Ghosts of the Past
Over Labor Day weekend of 2007, my brother, Kenn, my sister, Leigh, and myself decided to take a couple of days and go camping, visiting the tiny little village where we grew up. As with most other ventures I participate in, this was a spontaneous venture on my part, although one that I wasn't entirely looking forward to, since I knew that this trip would utterly destroy much of the storybook quality of the memories I held of the home of my childhood. It had happened before, in other places and other times, so I more or less knew I was in for a let-down.
You see, for most of my life I've been pretty much living the life of a Gypsy to some extent: Often moving at least once a year with the family, and sometimes more than once. When you're a child and going through this, it tends to leave you feeling somewhat less than secure. Fortunately for me, it also helped me develop the sense of adventure I carry with me to this day, so it's not necessarily a bad thing. When you look at the seven years we spent in Adin through the filter of previous experience, it's easy to see how one would attach a reverence to this place. When you also consider the fact that all my other "homes" up to this point in my memory were in large cities, it's understandable that this idolification would necessarily increase. After all, Adin was a place of many "Firsts", for me.
Our family moved to Adin, California in 1971, while I was the awkward, rambunctious age of 10. Our previous "home" was in Pomona, in southern California, and was a sprawling community of more thousands of people than I could count, at the time. This was an almost unfathomable change for me. How could there be so few people here? Where was I going to find any friends here? What was I going to do for fun? This was a frightening time for me, as I recall, and I was yearning for the next move already. By the time we arrived there, I already hated the place.
At the time of the move, my folks owned an old Studebaker pickup and an even older Bluebird schoolbus that had been converted into an RV of sorts. We'd actually had the bus for a long while before, and had taken a lot of trips in it. When Dad first got the bus, we spent a few days painting it a deep maroon color. Unfortunately, the paint that was used cracked, and the original faded yellow paint showed through in great, sweeping fractures that criss-crossed the entire vehicle, giving it an unsettling aspect. Because of this, we children dubbed the bus "The Blood-shot Eyeball". I remember that there was a metal placard riveted to the ceiling that read: "No Roller Skating on the Ceiling". When I saw it for the first time, I thought it was the neatest thing in the whole wide world.
There was one trip in particular that remains in my memory, because it was this one trip that more or less gave me the nudge to become an auto mechanic later on. It was about 6 months from the move to Adin, and nobody, not even my parents knew we would be going yet. My grandma and grandpa lived in Tacoma, Washington, and Mom convinced Dad that a short visit over the long Labor Day weekend would be a good idea. We would head out Friday night, spend Saturday and Sunday in Tacoma, and head back Monday morning in time for work. Sounds fun, right? Ha! this is where it gets interesting.
On the way up, we kids were kept more or less occupied with the usual childrens' travel games; License plate bingo, Slug-a-bug, 20 questions, and the like. It was Mom's duboius pleasure to keep us "under control", so that Dad could concentrate on driving. There was the occaisional "Are we there yet?", and "I have to go potty!", but all in all, a less stressful trip for Dad than our usual jaunts. At first, anyway.
Somewhere around south central Washington, the bus started to overheat. Not enough to cause Dad to pull the bus over, but enough to make him a bit concerned, and when Dad got concerned, he was less tolerant than usual. Suddenly, every noise we made caused Dad to yell back to us, "Keep it down, kids", or "Nancy, keep those kids quiet!" Not knowing what was going on, Mom did her best to keep us calmed down, but all of us kids could feel the tension, even if we didn't know what was going on, and it set us off just that much more. Needless to say, this didn't help the situation at all.
Well, Dad did his best to get us to Grandma's house in one piece, but alas, it was doomed to fail, as there was a resounding "Bang!" as we topped a hill just outside of Chehalis Washington and the bus engine noisily died. Dad coasted the fatally wounded bus down the hill to a small service station in a sparsely populated rural area, with smoke pouring out of the engine compartment, and the radiator singing a low, mournful dirge. It was late in the evening, and the owner of the gas station we pulled up to was just closing shop as Dad coaxed the old bus into the parking lot, and the gentleman came over to see if everything was ok.
As the two men poured over the engine to figure out what had happened, Mom fixed everyone dinner on the tiny stove, and we children played in a large field as the sun set over some distant, tree studded hills to the west. When it got dark, Dad fired up the small generator in the back of the bus, and set out the "patio lights", as he called them, so that he could continue working on the engine. Soon, every insect for what seemed like miles around swarmed near those lights, and the darkness surrounding us was filled with the silent whir of millions of tiny wings of all size and shape, and bats flitted in and out of the light, causing my oldest sister, Jerri, to scream in horror. It seems that my dear sister was afraid of mice, and bats firmly fell into the "mouse" category for her.
My Dad soon discovered that the crankshaft had broken, and the gas station owner said that there was nothing else he could do that night, but would see what he could come up with in the morning. He offered the use of his living room for our family to sleep, but both Mom and Dad politely declined, saying that he had already put himself out too much already. At some point prior, he had called his wife, and she and several members of their church group had come by with food for us, and seeing that Mom had already made us dinner, turned it into an impromptu pot-luck gathering. Many folks had brought their children, and some had brought musical instruments, and we all had a grand party, there at the side of the road.
As it turned out, we were stranded there for an entire week, since the nearest new crankshaft was in Portland Oregon, and would take several days to arrive. But we made the best of it, as my grandparents drove down from Tacoma, and the families from the church group stopped by to visit, and brought food. they also took Mom and us kids all over the area, pointing out the sights, and even taking us to Olympia and a little town named, curiously enough, Morton. It was, for me at least, a grand adventure, full of new sights, and many, many new things to discover. I even got to see my first meteor, and we got to tour the Olympia brewery, in Tumwater.
At this point in my life, my Dad was a truck driver, and as far as I knew, that was all he did. To see him working on the bus was a new and odd experience for me, so naturally, I was curious. Whenever I could, I was right beside him, watching intently as he used tool after tool to slowly bring that dead engine back to life. I was constantly asking him questions, and he didn't get frustrated like he usually did. He was patient, and careful with his explanations, and he actually had me hand him tools from time to time. This was NOT the Dad I knew of old, but I was too excited to be learning all of these new things to care. As I think back on it now, I realize that this is probably one of the times that I was closest to my Dad, if not the closest ever.
My Dad and that gas station owner finally got the engine running, so the adventure, sadly, came to it's conclusion. The ride back was uneventful, and when we got home, life more or less returned to normal, but I never forgot what happened on that trip, and to this day, I look back and smile at that single week in my life that had opened my eyes to so many new things, and showed me that even bad things can be made into something good.