I’m doing some experimental writing here, taking advantage of my sleep deprived state. Perhaps my writers’ mind will take me to new places.
I was up at 3:30 AM, having spent the day before getting the Nissan checked out. Said vehicle is sometimes known as Torture Taxi in my blogs, owing to its history. Lindsey used it as her escape pod from Savannah, Georgia, driving it, with personal belongings and cat (Moon Kitty) to Portland, Oregon. In the rear view mirror: her relatively high paying job at GulfStream, a subsidiary of General Dynamics and maker of those luxury jets, some of which got caught up in the CIA’s program to expedite torture, or so we’ve been told. Hence the nickname.
The reason for this Operation Early Bird was to get to my late Uncle Howard’s memorial service in Bellevue, not far from Redmond, home base for Microsoft. The plan, executed successfully, was to drive the four hours each way all today. By now I’m pretty groggy, yet acute enough to write. Why not take advantage of the combination?
Uncle Howard descended from some of the first Swedish settlers in the Seattle area. His clan headquartered on Mercer Island especially. For those unfamiliar with the geography, said island is in the middle of a lake, not the ocean, and is connected to shore by a floating bridge, over which goes I-90, the main arterial to Spokane, closer to the Idaho border. Howard’s mother Elsie, my grandmother Esther’s sister, lived smack in the middle of where I-90 would come through, turning her environment somewhat into a moonscape.
Howard’s mom and dad ran a grocery store, then a movie theater (a small one) and finally a gas station, all on the island. Once Howard was grown, he and his brothers took up gold mining in Alaska as a hobby. I don’t think they took the gold part all that seriously. What they loved was all the heavy equipment involved, fixing it. Panning for gold was more of an afterthought.
I didn’t know the four brothers, and sister Evelyn, all that well, until my own adult years. My dad, Esther’s son, wanted to work for the government of Libya, as a regional planner, part of a team drawing up fifty year plans. He had always dreamed of living and working overseas, and was skeptical of having children for that reason. By this time he had two, me the eldest. I didn’t return to the Pacific Northwest to settle down until the end of my twenties. That’s when I started to catch up on dad’s branch of the family.
My parents had just pulled up stakes in Bangladesh when I returned to Portland. After some experience as an office temp, I found full time work with one Center for Urban Education (CUE). We were a nonprofit designed to provide technical assistance to other nonprofits, and in those days, that especially meant help with Apple technology. The company was in its idealistic early phase and CUE had been given a large grant in the form of state of the art equipment, an Apple LaserWriter in particular, and a suite of Macs, with PageMaker.
My parents then moved to Bhutan, the Himalayan kingdom. Of course I was very eager to visit them there and upon my return from a wonderful adventure, found that CUE had a new bookkeeper. Her name was Dawn Wicca, and she would become my wife of some fifteen years. She died of breast cancer in 2007. I was alone and somewhat broken hearted, floundering around in the partnership we had invented. Except you can’t have a partnership with just one partner, I found out later.
That gets us more up to date in my story. My friend Patrick, with whom I just had dinner, with his family, rented digs in the Linus Pauling House. The late Linus Pauling is one of Oregon’s celebrities, a two time winner of the Nobel Prize, the only person to ever win it twice, unshared. His nearby boyhood home had fallen into disrepair. He’d lived here with his mother after his father died. His mom ran it as a boarding house. Linus experimented with chemistry in the basement. One of his Nobel Prizes would be for chemistry. He basically helped invent the field or organic chemistry as we know it.
Part of the restoration of said house involved turning it into office space for renters. Patrick was one of those renters, and was out on the front porch smoking one day, when Lindsey stopped by to introduce herself. She was renting space down the street and was fresh from Georgia. She’d come across the states in said Nissan, the one now parked in my driveway, and the one I drove today to Uncle Howard’s memorial service in Bellevue.
By this time in my life, in my fifties, I had better put together a mental picture of my dad’s side of the family. My Grandma Esther, dad’s mom, had died long ago, when we were still living in the Philippines. She’d visited us there. Her sister Elsie, herself a widow, would live quite a bit longer.
Howard had not been a college kid. He was great around motors and all things mechanical and made his living with those skills. He collaborated with other Lightfoots on the mine, and at the gravel pit (if that’s what they called it, a quarry), owned in part by Howard’s brother Bo. When Elsie’s sons got together, it was all machinery and gravel that they talked about. I was amazed about how different these “machine world” people talked, versus conversations I’d grown up with.
Driving back south from Bellevue, I listened to the radio. Public Radio International was on, with a show being somewhat snarky about death, other taboo subjects. This seemed appropriate given the existential mood I was in. We were all growing older. I turn sixty in a few weeks. There’s nothing like a memorial service to call attention to the March of Time.
Lindsey and I had lunch a few days ago. She was visiting Portland from Oregon State University. We met at Maru, a nearby Japanese restaurant. Shortly after Patrick met Lindsey on the porch of the Linus Pauling House, I made room for her in the basement in exchange for use of her car, which she had given up driving. Instead she let me drive her around in it, as her roadie, while she tried to break into the Portland music scene. This was all new to me, this world of nightclubs, neighbor complaints about noise, liquor licenses.
She lived with me rent free for some years, helping retrain me to live more frugally. She introduced me to Food Not Bombs. Together, though in different ways, we participated in Occupy Portland. In exchange for the free rent, she eventually handed over full title to the car, the one I drove today.
Through Lindsey, I met Alex, the older son of Aung San Suu Kyi, another Nobel Prize winner. Since she was under house arrest in Burma when the prize was awarded, Alex accepted it on her behalf.
Patrick no longer rents digs at the Pauling House.