- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

YORKTOWN, Ind. (AP) - Alison Miller pulled into town earlier this month to visit her 93-year-old mother-in-law in her very noticeable mode of transportation.

The narrow driveway of Zelmeda Dearing’s Yorktown home barely has enough room for Miller’s bright pink car with a bright pink trailer attached to the back. Nonetheless, Miller backs in perfectly aligned.

It wasn’t always an easy task for her, but when her husband died, she was forced to take over the responsibility behind the wheel.

“I was riddled with anxiety,” she said. “Chuck had always done all of the driving because he just wanted me to relax. And I didn’t know how to do any of that.”

Chuck Dearing, a Yorktown native, had been married to Miller for 24 years before developing sarcoma, a soft tissue cancer. He was an Air Force veteran and a former long-range planner in the military who knew how to map a route. It was useful when the couple embarked on a cross-country journey eight years ago, one prompted by their mutual desire to “get out of the rat race” and quit their day jobs in New Jersey.

They started their road trip calling themselves “happily homeless,” staying overnight at military bases and cheap hotels.

About three years and 48 states later, Chuck’s health deteriorated. While out in California, an area with which they weren’t familiar, he told her, “I can’t do this anymore. You need to take me to the ER.” Miller frantically searched online for the closest hospital she could find. They found out the cancer spread all over his body.

After checking into a hospice care unit, he was gone in less than a month.

“On one hand, I thank God for it because it was a lifetime in three weeks,” Miller said. “It was difficult, but I had time to get the kids out there … and we just surrounded him and immersed him in all of the love he had given so many of us.”

Chuck had two final requests for her: to scatter his ashes at their favorite travel destinations and to paint her car in a pink hue so distinct, he could find her when she was on the road. Thus, she crafted her own color called, “Chuck’s Watching Over Me Pink” and kicked off her own cross-country road trip.

Today, after three and a half years and with 90,000 miles down on her solo journey, Miller has developed a sort of “online scrapbook” through a blog and a Facebook page that has accumulated more than 3,300 likes. On her Facebook she writes of moments on the road that remind her of Chuck, like the Saturday when she came across a woman at the grocery store with a hoodie that had ‘Hotel del Coronado, California” written on the back. That’s where she had gone with her daughters to hold a ritual in Chuck’s honor mere days following his death.

Miller said because of her online presence, she has been recognized at various stops. For those who don’t know of her, the bright pink vehicle draws them in. Often other widows connect with her. They use her journey as inspiration.

At each stop she makes, Miller emerges from her car. Her face shines as the sun hits it, her eyelids and cheekbones sprinkled in rose gold glitter. She’s dressed head to toe in pink to match her vehicle, other than her lace-up, knee-high brown boots. Her hot pink headband sharply contrasts with her platinum blonde hair.

She calls the pink outfit her armor.

“What people would consider costumes, I would consider ordinary daywear when I’m out on the road,” she said. “It carries me on this odyssey of love, so I need to dress as the warrior I am.”

The remainder of Chuck’s ashes sit in the passenger seat in a container with old pictures glued to the outside. A folded flag rests against the container to commemorate his time in the armed forces. “Nothin’ But Love” reads on both sides of the car. Inside the trailer, where Miller sleeps at random truck stops, photos of her and Chuck hang above the pink sequined pillows on her bed.

Back at her Yorktown home, Dearing remembers Chuck with a picture she keeps on her low-standing, living room coffee table. She lays it flat so she can look down and see her son’s face from all angles when she walks by. She also keeps an old map, marked with points where Miller and Chuck used to travel. She continues to mark it with her daughter-in-law’s destinations.

“I was kind of nervous about Alison being alone,” Dearing said. “But I keep her in my prayers.”

Miller has nearly exhausted all of Chuck’s life insurance money, and while she has no source of steady income at the moment, she said she doesn’t want to stop traveling because “it’s where the magic happens.”

“It would be really hard for me to go back to a so-called normal life. So, I want to stay on the road. That’s where I need to be,” she said.

Miller has considered public speaking and writing a book as means for making money in the future, but she said no matter the situation she faces later on, she always will “suit up” in her pink armor, lace up her knee-high boots and carry Chuck with her to the next destination, wherever that might be.

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Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, https://tspne.ws/2f04FCw

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Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

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