greetings from talent, oregon (days 2 and 3)

After breakfast at Joshua's, we hit the road, taking 101 South, which winds through the Olympic peninsula, following waterways -- rivers, canals, sounds, bays -- through tiny remote hamlets. Quilcene, Brinnon, Hamma Hamma, Potlatch, Eldon, Hoodsport, Skokomish -- so many more. 

Each community is a few buildings on the roadside -- maybe a pub, a general store, a bait shop, and a funky art outpost. Beautiful, colourful buildings that look cared-for and inviting. Wildflower gardens with whirligigs. 

We stopped so I could get a picture of an "US stop funding genocide stand with Gaza" sign, and kept our eyes out for our favourite stop: Twin Totems Grocery & Deli, home to a huge selection of retro candy, where Allan can get his mythical Zero bar. We bought a lot of candy, prompting the elderly First Nations man at the counter to ask us where we are from and say a few words about Canada. 

It's a beautiful drive, until you connect with I-5 at Olympia, then it's strictly highway driving for many hours, past Portland, and down to southern Oregon. Everyone was already gathered at my brother and sister-in-law's home. After some texting, it was decided that we would meet them at a restaurant. This meant changing out of my Red Sox t-shirt and dirty, two-day's-drive pants into something more presentable, which we did at a rest stop. The last few hours of the drive are boring, but that is all forgotten the moment we arrive at Clyde's Corner.

Sitting outside on the patio were 13 or 14 family members, including babies and kiddos, and my mom. I was very pleased that my oldest grand-niece, age 9, remembered me and greeted me with a big hug. We only see her once a year, so you never know.

My mom looks great. Too thin, but she enjoys the food in her new assisted living home, and is eating three meals a day, so she is sure to put on weight. She was thrilled to see us, and still knows who we are. She knows who everyone is, although she is sometimes confused about how folks are related to her. She will ask, "Who is C's mother again?" I'll say, "My sister, J. Your oldest daughter," and she gets it. She says the same things over and over and over. We all listen and chat as if we didn't already know.

After dinner we were able to spend some time with our niece E, who lives in a remote community on California's north coast. Like me, E is the youngest of three siblings, and like me, she is happily childfree. We have always had a special relationship and it is wonderful to be around her.

We stayed up late talking and making plans. In the morning, we had breakfast with my niece C, her husband, and their 10-month-old baby, who is sweet and adorable and very happy and chill. We also went to see my mom's new home. She was surprised and thrilled to see us, as if we hadn't seen her the previous day. 

The place is lovely -- very clean, and with the institutional look minimized as much as possible. Her room is like a small studio apartment, and she is lucky enough to have a small patio. She told us, "I planted these flowers to make it look beautiful." Which is amusing, and which she appears to believe. We brought her back to my brother's house, and eventually we all had dinner at The Brickroom in Ashland. 

And then, of course, more staying up late talking, this time about the grim and scary political situation in the US. The presidential "debate" was tonight. What could be more depressing? It was interesting to hear everyone's observations on the Democrat's ineptitude, the rise of fascism, the appeal of Trump, the media's complicity, and a host of related topics, with great seriousness and much laughter. 

C and husband and baby leave early tomorrow morning. They live in western New York State, so we don't know when we'll see them next. And of course it's painful for C to say goodbye to my mom, her beloved grandmother. Our visit was timed to overlap with everyone as much as we could. But with people arriving and leaving at different times, there are some people we are seeing too little of.

There are a few people missing: my sister, and another nephew (C's brother) and niece-in-law. There are some issues there, and until there's a wedding or perhaps a Bat Mitzvah, it's unlikely we'll all be together in one place in the foreseeable future.  

So here we are. Super lucky to be surrounded by this bountiful love, family from age 93 to 10 months, all living good lives, all very different but with huge respect for and genuine interest in each other. As I've said many times in this blog over the years, I didn't grow up in this kind of environment. In my childhood, family gatherings were exercises in anxiety and fear, something to be dreaded and then suffered through. The absence of a few dominant figures, through both death and divorce, improved all our lives. Then good people made conscious decisions about what kind of lives they wanted to create. I'm not suggesting it's all rainbows and puppydogs. But we've all been able to exhale, and to heal, to create, and to love.

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