In the 8th grade, my parents moved us from Myrtle Creek, Oregon to Carlin, Nevada. My Uncle Jim owned a drilling company and my father would work for him. During the move, Dad and I rode in a U-Haul truck on an endless stretch of a deserted highway. In the distance, I spotted Doherty Summit or as my family calls it Buzzards Gap. The summit stood massive and barren. Looking, I wondered ‘where are the trees?’ I turned to dad asking about the trees. He responded, “there aren’t any, just sand and rocks”. My expression prompted dad to say, “it’s not very pretty, is it?” I shook my head no. He proceeded to tell me how things will look different in our new town. As he talked, I began to understand how much my father loved Oregon. He wasn’t talking about where we were going, but what he was leaving. He painted a picture of Oregon’s beauty, joked about the people, shared his family connections and memories. In my 12-year-old mind, I began to grasp the deep love between my father and Oregon!
We returned to Oregon a year later after graduating from high school I moved away, returning in less than a year. A short time later our family moved back to Nevada where I married someone who didn’t share my love of Oregon. My next trip to Oregon was 20 years later with 3 more visits in the years to follow. As my massive family slowly dwindles, my continual prayer is to go home.
The minute I enter Oregon I become overwhelmed with emotion. It never fails as my car climbs the winding mountain passes tears will brim my eyes. Sitting in the passenger seat I’ll watch the trees grow stronger and taller. The forest grows thick only allowing me glimpses of her deep blue lakes. The sights, the sounds, the smells begin to confuse my thoughts with a mixture of memories and familiarity. I try to share what’s happening, but the words choke in my throat. Climbing down the other side of the mountain, there are farms with rows and rows of freshly tilled land. Cows will be gathered in the corners of pastures. The closer I get to the town I call home the worse it gets.
This town holds my youth, my history, my childhood dreams. As I drive around, I see the past. My schools. My old homes. Every corner brings familiarity. A wrong turn brings back lost memories. If I look closely, I can see ghosts. In our old home, my mom tends her flower beds while my brother’s tinker with their bikes. At my grandparent’s farm, grandma is feeding her chickens while grandpa mows. There’s the cafe I worked at in high school if I gaze there’s me as a teen waiting tables. In the green grass in front of my high school, my friends and I sit laughing, teasing, living out the day-to-day drama of teenagers. The foundations of my opinions were shaped here. What was to become my life was started here.
The first place I usually go is to one of my many Aunts houses. There is nothing better than being wrapped in someone’s arms who unconditionally loves you. A woman who’s genuinely happy to see you. A person whose eyes bring back pictures of ancestors long-buried. There will be laughter, food, and stories of days gone by. The stories I’ve heard a million times, but my soul longs to hear them a million more. I will be made to feel important, cared about, and loved beyond measure. I am connected.
Another place I will visit is the Roseburg Memorial Cemetery, I know weird! I love that I can go to one cemetery and visit both sides of my family. I sit by my father’s grave and visit. I say hi to my grandparents, uncles, and aunts; it’s strangely comforting.
Eventually, time runs out. Reluctantly, I start my trip home with every mile my heart grows heavier. By the time I reach the state line pieces of me are missing. Once again I’m disconnected.