As we drove out of Missoula – me, Raj, Vish, and Lila – we were wrapped in the enviro-green of Uncle Stephen’s Prius. It’s been an incredible gift of a loan. The first thing we saw from it, pulling onto the highway, was a golden eagle swooping down to capture some unlucky creature: we are the kind of people who considered that good luck. (Well, Lila didn’t, because she didn’t see it.)
The drive from Missoula to Spokane is breathtaking. I have heard Idaho jokes my whole life, but I’m here to tell you if you haven’t been, the joke is on you. We drove through Alpish mountains and windy corners and green, green, green. The heatwave oppressing the rest of the country seemed to have forgotten the tips of the mountains in northern Idaho.
In Spokane the family was treated to a delicious lunch at a restaurant called Sante by our dear friend Keya Mitra. Keya is in the throes of journey associated with novel publication – she has a story I haven’t read but trust is amazing because I’ve read a lot of her work – about ghost brides, which you should look up if you haven’t heard of.
After lunch we drove two more hours. The road out of Spokane Raj compared to Houston; but then about an hour later we were climbing deep into the backwoods, down roads that had dwindled from state highway, to county road, to dusty wooden path. At the end of the journey we got to see my aunt Nancy Betz and her husband Dan, whom I had never met before.
Now Nancy is a funny person from my history. I think I hadn’t seen her since I was eight or nine years old. But I knew her at a time I could not know my own mother, and as soon as I met Nancy I understood she was both like me and like my mother I didn’t know in profound ways I could name. Her own life was in turmoil when I knew her, but all I remember was her maternal kindness, her laughter, and her love of her three boys. I had known her mother, my great aunt Marva, and had heard tales of the homestead in Eastern Washington, and had wanted to get there my whole life.
So after we wound from highway into a dirt road, we followed an even tinier dirt road up a mountain to a lovely, square cinder block house overlooking a lake I forgot the name of! The house had giant eves to block the sun, and it was surrounded by a small grove a trees, and a garden, and a laundry line. And we were greeted by Dan and the cattle dogs Zeke and Zip. Within minutes Dan had solved the problem of two hot kids by turning on the giant sprinklers, and the kids had solved the problem of getting their clothes wet by shedding them all.
Nancy drove up as the kids leaped and screamed and squealed, and she got out of the car with about thirty mannerisms I associate with my grandmother Ludy, who died a few years ago. It was eerie and wondrous and the whole trip was like that: when Nancy didn’t remind me of grandma, she reminded me of my mom, and when she didn’t remind me of my mom, she reminded me of myself. She is, after all, a librarian and a writer, herself. When Dan had watered about every inch of grass he could without flooding himself, the kids dressed in long pants because the night was cool itself, and they picked raspberries from Nancy’s garden until they couldn’t eat anymore. Any cousins or grandkids of Nancy who are reading: her house is made for little ones! Go visit!
But back to the story: Nancy cooked us a delicious pesto, my husband and kids went to sleep, and I played cribbage with her and Dan – which reminds me of my grandpa! – before turning in myself. Dan reminded me of my dad, too, in many ways – his thoughtfulness, the cadence of his voice, how it got louder and more philosophical with a couple of beers.
All in all, it was a reunion better than I could have ever imagined. The next morning Nancy drove me down to Spokane for my reading alongside her two friends, Lahana and Nancy. But I think I loved that day enough I’ll give it it’s own post tomorrow.