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From the stacks: 'Driving Miss Norma' warms the heart with one unforgettable roadtrip

From the stacks: 'Driving Miss Norma' warms the heart with one unforgettable roadtrip

August 13th, 2017 by Madeline Matson, For the News Tribune in Life & Entertainment

Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle, the authors of the heartwarming memoir, "Driving Miss Norma: One Family's Journey Saying 'Yes' to Living," are free spirits whose desire for travel dominated their lives.

Tim worked as a builder, and Ramie as a school counselor. They traveled as much as their work schedules allowed. Both wanted a lifestyle filled with meaningful experiences instead of acquiring material things and living only for a paycheck.

When Ramie's sister offered them her old Airstream travel trailer, they began to do some serious traveling and set out for warm climates, often settling in Baja, California, for months at a time. They had saved money through the years to enable those trips.

Their lives changed in a major way during a visit to Tim's parents in Presque Isle, Michigan. They found Tim's father, Leo, in tremendous pain after suffering a compression fracture. Leo entered the hospital with further complications while Tim's mother, Norma, was in the same hospital having tests. Leo died a week later, and Norma found she had uterine cancer. Tim and Ramie knew Norma needed help and asked if she'd like to live with them on the road. Norma said she'd think about it. Her doctors recommended surgery, radiation and chemotherapy with several months to heal. Norma said, "I'm 90 years old. I'm hitting the road." She was finished with doctors and hospitals.

After traveling simply for 15 years, it was now time for Tim and Ramie to acquire a larger vehicle (a 36-foot motor home) since Norma would be with them in what Tim called a "mobile assisted-living home." Their dog, a standard poodle Ringo, would accompany them. It was also time for Tim to get to know his mother a little better, more than what he'd gleaned from his yearly visits and phone calls.

Norma and Leo had been married for 67 years and lived a quiet life. They had been in the military during World War II, but after that, they rarely ventured out of their town or state. It turned out Norma was eager to try lots of new things — from a hot air balloon ride and riding a horse to attending a professional basketball game and sampling a variety of regional foods. She even visited a cannabis dispensary in Colorado where she purchased a topical cream for her arthritis and leg swelling and CBD capsules, which helped replace her strong pain medicine as the trip progressed.

Ramie documented their travels in a journal and started a Facebook page titled Driving Miss Norma. Soon she began receiving thousands of messages from people all over the globe who were inspired by Norma's courage and spirit. After world-famous author Paolo Coehlo posted a photo of Norma on his Facebook page, the Driving Miss Norma page quickly attracted messages from hundreds of thousands of well-wishers. National and local media outlets picked up on Norma and her extended roadtrip, and she was interviewed on television and featured in newspapers and magazines.

In one year, the three vagabonds visited 32 states, 15 national parks, slept in more than 75 locations and traveled 13,000 miles. A map at the beginning of the book charts their coast-to-coast journey.

While this book deals with grief and sadness, it is most of all a positive story about a woman who chose a different way to live her final years and a couple who supported her along the way. Life on the road was a grand adventure for Norma and an unforgettable gift for Tim and Ramie.

Madeline Matson is the reference and adult programming librarian at the Missouri River Regional Library.