It was a cross-country road trip, a Vermont version of Cannonball Run. Or, as the two sisters involved might put it, a sisterly ninja rescue mission in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pam Monder lives in Shrewsbury and last summer, as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the US, she grew increasingly worried about her sister Kit Annis, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and was living alone in her Los Angeles apartment. So in July, Pam, her husband Jeff and Pam's brother decided to drive from their home to Los Angeles to bring Kit back to the relative safe harbor of Vermont. And Kit says it was just what she needed.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Pam Monder and Kit Annis about their cross-country pandemic travels and return to Vermont. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kit Annis: I was extremely isolated. I lived in Los Angeles, in the heart of Hollywood, right across the street from the Dolby Theatre. I went out of my apartment on the sixth floor once a week to receive my grocery delivery and my mail. My children lived three miles away from me, but I was unable to see them.
Mitch Wertlieb: I’m so sorry to hear that. Pam, where did the idea come from that you and your husband and your brother would drive out to Los Angeles and performed what I understand you're calling a “ninja rescue mission”?
Pam Monder: We are [laughs]. It just seemed like the natural thing to do, because she was in 440-square-feet of space in L.A., and we have 10.5 acres in the woods in Vermont. We have a house, and we have a garden. And it just seemed like a natural solution to her mental health well-being, which was really, for me, the biggest concern at the time.
Kit, when you heard about this plan that your sister had, what was your reaction? Because nobody knew how long this pandemic would last, and she says, “I'm going to drive out to L.A. and bring you back to Vermont” … I mean, what was your initial reaction to this?
Well, at first I was reticent about it, and I'm like, "no, that's not necessary." But as we got further into the pandemic — and I think it was Fourth of July weekend — I succumbed, because I was so terribly lonely. And it seemed like it was going to go on for a long time.
Pam, tell us a little bit about the drive. I mean, this is a 3,000-mile drive. I’m wondering how long it took you, and what were some of the more significant things that happened along the way that you're going to remember?
My husband and I left Vermont on July 19. We had our SUV and a 17-foot camper that we were using as our “spaceship,” as we called it, to get us to the RV that we rented all the way in Ohio, which we then took the rest of the way to California. [Along the way, we stopped to pick up our brother in Illinois.]
The thing that stands out to me, even now, are the number of people in July of last year who were running around in the streets without masks. A lot of folks we know who live across the country would say, “Are you going to stop in Montana, and visit this place?” Or “You're going to stop in Utah. Will you visit this place?” And I kept thinking, this is not what this trip is about! This is really a rescue mission, we're not out as tourists! We're doing something with a purpose here.
What was that moment like when you finally got to L.A.? You first opened the door, you see each other … Kit, what was that like, seeing your sister there, realizing, "OK, she's here for me now?"
Well, first of all, it was my sister's birthday. And I saw my sister and my brother and my brother-in-law. My brother-in-law said, “You can hug us.”
And that was just an incredible moment … where I got to actually touch my loved ones … for the first time in many months.
Pam, I have to imagine that was pretty emotional for you, too?
Well, I'm crying right now [laughs]. As all things in this family, it was a moment of high drama, and a moment of wonderful comedy. You know, we drove up to the apartment, and she was looking in the opposite direction of where we were driving. And we're waving out the windows, frantically trying to get her attention, and she's looking in the opposite direction [while] on the phone. It exemplified so much [laughs].
So Kit, by August of last year, you were in Vermont, and you're in Shrewsbury. What was it like, if you can encapsulate that feeling for us?
It was freedom. I was able to go out and about, I was living with people I didn't have to be afraid of. We became a total unit right away. It was … it was amazing.
So I understand now that your journey is at an end. You're going to be going back to Los Angeles. When does that happen?
No, I am leaving actually this Saturday [May 1] and I am going to relocate to Denver.
So a whole life change for you now. What's prompting that, the move to Denver?
I have two children, and one lives in Los Angeles and one lives in Denver. And I've decided that I'm going to Denver, for economic reasons. It's less expensive to live in Denver than it is to live in Los Angeles.
We had a VPR listener who recommended [we talk to you for] this story, and she said that there was a story about a raspberry patch. I wonder if one of you could tell us what happened there?
Oh brother [laughs]. I have multiple sclerosis, and I have difficulty ambulating, and I have balance issues. And I was outside at my sister's house, picking some berries down the hill from where I'm looking right this moment. And I was out there getting my raspberries and I lost my balance and I fell down.
The only problem was my feet were higher than my head on the slope that I was on, and I couldn't get up. Well, my sister had told me, if you're going to go out in the yard, make sure you have your phone. So, if you need help, you can get help, never thinking I ever would. But guess what? My phone was in my pocket. I picked up the phone and called my sister and called her, because I thought about it for a while, lying there.
My first thought, though, when she called — because I was doing something in the garage — my phone rang, and I looked at it said “Kit Annis,” and I thought, that's interesting.
So I answered the phone. She said, “I'm in the berry patch, bring cardboard and a rope.” And I said, “Are we burying you? I don't understand why you need cardboard and a rope.” And she said, “You'll see when you get here. Just come.” [laughs]
The berry bushes were very sticky, so I couldn't move around very much. So I thought, if I put a box in between me and the bushes, that I would pull myself up on the road, because I was afraid I was too big to get up from there. But my sister went and got her husband and they got me right up.
Kit Annis ends her Vermont sojourn on Saturday, May 1, when she leaves to join her son and his family in Colorado.
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