Everybody Remember Where We Parked

Since Star Trek premiered close to a half-century ago, entire books have been written about all the insightful lessons embodied in the stories. With apologies to Dave Marinaccio and others who have penned these entertaining volumes, my mother needed only five words to convey the most important Star Trek takeaway for our family.

You may remember these words from what was unquestionably the most fun cinematic version of the epic franchise – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. When the crew traveled back in time to save the world and landed their spaceship smack dab in the middle of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Captain Kirk called out to his somewhat discombobulated shipmates …

Everybody remember where we parked!

Activation of a cloaking device made the pirated Klingon Bird-of-Prey invisible to everyone including our heroes. Yet, they still managed to find it again after wandering all over the city from Chinatown to Sausalito to Alameda. More than that, they fulfilled their daring mission to retrieve two humpback whales and successfully time-warped back home.

Home. No matter where you roam or what adventures await, the prime directive is to remember where you came from and how to get back there. It may be the old family farm, the city where you grew up, or it may just be found in the warm embrace of people you love. However you define it, home is the one thing we all long for and cherish.

Home (3)My mother knew the value of home even though a permanent abode eluded her throughout her 89 years. The youngest of 10 children, she was born on a small, wooden ark anchored in Potato Slough in the Sacramento River Delta in 1924. Her parents had attempted to homestead in Montana during one of the last government giveaways of agricultural land but ended up on the West Coast after the life-altering events of World War I. The Grapes of Wrath could have easily been their own story as they fished the abundant waterways and picked produce in the fertile California fields to keep food on the table.

In 1928, they migrated south to the harbor town of San Pedro where my grandfather established himself as an ocean fisherman. Despite his efforts, they barely stayed one step ahead of the landlord, moving from one rental home to another in rapid succession. Mom remembered watching shoes of all sizes, colors and styles as pedestrians walked past one odd place constructed on a downslope, causing the windows to be level with the sidewalk. In her favorite house, she had a bedroom no bigger than a closet, but she loved it because she didn’t have to share with an older sister who, legend has it, pinched her while she slept.

Home (7)In 1944, when Mom was a 20-year-old labor union secretary, she managed to convince the State of California that she was actually 21 so she could help her widowed mother buy a tiny, newly-built tract house on a busy street that ran along an ocean cliff. The lot was on a corner adjacent to an empty military field, which allowed a view of water and sky if you looked southwest from the living room window. That little house, with its towering palm trees and backyard picket fence, served as the stable family home that everyone in my mother’s sprawling family longed for and returned to during the 35 years my grandmother lived there. To this day, even I think of it as my original nesting place.

Two years after the oceanside cottage became the family’s belated homestead, my mother and father married in a small ceremony in a chapel called the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather at Forest Lawn. Young and filled with wanderlust, they lived for a time in “the room” constructed inside my grandmother’s garage, later rented their own apartments and houses, and finally began to buy and sell homes.

We moved about every five years during my childhood. My earliest memories are of a place with a million-dollar view of Long Beach harbor about six miles up the road from my grandmother’s house. The next stop was 47 miles north on a half-acre in the San Fernando Valley where we had a pool, a tennis court and a neighbor who did movie and television stunt work for the likes of Jane Fonda and Ken Berry. A thousand-mile trek north, to a white rambler on seven acres of forested hillside, promised to be our last move. It wasn’t. My father’s late-life diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia coupled with bipolar disorder squelched those dreams.

Home (8)After that devastating development, Mom would pack and unpack four more times before retiring to the Oregon Coast in 1987. The longest stretch she lived anywhere was the aging, pink trailer she bought a quarter-mile from the sand in Rockaway Beach. She was one year shy of paying it off when it was damaged beyond repair in a 2001 storm. Shortly thereafter, she and I took up residence in a little, yellow house in a northern Nevada subdivision.

Looking back on Mom’s transient life, it’s easy to understand why her photo albums, scrapbooks, family history project and mementoes were so important to her. She passionately guarded virtually everything she owned. The memories associated with each cherished belonging kept her connected with her roots and essentially comprised her home.

Meanwhile, I am my mother’s daughter. It’s eerie how much my adult life has mirrored hers in terms of moving here and there. My husband and I mostly raised our children in a thousand-square-foot, sky blue Cape Cod in Southeast Portland, but those 10 years hardly makes us candidates for the Guinness Book of World Records. We hope our current resting place, where we’ve been miraculously growing trees and roses in the desert sand for the last six years, will be our last stop. In fact, when we moved here in 2008 with Mom, we all hoped it would be our last stop.

Home (1)Shortly after all the boxes were unpacked and cupboards were arranged, we put our heads together on a project that commemorated home. We each chose three pictures of the dwellings we remember most fondly, framed them, and hung the collage in the front entryway next to a painting that says, “Home is where your story begins.” Mom has been gone for more than a year now, but the display still calls out loud and clear …

Everybody remember where we parked!

Ironically, Mom didn’t remember to commemorate this catch phrase in any of the cards she left behind for me when she made her final voyage home. She did, however, include it when she dictated some remembrances to my sister during her last days. When I received Mom’s final posthumous card shortly before Christmas last year, my sister sent along her typed notes from that conversation. And there it was on a list of Mom’s oft-repeated quotes.

As I write this, I think of all the places and things that mean home to me.

My grandmother’s house where my cousins, siblings and I drove pedal cars around the network of concrete backyard pathways and took turns jumping off the front porch down to the carefully manicured lawn.

The big, white house on the Oregon hillside that my family dubbed The Funny Farm on Crawdad Creek after an unfamiliar water-dwelling creature snapped my curious brother’s finger.

The little blue house where my husband and I raised our children.

The little yellow house where Mom and I blended our lives for better or worse.

Home also dwells in my mother’s bedroom. When she died, I became the curator of her photo albums, scrapbooks, family history records and many of the mementoes from her parents’ childhoods and her childhood. Her bedroom is slowly becoming a family history museum of sorts. Anytime I want, I can walk into the sunlight that pours through the prisms Mom hung in her windows and delight in the rainbows she loved to see painted on her walls. I can browse all the memories displayed in cabinets and arranged neatly on shelves, and take a wondrous voyage through time and space to the places in my heart that I call home.

Mom, I promise. I will always remember where we parked.

Home (2)

 

[Feature Photo: Cousin Raymond Musso, Grandpa Noble Metzger, Mother Joy Metzger, Aunt Irene (Pee-Wee) Metzger, Aunt Carrie (Cutie) Metzger, Cousin Francis (Birdie) Musso and Uncle Joe Musso.]

These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For – Part Two

After last week’s piece about embracing the unexpected, it occurred to me that the most important relationship in my life fit the same bill. Amid blurred images of droids and storm troopers, quests and regrets, the face of my own hero emerged. He has never brandished a light saber. Never piloted a speeding spacecraft through an asteroid belt. Never saved a galaxy. But he rescued me.

Droids Part 2 - (1)I met my first husband, Pete, in our senior year of high school in 1972. Graduation was only two years past when we tied the knot in a beautiful cliffside ceremony on the Oregon Coast. He was 19; I had recently turned 20. With no responsibilities other than our cat, we were free to travel around the western states in our old Ford van with Pete’s rock band. That is, until I became pregnant once and then a second time. We morphed into parents with light speed and pursued a typical family lifestyle that would never have interested us as teenagers. Ultimately, we learned the universal truth of middle age. The ideals that seem paramount in one’s youth are not necessarily the same ones you value as adults. Sadly, after 27 years of marriage, we separated. Our divorce became final on Christmas Eve 2001.

A half-dozen Christmas Eves later, I became engaged again. The following August, in a historic chapel in one of Nevada’s oldest townships, I once more donned a white lace dress and married the man of my dreams.

It was still Pete.

When our first marriage ended, we went down separate paths in search of something and someone different. In the rearview mirror, we discovered that the life we left behind was the something and that we were the someones. We were the droids we were looking for after all.

It’s a happy ending, yes. But it wasn’t an amicable divorce. The unexpected problems that pulled us apart were gravely serious. Darth Vader and his evil empire had nothing on us. We gave in to the dark side and angrily threw in the towel on our relationship, our home and, well, basically our entire life together. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we hated each other, but we really, really didn’t like each other for at least the first three years after we took off our rings.

It’s often said that things happen for a reason. Not that I was ever glad about our divorce, but I do recognize that it opened doors for me to pursue a few memorable adventures, and it paved the way for the arrangement between Mom and me. Had I not been at loose ends when her mobile home was destroyed in a storm, she might have moved in with my sister in Oregon instead. We may never have grown as close as we did nor learned as much. Blessings come unexpectedly and wear many disguises, and my 12 years with Mom was a blessing of epic proportions. Some blessings aren’t free, however. This one came with a price tag that put limitations on my efforts to find my footing as a single woman. Just as I was about to live independently for the first time in my life, I was back under the same roof with my mother.

All in good time, I wanted to date. Living with Mom then was not very different from living with her while a teenager. She didn’t require care in those days, but I still needed to let her know where I was going, with whom I was keeping company and when I would return. Periodically she hinted that she didn’t like being left behind while I went to such enviable events as an amateur barbershop quartet recital or a deafening motorcycle rally. Guilt became a more reliable companion than any of the men I met. In fact, the best thing I can say about my string of first/last dates was that they provided for amusing conversation when Mom and I drank our coffee on Saturday mornings.

There was the dental supply representative who lied about his relationship status and shrugged it off by saying he “felt” separated. The bass player who thought a deep French kiss was appropriate after one dinner. The former Marine who, between hearty bites of enchiladas, graphically told me about slitting an adversary’s throat behind enemy lines. And the freshman entrepreneur who showed me his entire line of uninspiring bumper decals while sitting in the front seat of his pickup truck. Those were some of the better guys. Most of the truly appalling stories aren’t appropriate for a family column. A friend who enjoyed hearing of my odyssey through singledom is still waiting for my trashy bestseller about the ultimate Mr. Wrong, Mr. Unsuitable, Mr. Offensive and Mr. Are-You-Kidding-Me.

They say that if you kiss enough frogs, you will eventually find a prince. There were no princes among my frogs, but there were a couple of knights – a gentile Texas businessman who treated all the Droids Part 2 (7)women in our family regally and a talented, funny musician who struck up a friendship with us while Mom and I cruised through Alaska’s Inland Passage with my sister and her husband. Mom adored both of these squires, but neither could take Pete’s place in her heart. Despite our troubles, he remained the man of Mom’s dreams for me. He and I had hooked up so young that he became like one of her own kids. They shared a fascination with certain fantasy stories that I could never really wrap my head around, traded detective novels in their own personal paperback exchange, and loved to watch football together. Once Pete arranged a train trip from Portland to Seattle so he and Mom could see Joe Montana quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Seahawks. Our daughter and I went along, but it was more their day than ours.

Eventually, I stopped dating frogs. The gentile Texas businessman and the talented, funny musician drifted out of my life. One day I realized that I was content without a relationship. Another I realized that the truce between Pete and me had slowly blossomed into friendship.

IM000141.JPGFor Pete, becoming friends was not enough. He wanted to reconcile. We clearly loved each other, but I was not convinced reuniting was a good idea. What if things went south again? Like any good hero, Pete wouldn’t give up on his quest to rescue me from my own fears. Then one Saturday afternoon in August 2007 he tagged along to a gathering of folks I call “my John Denver friends.” While sitting at a picnic bench at a Lake Tahoe campground, I looked around at some of the couples listening to a tribute band and realized that many of them were actually “re-couples.” They had parted ways with their previous significant others, were charting unknown waters with new love interests and were not overly concerned that their relationships would capsize. The only thing different about Pete and me was a shared history. That bond, I suddenly understood, was not a debit. It was our greatest asset. I turned to him and said, “OK. I think we should get back together.” Four months and six days later, he proposed by the soft lights of the Christmas tree as Mom, our children and our grandchildren watched through misty eyes. I kept everyone in suspense for an agonizing 30 seconds or so and said yes.

Mom was elated and joked that she wouldn’t have to break in a new son-in-law. The joke was rooted in the truth, though. She never had to wonder whether Pete would love her or want to live in the same household. We were already a family. She never had to worry that he might be resentful of our close relationship as mother/daughter and caregiver/care receiver. His eyes were wide open. He knew Mom and I were a package deal. He wanted to be with both of us.

Droids Part 2 (4)Our wedding the following August was also the wedding of our son, Jesse, and his fiancé, Hydie. Our dearest relatives and friends gathered in the quaint, little Nevada church, and every member of our immediate family had a part. Jesse and Pete served as each other’s best man. Our daughter, Jenny, was matron of honor for both Hydie and me. Our grandson, Skyler, walked me down the aisle. Our younger grandson, Espen, escorted Mom in her wheelchair to the front of the church, and our son-in-law, Chris, took photographs. During the ceremony, Mom read the same Apache prayer that was recited at our first wedding. That day our whole family was reunited – not just Pete and me.

So this is the story of two droids who long ago in a galaxy far, far away parted ways in search of something that didn’t really exist. Two droids who took years to realize that they already had what they were looking for. Since we put our original rings back on our left hands, we haven’t “tried” to make our second marriage work. As Yoda would say, “Do or do not. There is no try.” So we do. You might say the force is with us these days. You might say that our story is a little like the original Star Wars movie. It had a good first run, but it has become the most popular and highest-grossing film in the franchise under its re-release as A New Hope.