The Great Escape

When Cathy turned forty in April, I looked around for what to give her.  I had gathered most things of nostalgic sentiment in years past; the cape Bob made for me when I was pregnant with her, gold rings and gem earrings, a book of letters between us the first few years after we met.  Now what?  What would mean something to her?  Things that have deep meaning for me may mean nothing to her. Our taste is so different that I can’t just guess and get it right.

Forty is a big one.  It’s middle age.  It’s in-charge maturity.  Nobody’s a baby anymore at forty.  Still, that baby born all those years ago needs to know that this marker won’t slide by unnoticed by the mother who delivered her.  I want her to know that even when she thinks I’m not looking, I’m paying attention and thinking about her.

Queuing in to find the perfect thing, I close my eyes to open my mind and think, “What?” With my eyes shut, I skim the neighborhood and look for what might be calling to her.  Her yellow house sits like a buttercup in the field of vision in my mind’s eye. The little molded plastic swing hanging from ropes is still.  Her red Subaru is in the driveway with two car seats in the back for the boys.  The flap on the black tin mailbox hanging by the front door is closed and nothing is clipped on the lid to send out. Otto, the bear-sized Irish wolfhound takes a backseat in the house, no longer center stage after children came; he lumbers now from here to there like a piece of hairy furniture on legs when he’s in the way and settles for a corner of the dining room near the window, lays his head down and closes his long-lashed eyes.  All is quiet.

I see a beach, water and food and drink – it’s foreign, not so familiar. There’s an element of adventure in my mind.  There are no husbands, children or dogs.  It’s a free zone.  That’s it!  I’ll take her away.  We’ll go be in some new place together.  We will share the unknown and an exquisite adventure, just the two of us.

It occurs to me that I haven’t had Cathy to myself, nor has she had me for almost twenty years.  When she first came out to Oregon we had a weekend at Cuddlestone Cottage in Depot Bay, a gift from a friend.  That was a very long time ago.  That was in 1993.  How can it be that these many years have passed and we didn’t take more breaks together?  Stymied, I parked the question and began to ponder where I should take her.

I tell her that I’m going to kidnap her for a few days.  I can’t tell her where I’m taking her and she won’t know until we get there.  I ask her for three nights and four days.  She gets back to me and we decide on mid-May.  She likes the idea and I can feel her grinning through the phone.  She wants to celebrate her fortieth for forty days and forty nights so this will still fit her overall plan.  Cathy’s an avid planner and approaches party themes for events with gusto.  Her thirtieth birthday was a call to her overreaching clan to meet in Vegas for a week.  This birthday wouldn’t be Vegas.  This chapter of her fortieth birthday would be just the two of us.  Her fortieth, a marker of maturity. It would be personal, free and fun.  Now for the exotic part, where?

Thoughts of British Columbia brought passports into the picture and lent more mystique to the brewing anticipation. As fun as that was to consider, all my leads dried up and I was back at the drawing board when it hit me.  Of course!

We’ve been writing a book for seven years.  Cathy had a long stint in and around Goody Cable’s Rimsky Korsakoffee House in the Buckman neighborhood during her early Portland years.  Goody also owned an exotic writer’s haven in Nye Beach on the Oregon coast.

The Sylvia Beach Hotel was an old boardinghouse with a colorful history. Goody converted it into a hotel and modeled the rooms after favorite authors. Every room had memorabilia and décor suited to the author’s taste: Mark Twain, Colette, Alice Walker, Emily Dickinson, Dr. Seuss, Hemingway, Herman Melville, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, Virginia Woolf were among the heroes commemorated.  I called Goody and told her what I was up to and what room she would recommend.  “The Steinbeck Room was just finished last week, it has two twin beds and might work” she said. After thanking her, I called the desk to inquire about the dates Cathy had given me.  Yes, the Steinbeck room was available. I booked it.

Apart from being hired in beautiful places, Steve and I didn’t have extra money for romantic getaways together but he knew that this birthday was a significant one and he encouraged me to go ahead and make it something special.  She laughed when I told her that our plans were set.  “We are expected by dinnertime. I think we’ll get there by then,” I teased. Her fun side was tickled and I was chuffed to be giving her something to look forward to away from the familiar twists and turns she knew so well.

Steve brought me to the train station, kissed me goodbye and with a smile I waved as he headed for the car. He was looking forward to the time to work on his art projects and relished the idea of uninterrupted time in the woodshed. An evangelical was on the npr news station with word that the The Rapture was scheduled to occur at the exact same time as my return train ride home a few days later.  My heart gulped a string of what if’s as the words of the doomsaying soothsayer faded to low and a rush of geese honked high overhead.  I felt foolish but I hoped aloud that I would return to him as planned without any Old Testament apocalyptic interference. I felt stupid for believing the unbelievable but there it is, I’m impressionable no matter how old I get!  My practical nature scoffed it off and I laughed at myself while the discovery channel in my psyche murmured underneath, “Well, so, what if this is it?” It added an element of unwelcome suspense to my plan.  If it’s the end, it’s the end.  Who knows where any of us will be in the end.  Remember, be here now, drones Ram Dass lodged in my memory banks.  Now is good.

The early morning train from Olympia brought me a hundred miles through the greenbelt and along the river to Portland in two short hours on our appointed day. Cathy picked me up right at 11 o’clock in her car with a tank full of gas and coffee in her cup. I stuffed my things in the back of the car and got into the passenger seat. We congratulated each other on the sunshine (never taken for granted here!) and she started the car.  We were eager to be on our way.   Directions printed out and folded on my lap, I would look and tell her where to turn when and we were on our way.  She knew that we were headed for the coast (I had told her that we would be near saltwater) but she had no idea where.

I smiled.  She loved not knowing and creating the secret surprise for her was fun for me.  She had shared that her actual fortieth birthday bombed as an anticlimactic and disappointing day.  Thus, she decided to extend her celebration until she was satisfied.  I wanted to give her a gift that would make her smile later on when she looked back on it.  We were on our way and we were smiling!

I touched her right arm with my hand and patted her. “Is it okay if I touch you?” I said as I rubbed her arm like a long lost relative.  “Yes!” she said and we were connected.  My heart jumped as I took in the profile of her face, serious and lovely.  “You are so beautiful, Cathy.” She smiled.

Along with the clothes in my suitcase were watercolors, sketchpads, a writing journal, Bananagrams, a book on dreams and a dozen little surprise gifts I had collected for Cathy. I had also brought my ukulele and a guitar.

I had started teaching Cathy songs on the guitar years ago and stopped. I was afraid to teach her. It was too close. If I had raised her she would have learned things of a musical nature naturally.  In reunion it was too much like an afterthought. I was scared of overwhelming her. I didn’t know how to show her things without being affected by the baggage that went with it.  The feeling of guilt was so strong – this medium was part of her cultural birthright and one more thing that was forfeited, I took it away from her when I decided not to raise her. Regardless of the rationale, it was true.  She wouldn’t have what came naturally because she was taken out of the natural setting she was born to. That was my decision and she lost this part.  I couldn’t bridge my guilt with “don’t worry, be here now” and so I stopped.  Steve took over the role of music teacher. He’s good at it and there’s nothing threatening about it from him. Cathy feels safe with him. No loss attached, only gain.  So she would learn when he showed her what to do.  I’m not sure if it’s me that felt unsafe or her but it was I who stopped short. When I showed her, I looked for something else to be doing.

Now I thought I’d bring the instruments just in case and we could play together if she wanted.  I would try to do it right this time.  She had a good old Ovation guitar that my dad, in his emblematic tradition, left when they visited years ago.  That guitar was still in good shape and had a place in the string swing downstairs on her recreation room wall back home in Portland.

A few miles later, we rehashed the series of events and preparations in our two households leading up to our departure. We soaked in the beautiful sunshine as she drove.  It’s no surprise that people in the northwest rarely feel the need to leave the area except in search of sun.  It’s one of the most beautiful and majestic landscapes in the country with a full cast of snow-capped mountains, rushing rivers, green fields and trees beyond number.  The air was green with Spring afoot and Life was everywhere.

At the right turn onto Hwy 101, Cathy had a flash of where we might be headed. “Oh, I know now!” when I called the next left and she was right.  The destination pleased her and she was delighted.  We were there in plenty of time to settle in before dinner.

The hotel has an historic feel and flowers were blooming all along the walkway to the side door and into the reception area.  The woman behind the desk looked up over her bifocals with the welcoming “Hello.”  We checked in for the Steinbeck room and she handed us the keys.

Being a mid-week afternoon the doors to all the vacant rooms were open.  Guests were invited to explore, each room a scene displaying effects, memorabilia and décor the authors might have chosen.  After we rolled our suitcases into the utilitarian Steinbeck room, Cathy got a look of excitement as she said, “Let’s look at the rooms!”

I grinned and followed her into the hallway and we went from one room to the next. “Oh look at this!” and we were in the Mark Twain room. There was a fireplace laid with wood.  A clawfoot bathtub sat like a lion in the bathroom, long and deep to get my soaking juices stirred up.  Our old house we sold in Portland had two good soaking tubs, one on both floors and I missed them sorely.  The bed was grand in size and a trundle bed peeked from a wooden runner with a cutout handle to pull it out from underneath.  The windows were laced in sheer curtains and the side door opened to a large deck with two wicker chairs.

“This is beautiful!” Cathy exclaimed.  Our tiny twin-bedded room looked smaller by the second.

“I love Mark Twain.  I love this room.  I love the deck” I said as the late afternoon sun begged for a visit.  I had packed Irish whiskey in a flask for just such a setting.  There wasn’t a deck or outside seating area from our room.  We left the Mark Twain and headed for Colette.  The Colette room was frilly where the Mark Twain was Midwestern. Colette pictured in the black and white portrait on the wall gave the viewer pause to wonder what thoughts lined up behind her kohl-lined eyes topping her bejeweled deco costume and risqué pose.

“This room is fun” said Cathy as we poked around. Fireplace, deck, lots of room.

One by one we walked through room after room.  Each one had unique features and works and quirks of its namesake propped in situ.  It was a fascinating calliope of characters, colors, textures and attitudes.  A wonder of the world, the theme of this hotel brought great minds together.  Now Cathy and I were here, memoir drafts tucked in our laptops, journals ready to receive and pens and pencils ready to serve.

We went up to the third floor where the receptionist invited us to come at 10 o’clock each evening for mulled wine, a tradition as old as the hotel.  This floor featured a common room lined with windows overlooking the ocean in front of a small kitchen with coffee, tea and water ever ready for guests passing through.  The hallway was lined with more rooms and a dormitory of bunk beds for the economical guests.

“This will be a perfect writing place” Cathy mused as we wandered the main room.  We had been acclimated to writing at the same table for years, working on our mutual memoir sketched out seven years before. We both missed our writing time together and looked longingly at the view and two overstuffed chair by the windows overlooking the sea.

“Yes. Perfect” I echoed.  Even without sharing our words we have shared deep writing space together.  Writing here with you for the next few days will be delicious, I thought to myself.  Maybe I’ll even paint.

Between sighs, long looks out the windows and top ups on cups of coffee from the kitchen, we would spend a great many hours here before leaving for home.

We returned to the Steinbeck room on the main floor and Cathy said she was going to call home to let her husband know we had arrived safe and sound.  I told her I would give her some privacy and went back to the hall, closing the door behind me.

Walking to the lobby straight ahead, I asked the receptionist if it was possible to change rooms?

“Oh yes” she said. “People often make a point of staying in a different room each night, sometime until they’ve stayed in all of them” she smiled at me.

“I wonder if we could stay in the Mark Twain room or the Colette room?”

She looked at the log on her counter and said, “The Mark Twain is available tonight and Colette is free tomorrow.  After that the rooms are full.”

“Could we move to the Mark Twain tonight, take Colette tomorrow and then go back to the Steinbeck room on our last night as planned?”

“Yes, you can.”

I knew it was more money but I also knew how excited Cathy was about the rooms.  This would be an experience she would love.  It was worth it.

“Let’s do it” I said.  “Done!” said she.  This was going to be a marvelous time and Cathy would feel celebrated no matter what.

“Happy birthday, Cathy, we’re moving to the Mark Twain room” I said as knocked and went back through our door.

Cathy looked up in surprise, “Really?”

“Really. Mark Twain tonight. Colette tomorrow. We’ll come back to this room on our last night.  Come on, let’s go.  We’ve got a little sun waiting for us on the deck before dinner.”

(to be continued)

To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.

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