Mapping our lives

Several hours and a few hundred miles away from home, I realized that I had forgotten to bring my beloved road atlas with me on our trip to northern California. My husband and I have driven these freeways many times before, and it’s a pretty straight shot, so getting lost was not a worry. Both of us have smart phones, so both Google Maps and the ability to call for help and directions were both readily available. Still, I wanted a map.

I like being able to plot our progress; I want to see what little towns are up ahead, and, during the especially boring parts of the journey, to see how much further we have to go before something more interesting will appear. What’s the name of that lake over to the left? Which turnoff did we take last time when we visited that great little winery? Have we passed from Kern County to Kings County yet? Without a paper map, I am left with a blue dot moving through the state on my iPhone screen. Empty and soulless.

I inherited my love of paper maps from my father. He kept a large stack of them on his bookshelf – many were of often-visited locals, some he picked up on his and my mother’s journeys around the country and the world. He found it difficult, if not impossible, to throw any of them away – even when he picked up newer versions of ones he already had. This made it harder when I was clearing out his home for sale after his death. I discovered that I not only had inherited his love of maps, but also his reluctance to throw them away. Each was a souvenir of a trip taken and a physical memory keeper of his and my mother’s journey together.

The California road atlas I had inadvertently left home last week was one that belonged to my father. It is dated 1986 and contains notes he had written on many of the pages. Not all of them are trip-related; on the detail street maps showing the city of Los Angeles, he made notes indicating where the 1992 L.A. riots were occurring. I can picture him sitting at his home in San Diego, watching the news on television, the map book opened to the pages showing the parts of L.A. that were on fire.


As my father’s mind slowly slipped into the fog of dementia, and his earlier memories were clearer to him then recent ones, I discovered that he had adopted a ritual using the local newspaper’s daily US weather map. Every day, he mapped his journey – across the country, and then overseas – that he took as a young recruit during the Second World War. Every day, he plotted his movements, from Cincinnati, through Denver, to California (where he met my mother), to Las Vegas (where they married three months later), to New York. Then he drew an arrow to the right towards Europe.

I don’t know much about his experiences during the war, but I do know that he was one of the lucky ones. He avoided the worst of combat and came home physically and, I believe, mentally unscathed. What he plotted every day on the newspaper map were memories of a great adventure. I wish I had kept one of those sweet, precious maps.
It’s probably time to buy a new California road atlas (assuming they still make them). I know that many roads have been added to the state since 1986 and a newer one would be more useful.

I also know that I will not throw away the old one that belonged to my father.

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

3 thoughts on “Mapping our lives”

  1. Hi Janis!

    Saw your response on Lynne Spreen’s site, and thought I’d check out your blog. I can relate to so many of your posts…including this one regarding a love of actual maps.

    This fall was the start of my fourth year of retirement from public education. I had worked in middle level education for 38.5 years, and I loved it. Since I could have retired after 30 years, I had about 8.5 years to “actively think” about how retirement would be for me.

    I voraciously read every book I could find on the subject…I attended at least 4 pre-retirement seminars…I journaled…and I daydreamed and seriously considered what retirement might be like for me. I even selected an “encore career” and went to school to get certification for that about six years prior to retiring. So, I do work a bit…seasonally…and very “part time.”

    Our two adult sons were “launched” (married) in 2007 and 2008. I became a grandma every June for three years…2009…2010 (the year I retired)…and 2011.

    People ask me if I miss work. I don’t. I love the FREEDOM that I have not had since I was four years old. I LOVED MY WORK…but I did that for a LONG time, and now it is time to do something else.

    People ask me if I am busy. I am not…and that is a conscious choice on my part. Because my life was so “scheduled” for so many years, I am very protective of my time and perhaps a bit “commitment-phobic.” I love to have the FLEXIBILITY to say “YES!” whenever my daughters-in-law ask me to watch the little ones…or if a friend wants to do lunch or go on a “field trip”…or if I want to spend a day in my pj’s reading, journaling, surfing the net or watching TV.

    As for you and your transition into retirement…

    You are making a conscious effort to prepare for retirement…and you will figure out what works best for you. Keep writing…and talking…and questioning…and considering…and realizing that you can always make another choice if you find that what you have decided isn’t working for you. This is a “process” not an event…trust the process.

    As you approach your final months at work…savor that time. Remember that you don’t have to get “fed up” in order to make leaving easier. Enjoy each day…enjoy your co-workers. If you feel sad…it’s OK to express your sadness in healthy ways.

    Be especially kind and gentle with yourself. Make sure that you get enough sleep, healthy food, exercise, and make time for fun. You need good energy as you proceed through this transition.

    Take good care of yourself…and I’ll check in now and then. 🙂

    1. Hi Sue.

      Thank you for such a wise and generous comment! It sounds like your retirement is just right… for you (which is the way it should be!). Before my husband retired, he too had visions of staying connected with his career self, maybe as a consultant. That idea lasted about a month until he decided that he was “too busy” just being retired. Good for him!

      I love what you said about it being a process, not an event. And you are right that different choices can be made as time goes on.

      I would love to have you check in now and then. Enjoy your family, your freedom, and your health!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: