I began to consider the very real possibility that Julie might one day soon be my stepsister. For a variety of reasons, that never happened. My mother's relationship ended with Jim one summer day in 1976 in a surprising and very sudden way. I didn't see it coming. I don't think Jim did, either. What happened next though was one of the best memories I have of my mother, despite a relationship that had way too many bad memories to recount.
My wife's daughter and two grandchildren are on their way to Colorado, a giant road trip through CA, NV, AZ, UT and CO. They're in Utah tonight, and will be with friends in Colorado tomorrow. It will be a great trip for them, with memories that will last a long time.
Their trip is what brought back the memories of my mother and Jim.
One mid-summer night in 1976, my mom told me we were going to Jim's, and we got in the car and headed to their house in north Fullerton. I trundled along as a dutiful son, and when we got to Jim & Julie's, I had no clue that anything was different.
"I'm breaking up with you, and I'm leaving tomorrow with Stan and we're going back to Colorado."
Those were the words she said to Jim. My words were - and 43 years later I'm pretty sure about this - "We're What?!" I don't recall what Jim or Julie said. I'm sure they were as shocked as I was.
In retrospect, and knowing my mother through adult eyes now, I think she wanted to deliver something that was designed for the greatest possible drama. She wanted to get back at Jim for... God knows what. My mother was theatrical to the core and seemingly incapable of distinguishing between perceived slight and actual harm; everything was an attack.
What she had planned in advance was a two-week summer vacation for us, a road trip to Colorado. She seemed to want to scope out the possibility that we might move back there, to the place where she had been happiest in her life, the place where she and my dad had adopted me. But she didn't tell me that, let alone Jim. Instead her words just sat there in the room. We left awkwardly, and she told me about the vacation the next morning.
I kept a notebook of that trip. I wish I still had it. I was (and still am, to a point) a nerd when it comes to maps, geography and statistics. But in it, I keep a log of:
- Every city/town we drove through
- It's population
- It's altitude
- The passes we drove over
- The longest stretches we drove
...and a bunch of other things that have been lost to the desert of my memory. Here's what I do remember, though, as clear as a bell:
- Our first stop was Las Vegas. In Caesar's Palace, she sat down at the slots in a hallway. I begged and she gave me 10 nickels. I found a quiet machine, put the nickels in, and won $10. I was 12. Luckily, I was tall and no one batted an eye.
- The next day, on the road leaving Vegas, she pulled over and told me that I needed to know how to drive on this trip in case something happened to her. I drove three miles on a desert stretch, my first driving experience.
- This was the only time I've ever seen the Grand Canyon. On the trip, we also saw the Royal Gorge bridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde and Four Corners.
- This is embarrassing, but for years the address that showed up for various mail-marketing/TV ads was in Pueblo, CO for some reason. I was sleeping as we drove through Pueblo. When I woke up and saw I'd missed it, I cried and was angry at my mother, who was undoubtedly completely unaware why I'd care about Pueblo. To this day I haven't seen Pueblo. I think I'm OK with that now.
- She wanted to see the place my dad had worked in Denver (12yo yawn) and the house I was adopted into (wish I knew where it was now.)
My mom somehow arranged a tour of the chapel and grounds at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. (A few years later she somehow managed to get us onto the USS Enterprise in Oakland/Alameda Naval Station, too.) She had her strengths.
When we got home, my mom seemed happier for awhile, and I had a lifetime of memories to carry along with me. As I think about S, G and A heading into Colorado, I hope they have that kind of trip: one that heals and that gives G and A a trove of lifetime memories that they will always be able to draw back on.
When my mom passed in 2009, Lynda and I took her ashes to the place where I knew she had been happiest: Rocky Mountain National Park. Even though I've lived all but the first 6 months of my life in Southern California, a piece of me remains in Colorado. That piece didn't come from my birth certificate or where mom is resting. It came from that trip, the only tie I had during her lifetime to the place I was born. Thanks, Mom.
And to S, G & A - make memories: beautiful, lasting transformative memories.