Archived Opinion

A bucket list full of dreams

A bucket list full of dreams

Late in life, my mom created a bucket list. It wasn’t in response to her cancer diagnosis, but once she passed away, the list became serendipitous. 

One item on her list said, “Take a trip to Africa.” 

My mom, Brenda, had been enamored with Africa since childhood. Born in 1940, TV wasn’t common and going to the movies was a big deal. “Tarzan” was a popular movie series during much of the 20th century. My grandmother and mom loved these movies and watched them faithfully. Brenda Joyce was the actress who played Jane during the 1940s string of “Tarzan” movies. Brenda Joyce was also my mom’s namesake. From an early age, my mother adored Africa and desired to see this beautiful land in person. 

In 2012, she and my dad finally went for a two-week stay. To watch my mom bring this bucket list item to fruition was very inspiring. She saved money and planned for several years before they made the long trek to a faraway continent she’d only dreamed of as a child. She wrote in a journal every day during that trip. The journal is a treasured keepsake of mine, especially now that she’s no longer here on earth. 

My mom was a dreamer and loved adding and deleting items to her bucket list. She always encouraged my dad to create one, but he never did while she was alive. 

Shortly after she died, he was traveling for work and checked into his hotel late. Typically, he’s not one to flip on the TV but for whatever reason, he switched on the tube in his hotel room that night and the channel was on HBO. The movie “The Bucket List” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman had just started. He felt like it was a wink from my mom, so he sat there and watched the entire movie. He then created his own bucket list. 

Related Items

The next time he and I were together, he told me the story about the movie and shared his bucket list with me. Here it is: 

1) Get a tattoo in memory of Brenda. 

2) Go horse-back riding (did a lot as a kid; been 61 years since being on a horse).

3) Follow the trail out west from Brenda’s tour company and spend more time at The Cowboy Museum and other places that were so fabulous.

4) Get a camper to travel to places I’ve seen and loved, but didn’t get to stop or spend enough time touring.

5) Hug and kiss my beautiful family every chance I get. 

6) Every day try to help others in need, similar to the actor Ben Gazarra in the 1960s series “Run for Your Life,” where he was doomed to die soon and lived each day as if it were his last, defending those in desperate need. 

My dad’s bucket list makes me smile. It’s kind and unique to his very special personality, but it’s also do-able. He’s already purchased the RV he references in item number four and as soon as he can sell his house, he’ll be on the road no doubt. I bought him a Cataloochee Ranch gift certificate at Christmas so he and I can go horseback riding. Now that the weather is nice, I have a feeling it will happen soon, maybe over Father’s Day weekend. 

He hasn’t gotten his tattoo yet, but he has it sketched out on a piece of paper. 

Numbers five and six come easy to him. They don’t really need to be on a bucket list because he does them all the time anyway. He’s the sweetest, most generous man and would do anything for anyone. 

Number three involves my mom’s former tour company. Another item on her bucket list was to own a tour company. After retiring from 35 years in public education, she became an entrepreneur. My dad, also a retired educator, drives for Young Transportation. My mom used this company for her trips and my dad was always the driver. That way, the two of them would be together on these excursions. One of their favorite trips was one they took out west, but apparently my dad felt they never had enough time to fully enjoy the itinerary stops. I have a feeling that number three will happen easily once he gets on the road in his RV. 

I’ve only made one bucket list for myself. I found it several months ago. It was dated July 8, 2013. It’s includes items such as get a book published, run a half marathon, take the boys to Disney, take the boys to New York City, tour the vineyards in California wine country, go on a mission trip, further explore Europe and so on. I’ve completed some of these items and others are waiting in the wings. 

Some people think bucket lists are silly and maybe they are, but I come from a family of dreamers and we believe the sky is the limit. The other day my dad was telling some of my friends about the trip to Africa. His eyes twinkled as he spoke. The Africa trip was not something he wanted to do at first. It was on my mom’s list, not his, but he went for her and ended up enjoying it thoroughly. 

Whether it’s a bucket list or something else, I think it’s important to reflect on life and dream big. It’s a beautiful world out there. We can’t allow the daily grind to shield our true sight. I know I can’t. 

The late Mary Oliver said, “Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 

Well, my friends, what’s your answer?

(Susanna Barbee wears several hats for The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.