I am certain that every grandchild of Ralph Nevy has fond memories of the driving excursions he used to take us on. Sometimes you would wonder if he remembered where in the world he was going as he navigated you through the gravel roads, hairpin turns and deep woods of the Allegheny Mountains surrounding Cumberland…but in the end, he always knew exactly where he was—and there was usually a spectacular view.
In late December 1977, my sisters and I had the great honor of taking Nonno on his last road trip. We were in Cumberland for a post-Christmas visit (“I can’t believe you came all the way over those icy mountains just to see me, for the love of God!” Nonnie had scolded us upon arrival) and had all been very interested in visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright house “Falling Water” in nearby Pennsylvania. The weather cooperated, and so we decided to make the two-hour trip one morning. Nonno heard of our plans and wanted to go along for the ride.
In his final days of senility, Nonno wasn’t truly aware of what we were going to see, but all he knew is that is was a road trip and he wanted to go. Nonnie and Mom had been concerned about him going out in the wintry weather, since he’d just been visited by a homecare nurse who had given him a bath, and he was slightly chilled. But he insisted on going, and we adoring granddaughters weren’t about to stand in his way, so off we went.
On the way down the interstate into Pennsylvania, we began to see signs to various towns along the way. When a sign for Uniontown went by, Nonno read it phonetically and exclaimed, “Oniontown!?” We all giggled and told him how it was really pronounced.
A little later, when we’d been on the road quite awhile, Nonno became aware that this was no half hour jaunt around Cumberland and back. He began to grow worried, doubting our navigational skills. “Where are we going?” he asked us. “I think we should turn around.” We kept assuring him that we were almost to our destination. Marianne said, “It’s only fifteen more miles to the house, Nonno.” (Meaning the Frank Lloyd Wright house)
“To the HOUSE?” Nonno cried in disbelief, thinking we were talking about the house at 779 Fayette Street.
Once again, we explained our destination and reassured him that everything was all right. Each time he would begin to worry, we would start singing one of his favorite old war songs, “The Halls of Montezuma”, and he’d join in and become pacified by it.
At last we arrived and descended the steps to the home, which was now a museum. It stood quiet and empty, with no other tourists around to behold its wintry “Robert Frost” beauty of snow and woods and icicles hanging from its angular eaves.
Some of us wanted a closer look and went all the way down to peer into the windows. But the steps were icy, and Nonno stayed at a safe distance, happy to just survey the scene from a distance. We pointed out to him how the house was built directly over a waterfall, and how the great architect had been light years ahead of his time in his designs and creations. Nonno was very impressed with it, and admired the scenic beauty of the waterfall in winter.
“In all the years I lived in Cumberland, I never see ‘dis place,” he marveled out loud.
We were so happy that, after all of his angst over the long drive, he was finally enjoying the house. Really enjoying it. And happy to be there with us. And we stood there holding his arm, happy that he came.
On the way back to Cumberland, Nonno was unusually quiet. We stopped at a truck stop for a restroom break and to get ice cream cones. It was the middle of winter, but they looked delicious after our long drive. Nonno had a vanilla one, but could not finish it because once we were back on the highway, he began to grow ill. He complained of being hot, and there were a few frightening instances where he would grimace and make noises of pain. We wondered where the closest hospital was and if we should take him there, or if we should get him back to Cumberland to his family doctor. After a few minutes, he seemed to be fully recovered, but very tired. It was a tense ride the rest of the way home, all of us wondering what exactly had happened to him and if he was really okay.
We arrived home in time for one of Nonnie’s delicious meals, but Nonno went straight to bed. Very early the next morning, Nonnie heard noises coming from his bedroom, and he was ill again. She and Mom called the paramedics, and when they came to pick him up, Nonnie told them, “He was making lamenting noises!”
Nonno stayed in the hospital for a very long time, coming home for a brief time before being admitted to a hospice-type nursing home up on Haystack Mountain. Those were his final days with us. He died as the sun came up on the morning of February 21, 1978. It was sad saying goodbye to him, and sad to remember that his ailing began with that last excursion through the mountains…but we always cherished getting to be with our honored grandfather on his last road trip, and how much he had loved going.