To me, travel is like a long tunnel – a wide open archway leading to a place where time and distance reveal the hidden treasures at the other side.
It is also like Einstein’s equivalence principle: the drive to Washington – the pull to get me to the other side of the tunnel (where I wanted to stay) was equal to the pull of California and my responsibilities wanting to keep me at home.
Luckily for me, my mother insisted that Brian and I attend this family reunion, and as usual, she was right. As soon as Sonoma County was just a blur in the distance of Interstate 5 I felt myself letting go of the burdens I had been carrying around for such a long time. I love staring out a window lost in thought for hours at a time. To watch the different paintings of people’s lives unfold before my eyes through the clear canvas of a car window.
Northern California is yellow at this time of year and the dried grass looks like soft bristles of a boar’s brush. Oregon is green, like dew covered valleys in the morning. Washington is dark green, vibrant and full of strength in trees and mountains. Washington bellows.
This part of my family nestles itself in Olympia, Tacoma, Lacey and Southern Seattle. The reunion was at a golf course club house in Olympia – not far from the Hams brewery. Everything is lush and green, and the weather is warm. Washington feels like a soft sweater about my shoulders.
My mother took care of everything, wanting me to relax and not think of any details. Usually I would have issue with this, but this time I just let her orchestrate my trip like a concert master of a great symphonic performance. And for a brief time I was able to let other people take care of me (and Brian) and feel what it is like to be a kid again in summer. No cares, and plenty of cousins to play with. It turned out to be the perfect gift for my 45th birthday.
With this side of my family there is always an adventure when we get together. Our “gatherings” have been going on since I was about 8. There is usually no less than 80 people who travel from the far corners to give hugs and kisses.
As I stare out the window at the breathtaking beauty that surrounds me, my mind wanders. I conclude that it is arrogant for Sonoma County CA to believe it cornered the market on eye-catching scenery. Washington takes my breath away.
The family reunion and party is wonderful, but my mother’s car has a problem which forces us to stay a few extra days over the 4th of July holiday. My mother wanted us to spend it in Crescent City on our way home. Yeah, spend my 45th birthday in pea soup fog near Pelican Bay. Sounds like such fun.
Luckily we stay in Olympia for my birthday and my cousin Mitch has plans for exactly how we are going to spend it. He has a fireworks plan. I have no idea what we are doing. As sunset draws near Mitch races up his truck and yells, “Get Brian and get in!” Brian already is running for the truck. I grab a blanket and sweater. Cousin Jeff and his wife (from Fallon) pull up in a really really REALLY big penis truck with a bunch of chairs in the bed. Even my redneck cousins know how to invade Washington wild country.
Mitch, with a cigarette in his mouth smiles and shouts, “We are about to corrupt your son – you better not bitch!”
We are off to – I have no idea. “Have you ever seen real bottle rockets up close Brian?” he asks, as Brian sits glued to him in the truck, hanging on his every word.
Oh good lord. Now I am going to get arrested with my son.
Mitch tells us we are on our way to the Indian Reservation where illegal fireworks are legal AND there is a huge fireworks show from the casino. Oh OK, so we will only get arrested when LEAVING. I feel so much better. Delaying handcuffs and the back of a squad car comforts me as we travel down this winding country road, heading east out of Olympia, through massive redwoods and country I would give anything to have a home on. Mitch is puffing on his cigarette and talking a mile a minute to Brian. I’ve lost both of them to their own boy-men world.
We cross the reservation line and cars and trucks are going in every direction. Suddenly it is clear to me that we are not in Kansas anymore… let alone Washington, or the United States. A dark, thick haze of smoke covers the ground to about 10 feet high. It sounds like a reenactment of the revolutionary war.
Suddenly, I want to let the natives know my family came to America from Ireland via CANADA many years after other stupid white folk took their land. Did you know on a reservation one can pile 25 men in the back of a truck, with cases of beer and drive on the wrong side of the road and not get arrested? Who knew?
Mitch finds his “regular” parking place in the middle of this dry field. Jeff gets out and immediately starts his own fireworks display. Bottle rockets and fireworks that usually are controlled by professionals I have never met in my own town, are being set off by every day people with a Bic lighter and a Budweiser.
I imagine that we are going to return home without limbs and hair. Brian is literally dancing. I was not the buzz kill, but I wanted a Valium and I don’t take Valium.
About this time, Jeff decides his fireworks show just isn’t manly enough, since everyone else around us is exploding enough fireworks to send their trucks to the moon. He’s got to take a walk with Mitch.
They tell Brian he is in charge – Uhhhhhh HELLLOOO BOYS. Brian puffs up like a turkey before Thanksgiving. Yeah, he’s a man alright – right up until I tell him it’s bedtime and remind him who brought him into this world. Jeff and Mitch go see some “friends” on the reservation and come back with 28 super bottle rockets.
Yes, I did type 28.
A two with an eight.
As I survey the 10 inch tall, dried yellow grass surrounding us, I surmise the world will be hearing about this huge Washington fire started on a reservation by some stupid white people who came to America through Canada some decades back and the FBI is trying to find them. Fox television will have it’s own news special; ‘Fireworks! A fire on a Washington Reservation. Terrorism or race wars?’
Jeff decides it’s a great idea to line the bottle rockets 4 in a row and set them off with a smaller volcano firework. Oiy. Men always believe they need to reinvent the wheel. What is it about the male species? Why do they always have to show that they are bigger, better, stronger? Some throw back to the caveman days? I make Brian stand with me back with the truck as a possible shield. Good lord, is this really how we celebrate my birthday?
Kaaaabooom off goes the first, then the second, third and forth. OK, I’ll admit it – this is kind of damn cool. We are our own artillery unit now. All hail Catherine the Great’s birthday squadron. (Just ignore the men I am with who are smoking cigarettes while surrounded by fireworks). Jeff and Mitch set off all the bottle rockets. People around us applaud. Good God, please people don’t encourage them. We are suppose to look like responsible adults with children.
I fear we will be launching canon fire next. Brian has died and gone to heaven. Luckily we all have our limbs and haven’t burned anything down when at 10pm the casino fireworks show begins. We pull our chairs from Jeff’s truck, sit down and take the rest in. HA! We are still alive. It’s a great birthday.
At 11:30pm, we arrive back at Uncle Bill and Aunt Alice’s home and get ready for bed. Brian is still wound up and wants to talk to me. Isn’t my birthday over yet? He finally falls asleep somewhere around 12:30. Well, at least he won’t be waking up early.
It’s now Tuesday. Mom and Uncle Bill go to the mechanic’s shop to check on the car. It turns out it’s the alternator and it can be fixed in a day. Looks like I will be going back to California. Damn. The dream to stay in Washington is quickly fading. Reality is setting in. My cell phone is beginning to ring with phone calls from clients. I am on ROAM. They won’t be hearing from me while ROAM is in session, unless I can charge two points on the loan. Brian tells me he is missing his Dad, his dog Boonie and his cat Annabelle. California is beginning to pull me home with a vengeance.
We hang out at Alice and Bill’s for the day. At noon, big Uncle Bud and Aunt Patricia stop by pulling their trailer. They are leaving and resuming the rest of their trip. Patricia owns land in Alaska and they are off to spend the rest of the summer in the great northwest. This is the Uncle from Fallon, Nevada who looks like a noble character right out of a Louis Lamour western epic novel. With his thin build, large cowboy hat, huge mustache, Levis jeans and cowboy boots – all he needs is a pair of 6 shooters.
I adore him. He is 85 years old and acts like he is 50. In Alaska, he will be chopping down trees and clearing their property. Yes, he does this himself. He always teases me and tells me he’s a young stud because he marries younger women. Patricia is 62. Well… he has buried two other wives who died of cancer. I am of the opinion that no one can keep up with him. What a stud. He tells me to get a younger man, and winks at my mother (his step-sister) informing her that he has “set me straight”. Yeh, I’ll go right out and marry that 21 year old guy…(rolling eyes)…
As he pulls away in his huge diesel truck pulling his trailer, he yells, “Cat!! Get yer butt to Fallon for a visit and bring Brian. I’ll teach him about ranchin! We’ll be back home in September!” He waves, and in a heartbeat they are gone. This vacation is going by too fast. God, how I miss the days this big family of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents got together twice a year in Sonoma County. Christmas eve was the best. Now we are scattered like stars against the night sky.
The phone rings. My mother’s car will be ready at 3:00. It’s time to pack. My mom wants to leave and drive to Grants Pass Oregon as soon as the car is ready. Damn. I am going back home starting today. At 3:00 sharp the car is returned to Aunt Alice and Uncle Bill’s home. Service in a small town…wow. (Or maybe they just want people from California to hurry up and leave the state).
Sadly, it is time to say our goodbyes. Aunt Carmen is there, Mitch is in school, Ron, Randy, Ray and Rick are at work and Rob (BOB) is in his earn on the mantle. We exchange hugs and tears as I get into the driver’s seat. Brian has been sitting in the back seat since the car was returned. He is ready to go home.
The drive home is smooth and lined with trees of all types. As we approach the Smith river and Patrick’s Creek, my mom begins to tell Brian her stories about growing up in this part of California. Her father had a ranch that makes up most of Garberville out to Black Sand Beach and Shelter Cove.
We have lunch at my mother’s favorite Crescent City restaurant, which is known for its clam chowder and seafood. It’s a thick foggy day – like the chowder. Staring out the window I have decided not to return to mortgage banking. I can do some free-lance work and have had some offers for contract work. The decision brings me peace, a peace I have not felt in years.
The next step besides starting a new career is getting well from this Hashimotos disease. Baby steps. As we drive out of Crescent City I feel content. I can go back home. I can change things. I can form the dream group and create the next stage of my life. I look down at my beautifully painted toes from Ron’s daughter’s handy work. I may not live where I want, or am living the life I want, but I am loved by some amazingly wonderful people.
I have a fabulous extended family.
Until next time.
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