A 90-year-old Michigan woman is proving that it’s never too late to “hit the road.”
After her husband’s death and her cancer diagnosis soon after, “Miss Norma” decided to forego treatment and, instead, set off on an all-American RV trip across the United States.
In the months since then, Norma has visited Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, gazed at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and tried homemade key lime pie in Florida.
Accompanied by her son Tim, her daughter-in-law Ramie, and her poodle Ringo, Norma has visited Disney World and the Kennedy Space Center, collected seashells and dined on freshly-caught crayfish, and flown on her first-ever hot-air balloon ride.
The trio has also been documenting the trip online, through a Facebook page titled “Driving Miss Norma.”
In an email exchange with CTVNews.ca, Ramie said the trio started the trip in Northern Michigan. From there, Norma and her family headed to South Dakota, through Wyoming and Colorado, and out to Arizona before heading back east.
They visited New Mexico, spent Thanksgiving in New Orleans and then stayed in balmy Florida for most of the winter.
Now, they’re travelling around coastal Georgia before making their way to South Carolina.
Beyond that, Ramie said, “we’ll make it up as we go along.”
Ramie said they drive an average of three hours a day on travel days, taking the time to enjoy the scenery and relax in their 36-foot (10-metre) motorhome.
She said some of the highlights of the trip so far have been marvelling at the natural beauty in national and state parks and sampling local cuisines.
“Right now we are enjoying Georgia’s seafood and fantastic deserts!” Ramie said. “It is so fun for us that (Norma) is willing to try most anything!”
‘I’m hitting the road!’
Ramie says Norma was never interested in living the rest of her days in a nursing home.
Doctors told Norma this summer that they’d detected a large, likely cancerous tumour on her uterus. The news came a day after her husband, Leo, was admitted into hospice care.
Two days after his death in August, Ramie says, Norma found herself sitting in a doctor’s office, discussing her treatment options.
“You know the drill: surgery, then radiation and chemo in some order,” Ramie wrote in a Facebook post about the meeting.
The doctor rattled off the options, and then turned to Norma to ask her how she wanted to proceed.
According to Ramie, Norma looked him dead in the eye, and said “I’m 90-years-old. I’m hitting the road!”
Ramie said the doctor and a medical student who was sitting in on the appointment were both surprised, but after Ramie and Tim explained the plan to travel in their RV, the doctor was supportive.
“He didn’t hesitate to say ‘Right on!'” Ramie wrote on Facebook. “(He said) ‘There is no guarantee she will survive the initial surgery … you are doing exactly what I would want to do in this situation. Have a fantastic trip!'”
‘Volumes’ of life lessons
At 90-years-old, 101-pounds and just under five-feet tall, Ramie says Norma is “shy and humble,” with “a great sense of adventure.”
Norma worked as a nurse during the Second World War, before settling down to become a stay-at-home mother and homemaker.
Before this year, she’d travelled a little in Europe, Ramie said. But other than a train ride from New York to San Diego 70 years ago, Norma had previously seen little of the U.S.
Since setting out in the RV, Norma has amassed more than 200,000 followers on her Facebook page, received messages from fans from China to Easter Island, and even attracted the attention of Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho.
Ramie said people from every continent except Antarctica have offered to host Norma and show her around.
“The responses have been overwhelming. At one point I had 106,000 messages in our Facebook inbox,” Ramie said. “The power of this simple story has shown us how much true goodness there is in this world.”
Beyond inspiring strangers, Ramie said Norma has also offered “volumes” of life lessons to her co-travellers – so many that it was impossible to list them all.
When asked what advice she has to offer, however, Norma was succinct.
“You get so old that you have to do what you want,” she said in an email. “Or you will never get around to it.”