For years my parents talked of going to Alaska with friends, either on a cruise or the ferry.
"Do it!" My sister and I told them. A favorite story for my parents involves crossing a swinging bridge while on a horseback pack trip with those same friends in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana.
But suddenly that horse story had grown three decades old. And my mother's only other travel adventure, coming with my sister to join me in the British Isles for three weeks in 1980, also had started showing a few moth holes.
What seemed plausible not so long ago -- for them to rent a recreational vehicle and drive off the ferry to tour Alaska -- now, with my parents in their mid 70s, didn't make much sense because of health and energy concerns.
When winter took an unusually hard toll on my mother, I felt moved to do what I had put off doing -- volunteer to set up a cruise and go with them.
I couldn't quite do it gracefully. I had to add that if I was going to Alaska on my own, I would be hiking or kayaking, something that would get me into the wilderness.
"No offense, dear," said my mother, "but if I'm going to Alaska, I'd really rather be in a small boat that goes close enough to shore so I can see wildlife."
It got worse. My sister wanted to cruise, but to go some place warm. My father's idea of a perfect holiday was a week wrapped around tee times.
So how it happened that our bunch of curmudgeons turned into cruise overachievers, I'll never know. We hate group activities, and we especially don't like dressing up.
"What does it mean by formal wear?" my mother asked after our first bombardment of literature about the cruise.
Yet at the end of our cruise, the Holland America staff nearly had to take us off the Nieuw Amsterdam on stretchers.
We did it all. Everything. OK, we missed the "Silverware Arranging" class with hostess Lisa, but only because it overlapped with the "Line Dancing" class. Or was it the "Murder Mystery"?
By the time our week had ended, my sister and I had earned windbreakers from getting our little "Passport to Fitness" books stamped so many times. My father sported a new water bottle from his diligence on the exercise bicycle. My mother's purse was lined with the $54 she won at the craps table. My sainted mother! The craps table!
That, in fact, is when it first became clear we weren't going to be ourselves on this adventure.
After dinner the first night when we were checking out the whole ship, we swung through the casino so my father and sister could try out the poker machines.
There was no one standing at the craps table except my mother and what I call her "Queen Elizabeth purse" because of the way she holds the little straps tucked up tight against her abdomen.
"How do you do it?" she asked, squeezing open the purse to get out a couple of dollars.
"Toss the dice like you're feeding chooks [chickens]," said the Australian casino worker.
She tossed. She won. She tossed. She won. She got bolder and threw harder.
"Don't kill anybody," said the stick man.
The next night my sister and I shared a bingo card and won $122 on the first round. That was it for us. We never missed bingo again.
Nor did we miss line dancing. The crowd on the cruise ship, of course, is older, which made us feel young. More than that, we learned a lot. That bunch out line dancing seemed much more interested in having fun than in how they looked. There was no such thing as feeling foolish, which is very freeing.
My tactful announcement to my folks at the start of the trip was that we didn't have to do all things together all the time. Then I promptly signed up for a hike in Juneau (short but lovely) and a kayak trip in Sitka (short but gorgeous).
We all went together for a bus excursion in Ketchikan, and then, to my surprise, given my mother's continuing feud with alarm clocks, she and my father went again in Juneau and Sitka.
On the last night, my father retired to the casino while my mother, sister and I went for one last poke around the ship. It was over. We had done it all, or so we thought until just this side of midnight we found it.