In our usual style, we did a spur-of-the-moment trip to California. We got to my mother's house, outside of Reno, at about two in the morning. She was already gone for the memorial and we were greeted by a well-hidden thermostat set to 62 degrees and single-ply toilet paper. It's strangely disturbing to see an ornament you made in 5th grade hanging on the Christmas tree or a comb in the bathroom you haven't seen for twenty years. The next day we took the back-country roads past Lake Almanore and picked up my sister at the airport in Redding and headed toward the coast.
We drove to my aunt Dena's house, where it was agreed we would all meet, but we couldn't find it (it's been a few years). She wasn't home anyway. My sister and I were afraid we would have to venture into the local bars where we were likely to be recognized and interrogated by drunk people who couldn't help us. Soon we bumped into our family on the highway (there's only one). I think my mom and my aunt had a fantasy about having so many of the kids in one house. We tried it for one night. Nobody slept. Even if the kids hadn't woke up before dawn and refused to go back to sleep, my aunt had a pair of high-strung kittens that seemed to be everywhere and could outdo any rodeo star at digging in and hanging on as you flail your legs in an attempt to launch them off your bed.
We ate breakfast and then headed to the memorial. There seemed to be two types of attendees: Those who wanted to pay respects to grandpa and those who looked for any excuse to party. Some people were both types. My wife seemed distressed when she asked me "Which one of your relatives brought the wheel-barrow full of crab?" I told her it wasn't uncommon in the past for grandpa to show up with a truckload of salmon. It was right about noon but that didn't mean you couldn't show up with an open beer in your hand and a back up in your coat pocket. We tried to categorize my family. They aren't rednecks but there is a blend of "country" and Indian themes going on. The best we could come up with was "loggers," but you can call them lumberjacks if you like.
My wife was also a little taken aback when she said to my mother, "It's strange to be here with all these people but not grandpa" and my mom said "There he is, right there on the piano" and pointed at a small wooden box. My grandpa's youngest brother talked about my grandpa for a while and then invited other people to say some things. I wasn't particularly close to my grandpa but the things people said all seemed to click with me. Grandpa did seem to be the strong link in his family. He did seem to have a bond with his community and a quiet confidence. I admire the "straight-foward" life he was able to lead: excelling at baseball and boxing, meeting a nice girl, leaving to war before completing high school, returning, finishing school, marrying that nice girl, earning a living by logging trees (growing up on the tail-end of the philosophy that you could cut down as many trees as you wanted without consequence), buying a big plot of land, building a house with your father-in-law, building an identical house for your identical twin closeby and raising your kids together. That type of life does not seem to exist anymore.
In my very first blog entry, I talked about pieces of people being handed down through generations through their personal traits and gestures. We were looking at pictures found that my sister and aunt Dena make similar faces. When our families handy-man, Kenny, talked about grandpa, he said, "He (grandpa) wired that shop out there. It was ready to burn down but he'd taken what he had and made it work. He was intelligent and resourceful." And I pictured myself putting new wiring in my own basement. I don't know building code or anything like that, but I ripped out the old crap and I know the stuff I replaced it with is a lot better. When people were talking, I was thinking Grandpa isn't gone. He had five grandchildren in that room and has even more great-grandchildren and those little details that people think of as grandpa are locked away in our bodies waiting until they're needed. Then they will come out with quiet confidence. I'm not worried about what the world is missing by his absence and I don't think he would be either. Somebody talked about how grandpa was mopey towards the end and a recent visit to the doctor. The doctor said, "So you have all these wonderful friends and family members coming over to check on you all the time and you still aren't happy." Grandpa said, "No." The doctor asked, "Why not?" Grandpa said, "You obviously don't know how much fun I've had in my life." He didn't want to end it all withering away in the hospital. He would rather finish it in the house he had built and raised his family in.
After the talking and eating, it was clear the party would end as a "drunkfest" (my sister's words), so my little family headed for the coast. We chose a hotel that was oozing Christmas from every pore. They assigned us a room but it only had a standup shower. We asked for a room with a tub so we could wash our kids and got a free bump up to a business suite with a kitchenette, CD/DVD player and video library, bathrobes, computer station, and the Sunday paper delivered to the door. The world loves a crybaby.
In the morning we went to a place called "Moonstone Beach." Where a river emptied into the ocean. We played with the tide and ruined our shoes. Then we drove through neighborhoods, dreaming of building a house and leading a straightforward life.