria, 830 miles away. She soon saw that Mum would benefit from getting out of the house and taking in a change of scenery instead of being stuck in her usual patterns of living that were glaringly devoid of Dad. Shirley suggested they go on a road trip.
A Lifelong Connection To Open Spaces
My parents owned caravans (towable travel trailers) for as long as I can remember. The first one was just 12 feet long and housed our family of six, albeit in a cramped way. Mum and Dad slept on the bunk bed, my eldest brother camped on the floor, and two other brothers and I slept crossways on the folded dining table.
Dad was a member of the Royal Automobile Association for 73 years, having joined when he was 20. Just four months before his death, they attended the Association’s Gold 50 event to recognize people who had been members for 50 years or more. Of the 200 guests at this commemorative occasion, Dad was honored as the longest individual customer, being an RAA member since 1946.
Over the years, he utilized various services offered by the RAA and planned many of our caravan road trips with the aid of strip maps posted out to him on request. He loved studying the maps and the details contained in them. While he hated and avoided city driving, he loved the open road and had a thirst for learning and seeing new places.
In their 35 years of healthy retirement, they traveled throughout most of Australia. Mum had always enjoyed watching the changing scenery as they drove, journaling as she went. She jotted down information about the trees and birdlife they saw, the fuel cost, and the weather, and she captured the memories with her camera.
Now in her time of grief, she agreed with Shirley that heading off on a road trip would give her something else to think about and do. Their elder sister, Yvonne, a mere 94 years of age, was also keen for some quality time with her two siblings.
Choosing A Peaceful Destination
Mum’s hometown of Port Lincoln is a city on the southern end of the Eyre Peninsula. It is famous for its fishing and seafood industries. A popular place for retirees, its casual, country feel makes it a very livable city with a Mediterranean-style climate. Shirley nominated they drive to Streaky Bay, a quiet seaside town 190 miles away from Port Lincoln, for a 3-day getaway.
Aware of how emotionally delicate my mother was, she opted for a destination that wouldn’t stir up anything sensitive or bring back memories for Mum she couldn’t deal with. She was also mindful of the physical limitations of her very aged sisters. While the road journey in itself would be stimulating, the destination needed to give peace and tranquillity. Looking ahead at the weather forecast, they picked a day to head off when the winter weather was favorable.
Shirley booked pet-friendly accommodations with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and living areas, so they could each have privacy as required. On a mild, overcast day, the sisters set off on their road trip with food essentials, warm clothes, and Shirley’s little dog in the car.
Add A Bit Of Sightseeing On The Way
Shirley moved away from the Eyre Peninsula 64 years prior. However, she regularly travels long distances in her campervan to visit family, with only her dog to keep her company. She is no stranger to driving and was quite happy to drive her big sisters on this trip.
Their first stop was at Coffin Bay. Coffin Bay was named by the English explorer who discovered South Australia after his friend, Sir Isaac Coffin. The locals affectionately refer to the town as “Coffins” and never consider it a morbid name. Surrounded by national parks and a stunning coastline, this pretty town is famous for oysters, spectacular fishing, and relaxing vacations. The usually sleepy, seaside village, where kangaroos and emus wander the streets, is home to only 700 lucky inhabitants. However, tourists flock to this destination in the summertime to enjoy boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, surfing, water skiing, paddle boarding, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and more. It is a water lover’s paradise.
From Coffin Bay, the sisters continued north on the Flinders Highway, then called into Locks Well Beach near the town of Elliston before stopping to marvel at a fascinating rock formation called Murphy’s Haystacks. These wind-worn pillars and boulders of pink granite were sculpted into their present form about 100,000 years ago and attract photographers, especially in the late afternoon golden hour. From there, it was just another 30-minute drive to arrive at the bed and breakfast in Streaky Bay.
Time To Connect And Reflect
Their accommodations were on the seafront and boasted a large timber deck with an outdoor dining setting and barbecue. This was an ideal place to overlook the sparkling waters and views of the town jetty with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Basking in the rare winter sunshine and breathing in the fresh sea air, the only noise interrupting their conversation was the low, throaty sounds as pelicans flapped their wings and croaked to announce their daily arrival.
Reminiscing about days gone by, Shirley talked of her road trips and quest to track down family history in regional towns. She enjoys her time on the road meeting people of varying ages, interests, and nationalities, and confirms she never feels lonely. Country historical societies are always a wealth of information, and cemeteries with old graves regularly provide clues when tracing ancestors.
“People are very friendly to solo women travelers, especially an old white-haired lady with a cute fluffy dog,” Shirley quipped.
How Travel Can Be Used As Grief Therapy
After three deeply therapeutic days of close sister bonding, lots of childhood reminiscing, and support for Val in her grieving, they extended their stay an additional 2 nights. The time away gave Val comfort and a real sense of family support from those who had been by her side all her life. While her sadness and grief would remain, she gathered some strength and resolved to return to what would be her new everyday life.
After returning home from almost 440 miles of travel and spades of priceless memories, these life-loving oldies proved that you’re never too old for a road trip.