TWO-LANE LIFE - City Mouse, Country Mouse - By Lisa Hayes-Minney

For the last several months, I feel as though I have been living a dual life. I live and work in rural West Virginia, but I now spend several days at a time with my mother, in the Mid-Ohio Valley, in my old “stomping grounds.” Like so many my age, I spend a portion of my time assisting my mom. More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member. Approximately 66% of family caregivers are women, 7 out of 10 caregivers are caring for loved ones over 50 years old, and six in 10 family caregivers are employed.

Mother currently lives in Belpre, Ohio, but I grew up in Marietta, and spent several years living in Parkersburg (WV) before my father dragged me to Gilmer County to finish my college degree at Glenville State. I had no problem with city life. In fact, I was enjoying city life so much that I had let my education slip off my priority list. I had my own little house I was renting, I made good money waiting tables and bartending at a 4-star restaurant, I went out every weekend, shopped at the mall, went to the movies, enjoyed time on the Ohio River.

I was 26 years old when my father decided to put his foot down. “What day are you off next week?” He asked. “Don’t plan anything. I’ll pick you up at 9 a.m.”

When I got in the car that morning, I asked, “So, where are we going?” “You’re going to enroll at Glenville State College today,” he replied. “What? Where?” I had never heard of Glenville, or Glenville State. “It’s the most affordable college degree in West Virginia,” he replied. (Which, at that time, was true.) I knew better than to argue. If you knew my father, you would understand. Once he made a decision, no amount of arguing would matter. “You have two years to finish your degree, and I have two years until retirement. Now is the time for you to do this.”

I didn’t know what to say. If I brought up my house, my cat, my job, I knew he would already have a response prepared. “I’m not living in a dorm,” I said, and pouted as we drove east on Route 47. Within two years, I had my bachelor’s degree, and planned on moving back to Parkersburg. That never happened.

After graduation I spent a year living in Wirt County, almost a year in Mason County, and then spent several months living in Chicago. By then, I had been too long in the country to adapt to that big city, and the decision was made to return to central West Virginia—temporarily. Twenty-two years later, I’m still here. I love rural life for the most part. These hills, the quiet, the relative independence, chickens, gardens, two-lane driving with the radio up and the windows down. But there are facets of city life I miss.

An astounding 78% of adults in need of care depend on family and friends as their only source of help. Most caregivers run errands, attend doctor appointments, distribute medications, clean house, make minor repairs. I do Mother’s laundry, tend the flower beds, go to the grocery store, etc. We do things together, like pick up a new printer, install a new doorbell, sort out the closets, organize the garage. She is still independent, just no longer spry.

My monthly trips to the Mid-Ohio Valley remind me of all the things I miss about my old life. My mother and my cousins are there, there’s almost no mud, and the grocery store is three blocks away (in fact, most stores are less than 15 minutes from Mother’s condo.) I see old friends, who were part of the first half of my life. I see family and family friends, who knew me when I was “knee-high to a grasshopper.” People who have known me all my life.

I drive down by the Ohio River and sit on the riverbank, a river that was as much of my life then as the West Virginia hills are now. But I can’t see the stars from here in the city, I get frustrated with the crowds, and I still get anxious some city traffic. (Did you know you can “left on red” in certain intersections?) And the city is never, ever, quiet. Cars, trains, HVACs, even the streetlights hum.

I can get fresh-baked donuts in the middle of the night, have dinner delivered to my door, but I can’t park in the grass, I can’t drive with my radio blaring, and can’t walk on the hot asphalt barefoot. There are plusses and minuses to the city life, just as there are to the country life.

Mother and I are in a tug of war. We need to shrink the distance between us. I am trying to tug her into the country and she’s trying to tug me back to the city. Mother grew up in Mudsock, WV (Mt. Alto, WV today), and could not wait to live the city life. She has no intention of living with mud, or allergies, or twisting turning roads. (She has not visited since the new arrow signs have been implanted along Routes 5 and 33. I can’t wait to hear it when she sees those.) We have learned though, not to criticize each other’s lives. We have learned to get beyond the problems of our past. The statistics may present our situation as a burden, but it can be a blessing.

Among those who have helped parents in a matter of ways – financially, with errands, housework, home repairs, with personal care – 88% say it’s rewarding. I must agree. This shift in our lives got off to a rocky start, but as time has passed, we have come to enjoy our time together more. We play cards, watch the sun set, talk about old days. I ask for advice from her, and she asks me to help her with technology.

Mother is a country mouse citified, and I’m a city mouse countrified. We’ve been discussing the benefits and downfalls of each. I do enjoy my trips back to the Mid-Ohio Valley. I get to have Smitty’s turkey subs delivered, attend the church I attended with my grandparents as a child, spend time with family, visit the Ohio River and watch the barges go by. We go shopping, visit cemeteries, go through the car wash. But I miss the stars, I miss the quiet, I miss the solitude. I miss driving where the main “traffic” issue relates to wildlife crossing the road.

Now more than ever, it is difficult to predict the future. The pandemic has turned everything topsy turvy, and Mother and I have just decided to roll with whatever comes. It is a time to appreciate the present. In the meantime, I live this dual life, and Mother gets occasional trips to the country. We’re enjoying the best of both.

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