Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

When I was younger, Memorial Day meant one thing: a road trip to the other side of the state to see relatives.

There we were, a family of 5 packed into our station wagon. Though there are many variants of how this trip began and progressed the cliché that stands out in my mind always begins in the dark.

We would either be leaving well after dinner (probably about 10 pm - early to me now, so late to me then) or early in the morning (is it actually possible we left before 6 am?). My parents plan was to ambush us kids into travel at such an ungodly hour that we would all be QUIET. Apparently the worst thing you can have on a road trip is squabbling kids. I guarantee you - we squabbled.

The week prior to the trip included an extra trip to the grocery store for "what you want to eat and drink in the car". I always got Bugles. Those cornucopia shaped pieces of dried corn pounded into dust then pressed back together. In later years I realized the wisdom of getting Doritos so you could open the bag and breathe in the Dorito fumes instead of the pulp mill smell in Everett. On the day of the trip the luggage would be loaded in the back of the wagon next to the ice chest with our treasure of junk food. The ice chest would be right behind the back seat to remain most accessible.

Here's how the station wagon gets loaded:
Front seat driver - dad
Front seat passenger - mom
Back seat driver side - my sister (she would watch over my dad's shoulder, "you're speeding," "you're falling asleep," "that was a police man," were some of her key conversation starters.)
Back seat passenger side - my brother
Rear cargo area passenger side - ice chest + all luggage
Rear cargo area driver side - me on a sleeping bag with books, a flashlight, and toys galore.
Variations: if it's super hot and the air conditioner doesn't reach the back, I can ride in the middle of the front seat. I will never be seated between my siblings in the back seat.

From our house to my grandmother's house on the other side of the state it was about a 3 and half or 4 hour trip. If there was no traffic. But on a holiday weekend...? Now I see another reason to drive under the cover of darkness.

If we left at 10 pm we'd get in about 2 am.

My grandmother would get out of bed and welcome us. My uncle lived with my grandmother as well. My parents got my uncle's room, my sister had to sleep with my grandmother, my uncle took the hide-a-bed in the living room or slept in his camper out back. My brother and I got the floor in the living room. It wasn't a huge house.

In my father's family food equals love. Clearly my grandmother loved us. On arrival there was tons of fresh fruit, whatever was in season. What was usually in season was cherries. Cherries do NOT agree with my brother. As someone who had to sleep in the same room as my brother, it was always a crazy race between my brother and I to get to the kitchen first. He wanted those cherries bad. I wanted to hide those cherries and keep all bad smells away.

My grandmother would have been filling her freezer for the last month in anticipation of our visit and in the morning when we woke, there were cinnamon rolls! Oh my god, the best cinnamon rolls in the world. Try as you might to buy one better, you never will. These were not just the best recipe, but filled with months of anticipatory love from my grandma. Best of all there was no limit on how many you could have.

If we were lucky, come Saturday morning we would need to replenish something from the nearest grocery store. Like something out of a tv show, the world's strangest named grocery store - the Wigwam. And it's name was up in crazy large square block neon letters. The luck of the Wigwam shopping trip meant we could all buy a comic book! I can't remember which ones my brother bought, but my sister bought Archie (I'd read it when she was done) and I bought either Richie Rich or Casper (no one read them when I was done).

For the rest of Saturday we'd "visit" our relatives. You know, where the adults sit in the house, drink coffee and talk about other relatives health issues and my mom would crochet. Outside the cousins and us ran around like a pack of wild dogs.

On Sunday my grandmother would be up early. While we finished breakfast she was outside cutting flower stems out of her yard. Chrysanthemum, mums, roses and especially peonies.

In fact peonies is what sent my mind back in time this weekend. Trader Joe's had an island of peonies as you walked in the front door. At first I thought, "How beautiful! I must get a bunch and take them home, Lyle would really like that." I try to get flowers at the end of my shopping, like frozen foods so they last that little bit longer. By the time I'd reached the front again to get flowers I was flooded by Memorial weekends past and couldn't bring myself to buy any. Not sad per se, more wistful.

Flowers cut and into water, we'd load all the buckets and people into two cars and drive out to the cemetery where my grandmother would place coffee cans filled with amazing bouquets at my grandfather's headstone and a few others . It was a the very quiet portion of our weekend.

More food and relative visiting followed on Sunday. By Sunday night the mood would change. Tomorrow we'd head back home.

Monday morning there was a limit on how many cinnamon rolls you could have. "I'm not going to have those kids trapped in that car hopped up on sugar the whole ride home." Not to worry because grandma had already wrapped about 2 dozen from the freezer to put in the ice chest to take home with us. Along with meat pies, all the leftovers from the weekend, sandwiches and fresh fruit. Dammit! I have to hide those blasted cherries again!

The ride home took twice as long. No anticipation of what lay ahead. No leaving under the cover of darkness. So much more traffic. We'd stop about halfway, just after we'd cleared the mountain pass and get root beer floats at the XXX Root beer restaurant. They bred St. Bernards next door and they always had puppies. I think the connection was the root beer was supposed to come in a wooden keg. St. Bernards in Switzerland carried little wooden kegs, but I really have no idea. Every year I'd beg for a puppy and every year get turned down. This would lead to two scenarios, I'd scream and run away vowing to "NEVER GO HOME WITH YOU MEAN PEOPLE!" or if I was slow, I'd get caught early and I was drug off to the car I'd blubber, "I WANT ONE! I WANT ONE! I WANT ONE!" that would last for about half an hour longer in the car.

Nowadays I stay home for Memorial Day. Los Angeles is a quiet city when everyone else leaves. It's rare to get to drive around on the open streets.

My grandmother passed away when I was 12. When my brother made it to high school he had to march in the local parade on Memorial Day. We didn't go over the mountain pass as often. This weekend I really miss my grandmother.

I still want a St. Bernard.


Rachel said...

And food STILL=love at your house!

Jim said...

You're invited for dinner again...

TheHMC said...

I really, truly enjoyed reading this ;). Hugs!