Margarette Sherman Kirsch is an 82-year-old, 5-foot-6, 130-pound dynamo. And her lifelong dream has been to ride cross-country in an 18-wheeler.
Finally, it was happening.
On a warm, sunny morning in early June in Dublin, Pa., Kirsch posed for photographers with the staff of the Twilight Wish Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to honor and enrich the lives of deserving seniors by granting wishes, and the sponsors who made her trip possible.
See also: Nonprofit makes dreams come true.
"She's always wanted to do that," Kirsch's husband, Jack, 83, said of the cross-country trip. "I bought her a motorcycle to try to calm her down, but that didn't work."
Kirsch climbed up in the rig unassisted. She sat in the driver's seat and blew the horn, but that was just for show.
Annabella Wood, a 30-year veteran trucker, would be doing the driving. Her dog, Quark, would tag along with them on the trip.
Twilight Wish found the 52-year-old Wood through a newsletter of a local faith organization, and the trucker volunteered to drive Kirsch to California and back to her Merritt Island, Fla., home, a trip that would take more than two weeks.
At first glance, Wood appeared as introverted as Kirsch was extroverted.
But at the send-off party they traded roles.
Wood, a country singer and songwriter who also has a degree in quantum physics from Bryn Mawr College, was at ease in front of the audience. She played her guitar and belted out a song that, although she had written it years before she ever met Kirsch, was particularly appropriate for the occasion — "Truck Drivin' Mama."
When asked for her reaction to being granted her wish, Kirsch said in her Georgia accent: "I talk all the time, but right now I am speechless."
A passion for trucks
Although they were born decades apart, Kirsch and Wood discovered on their trip that they have much in common.
"We are very similar in that we both have the wanderlust," said Wood. "We love sleeping in a different bed each night. We love trucks — everything about them, the fueling, the bumping down the road.
"It's something we're born with. This thing, it comes from the inside out."
At one stop, Kirsch asked Wood to make a U-turn with the truck while Kirsch watched from the parking lot.
After Wood did, Kirsch said, "I just love watching this truck move."
Kirsch saw an opportunity to pursue her truck passion when she read a People magazine article about the Twilight Wish Foundation. She thought, "What the heck … I'll give it a try."
She called Cass Forkin, the nonprofit's founder, and submitted her application.
By the time it was granted, Kirsch's wish set several records at the foundation, including the longest time it took to grant a wish, the most expensive wish, and the one that required the most planning.
Kirsch is hopeful that the national and local publicity the trip generated will help the organization, which now has nine chapters nationwide, to expand. "I think we really got the country worked up about helping seniors. You got an hour here or there, just go visit a nursing home. You don't have to know anybody by name."
Most of the nearly 2,000 wishes the foundation has granted are modest. Many help meet an older person's basic needs for a quilt, dental work or a wheelchair. Others, like a golf cart for nuns who can no longer walk on the grounds of their retirement home, improve their quality of life. Some are onetime experiences, like tickets to a sporting event or a chance to go dancing.
No shrinking violet
At several of the stops along the more than 6,500-mile trip, their hosts didn't know what to expect, Kirsch said. "They couldn't believe that this 82-year-old lady could climb in and out of the cab of the truck without any help. Off to the side, I'd see they'd have a wheelchair or walker or walking stick."
But Kirsch is no little old lady. She works out four hours a day at the gym, from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m.
"She's in excellent physical condition," Wood said. Long-distance trucking is "not easy on your circulation. I used to jump rope while the truck was being loaded or unloaded."
Kirsch has long had an adventurous streak. When she was in her 60s, she took a six-week trip on her motorcycle. "I drove from Indiana to Rome, Ga., to pick up my mother, and we drove clear down to Key West and back," she said.
In her 70s, she decided to get a tattoo. "I got Speedy Gonzales, because I am," she said. "Aren't I?"
During the trip, Wood said, "Margarette was very upbeat, spending almost all of the time telling me these wonderful stories."
Stories like how she met her husband, Jack. In her 20s, Kirsch left her hometown of Rome, Ga., and moved to Lawrenceburg, Ind., to work in dining services with American Airlines. One day while working at the airport she saw a man with a camera and approached him.
He said, "I've come over today to take a picture of a good-lookin' woman."
"Where do you want me to stand?" she replied. "Because I'm the best-lookin' woman you're going to see today."
They married on Oct. 31, 1956. "I can never remember dates," Kirsch said. "So I picked Halloween as our wedding day because it's a great holiday and that way I wouldn't forget it. Every year Jack gives me a broom."
After driving more than 6,500 miles and over 110 hours, Wood said she loved the journey with Kirsch. "It was really a mutual wish granting," she said. "I've always thought it would be fun to run around the country with an empty trailer and a nice rig and have a good time."
Kirsch summed up her experience with two words — awesome and outstanding.
"Would I do it again?" Kirsch asked rhetorically. "What time do you want to pick me up?"
Suzanne Tobin is a copy editor for the AARP Bulletin.