It was intended to be a visit in the beginning. A visit, to grandpa’s house in Fresno. Fresno California in the heat of summer. I never drive that far. I partnered up, which is unheard of these days. A woman my age scarcely has the time to meet up for lunch. My wirey thin beauty of a cousin is my age too, and we decided it was high time we took a road trip to visit our grandfather rather than the other way around. She had just quit her “ball and chain” job of 19 years! Perfect. We were rearing for an adventure we decided. We didn’t hem or haw or teeter on whether to go or not, we both agreed to it two weeks before leaving, and then we left Monday morning.
Ahh….. nothing aligns the spirit more than then the open road, the black of the pavement held straight like a good yoga pose stretching and winding with a yellow racing stripe down its back like a Gardner snake. A road trip with two women in their 40’s assuredly has you thinking of a movie classic right now, and despite how hard it is to admit, we didn’t have a 1960’s freshly polished Cadillac convertible Sedan Deville or freshly polished Chrome wheels on my red Prius even. It was 960 miles to Fresno by car, according to travelmath.com. Our loose plan was to reach our halfway point by day two. Monday we drove to Medford, Oregon.
We pulled into Medford already having some laughs under our belts as well as a rock chip and a plethora of movies that the other just “had” to see. We were also stockpiling little nuggets of irritants we were newly familiar with about our weeklong bunkmate….soon to be overcome of course, as we channeled patience in trade for humor as if it were a spare tire. We had non-stop doses of humor daily, leaving rest areas….checking the other for toilet paper trailing out of their cracks, switching seats only to tidy the other persons spot obsessively, shrieking as if having just undergone the ice-bucket challenge, especially when an errant fly or bee entered the vehicle. It was a learning trip, times ten.
Suffice it to say it wasn’t the quintessential road trip. You know the kind. Usually you’re in your twenties or thirties and the urge comes to you like hot lightening in a Midwest summer, like a whim on a Friday night. Oh yeah, my travel buddy Candice….she doesn’t actually have a wild hair or any spontaneous inclinations, unless its advised from Linda Goodman, whomever writes the column of the daily horoscope; we were an odd pairing for a road trip, while I was reading the business section, she was studying the horoscopes. It was a road trip indeed, minus the stops at seedy little taverns for a Friday night of Karoke… or stops just to listen to the Jukebox and whet your whistle. It was indeed minus the whimsical natural accumulation of cute boys along the way, completely devoid of any alcohol consumption whatsoever, minus the carefree “drive all night for miles” plan of total escape, although I did call her Thelma often.
We wallowed in the realness of it all; having to be nowhere, and check in with no one. After an “oopsy moment” on the wrong 9th street, we indeed saw the other side of Fresno. Our first brush with fear. We felt whiter than a sugar packet swirled into hot black coffee. It was picturesque danger, Mexican gangs meet Aurora hookers with bigger boobs and possible more style. I whimpered secretly…. don’t smile, don’t look….hold the donuts, I was waiting for Ponch and John, where were they? Thankfully, we arrived Tuesday night to check in on my soon to be 90 year old Grandfather.
What happened along the way still chokes me up inside. The backdrop of night from our car window, was sublime. It was as if we were on a spiritual mission, I just thought we were checking in on grandpa, but not so. We were experiencing a coming of age, mid-life sort of twisted saga; part drama, part comedy, with a tone of courage and a soundtrack as honest as Ben Kwellor and Amy Winehouse, whom I am still angry with. The drive dredged up our pained histories, both beautiful and scary, not unlike the blonde rolling hills outside our car window. It was twilight when we had left Yosemite and cut across through Raymond, CA. Absolute roadtrip perfection, up and down hilly roads as endless as the stories we shared the impending dark setting in as real as being abandoned by your father, which we both were by grandpas son, she as a baby, me at age two. And somehow, in the darkness in the middle of nowhere we stopped looking for them. We stopped feeling jilted by Ed and Kerry and we started looking for ourselves. Just blonde rolling hills at twilight, and light against darkness Oddly driving from Yosemite National park from Raymond to Chowchilla had been just what the doctor ordered for those 40 some years of wondering what we did wrong. In the quiet, far, far from home, having to turn our “brights” on for the first time we wer about to fill in the blanks of our own history. We were awash, and I don’t use this word often, but we had been transfuse in the epiphany that we had just begun the second half of our lives.
With the pressing reality of aging at our heels, we were unafraid to ask grandpa questions of his history, “our beginning” his life story, an actual headcount of grandchildren, sixteen in all. I have never felt that excited, Aawakening to drink the kind of coffee served in AA meetings. We wrote little notes to recant what the other had heard. At times writing a question to Grandpa Gordon so that we could give the shouting a rest for a bit. His tales of Navy life were horrific accounts of docking the ship himself on the shore of Normandy, France, on the the Amphibian Seventh brigade, battalion, whatever the Navy equivalent pings of gunfire bouncing off the ship, watching his friend parachute to their drowning deaths. Coming home to meet his future wife. After making him cry and laugh and tell us,” I don’t talk about this stuff,” we took mom’s advice, “you should go meet your grandmother” she had said. Hmm not a bad idea?
As was the pattern in the family, there was divorce and usually a second marriage. Our grandpa realized along with us, we may as well meet Lucille, our grandmother, it was now or never. We added a stop to our trip: Golden Living Nursing home in Galt, California. There aren’t words to describe meeting a grandmother after a lifetime of thinking she must not want know you.
We wound the hall to the small dining room, unannounced, we approached without any need whatsoever of a nurse directing to her, we knew. She was the most beautiful woman of 85 I had ever seen. She looked up and met our eyes curiously as we approached her. We told her, we were her granddaughters, and we had REALLY been wanting to meet her. She looked up, taken aback, pleasingly awed, smiled and joked, “well it’s about time!” she said.