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Driving Miss Norma: One Nonagenarian's Epic Road Trip

Last summer, 90-year-old Norma Bauerschmidt was preparing to say goodbye to Leo, her husband of 67 years. The day after he was admitted to hospice, Norma was dealt another blow: Doctors had discovered a large, cancerous mass on her uterus. She barely had time to process the news when Leo passed away. Just two days after his death, Norma found herself at the doctor’s office, discussing how to treat her cancer. Her doctor recommended surgery to remove the mass, but was concerned that she may not survive the operation.

Norma decided the typical late-in-life path—surgeries, nursing homes, assisted living—wasn’t in the cards for her. Her son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Ramie, had made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: to join them on the road. The retired couple spent much of their time roaming the country in an Airstream trailer, but if Norma would join them in their nomadic lifestyle, they promised to upgrade to a 36-footer and see whatever sights she wanted to.

Norma didn’t have to think twice, and said no to the cancer treatment. “I’m 90-years-old,” she told her doctor. “I’m hitting the road.”

Less than two months later, she did. Their first trip was a little over a year ago, when they left Norma’s home in Presque Isle, Michigan, and headed west toward Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone. Tim wasn't sure if she would make it to South Dakota. Twelve months later, Norma is not only surviving—she's positively thriving.

“If you could have seen her when we left,” Tim told the Washington Times, explaining that her transformation has been utterly amazing. Not only is she doing better physically, going from 94 pounds to 110, but she's also been transformed emotionally. “I’m open more now than I used to be,” Norma said.

Since last August, Norma has been to several National Parks, Roswell, the Kennedy Space Center, Walt Disney World, Niagara Falls, the French Quarter, and the Grand Canyon—and that's just to name a few of the sights she's seen.

She has served as an honorary Atlanta Hawks cheerleader, dipped her toes in the ocean, experienced her first pedicure, eaten her first oyster, and she shook a lot of hands at the National World War II Museum—Norma is a veteran herself, having served with the Women Accepting Volunteer Emergency Service unit in 1945.

But out of all of the amazing things Norma has experienced in the last year, one of the most memorable may have been the hot air balloon ride she took in January. She and her husband had always wanted to experience a ride together, and while he was in the hospital, Leo said he still hoped to be able to take her someday. After his death, as his family was cleaning out his papers, they found multiple newspaper clippings about balloon rides among his things.

As of Labor Day, the traveling trio was in the Pacific Northwest, where they have visited a lavender farm (one of Norma's favorite flowers), watched Orca whales, and celebrated the one-year anniversary of the beginning of their journey. Wherever Miss Norma heads now, she's likely to be one of the main attractions—since starting her journey last year, her Facebook page has gained more than 400,000 followers, and she's been featured on the CBS Evening News, the ABC News, the Today Show, and the Huffington Post. What's next for Norma, Tim, and Ramie? Possibly California for a peek at some redwoods. Follow along with her adventures on Facebook—you'll be glad you did.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

woman ready to clean a home
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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

Man waiting for a train.
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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

Colorful pills and medications
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While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

Young Asian couple smiling
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In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
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Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

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Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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For the First Time, You Can Spend the Night on New York's Governors Island This Summer
Michael Vadon, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Michael Vadon, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Soon, you'll be able to camp out on a 172-acre historical island without straying too far from the conveniences of a slightly bigger island: Manhattan.

This summer, visitors will be able to sleep under the stars on Governors Island in New York City's harbor for the first time, Lonely Planet reports. Collective Retreats will offer a glamping package that includes luxury tents, farm-to-table dining, and activities, which may include live music, culinary classes, wellness sessions, thought leadership seminars, or yoga.

Located a 10-minute ferry ride from the southern end of Manhattan, Governors Island served as a military base beginning in 1755, and was used most recently by the United States Coast Guard from 1966 until 1996. That year, it was designated as a historical district, and by 2006, the island had opened to the public as a car-free green space. These days, visitors can wander among 19th-century buildings, lounge in a hammock on a grassy lawn, tour two historical forts, rent bikes, and see public art.

Collective Retreats offers a premium tent starting at $150 per night. Or, you can spring for a luxury tent at $500 per night. That rate gets you a private bath with full-flush toilets and rain-style hot showers, complimentary breakfast and s'mores, and personal concierge services. Plus, your tent is stocked with a supply of filtered water, a mini library of travel and fiction books, Pendleton blankets, a chandelier, and outlets for your tech stuff. On select nights, you can take advantage of discounted rates and book a night in a premium tent for $75.

The glampsite can accommodate about 100 overnight guests total, and stays are available from May to October, when Governors Island closes for the season. To get to the island, all you need to do is catch a ferry from Manhattan or Brooklyn: rides are even free on Saturdays and Sundays until 11:30 a.m.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

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