My parents just left after a lovely, elongated weekend visit. I feel quite bathed in affection, good wine, and tasty food. Since Dave and I moved to Portland, I only see them a few times a year, which is quite a change after living within a half hour of them for most of my life, and enjoying the proximity. (I know this makes me a bit weird.) So we make the most of our short times together, indulging in lovey-doveyness.
Having them here, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my mom on the afternoon Dave and I were preparing to drive away from Massachusetts, almost two years ago. We were at my parents’ house finishing packing the Subaru. The moving truck had already come and gone from our apartment in Watertown, and we were drained. Working with the moving company had been an unpleasant experience. At the very last moment, they had gouged
charged us an extra seven or eight hundred dollars to finish putting all our stuff on the truck, saying that we had gone over the number of boxes their man had originally estimated it would take to move our stuff. We had no choice but to pony up, or they would’ve just left the rest of it sitting on the side of the road. (Movers are snakes: apparently it’s a completely unregulated industry, with no pricing transparency or accountability.) In addition to feeling jerked off, we then felt like jerks ourselves: somehow, we had gotten to be adults in our thirties without knowing that you are expected to handsomely tip the guys who do the actual heavy lifting of all your crap into the truck. I have no excuses for us, except that we were overtired from packing till almost 3 am, and had never used movers before, having always done it laboriously ourselves with U-haul trailers. Anyway, after the rat-faced foreman in the red sox cap (may I indulge myself in a natch here, despite the fact that I normally loathe this formulation?) finished reaming us for an extra 800 dollars, he says, "You know, it’s customary to tip the guys." We were horrified, because we had literally no cash. NONE. And the nearest ATM was several miles away. And they were already behind schedule, champing at the bit to be off to their next job. And so it came about that, several days after Christmas, in 2007, we did not tip the men who had worked bloody hard for several hours wrapping, lifting and moving all our earthly possessions. Feeling like we’d been ripped off and also feeling like absolute assholes ourselves was a nasty combination of emotions. I still feel rotten when I think about it. When our stuff finally arrived in Portland, I tipped both the truck driver and the guy who unloaded it all $100 each to try and make myself feel better.
Bit of a tangent there, about the moving company. Maybe it’ll expiate my guilt about not tipping those guys by posting about it.
But what I really wanted to write about was something my mom said right before we left Massachusetts. Dave and my dad were in the garage doing car things. My mom and I were in the kitchen. I thanked her for all the hard work she and my dad had done to help me pack up our stuff. I had had primary responsibility for the bulk of the packing, because Dave had already started his job in Oregon after Thanksgiving, leaving me alone the three weeks before Christmas to cope with the surprising amount of belongings we had accumulated (free storage: not such a boon, after all). I had been daunted by the task, and my parents helped me tackle the basement, an epic undertaking, with their characteristic generosity and cheerfulness. They are good worker-bees. Very efficient. I find it helpful to have someone to boss me around and keep an eye on the big picture, as I have a tendency to get bogged down in the minutiae of material goods—what should I do with this bag of mysterious cables? should I file this or recycle it? should one sanitize, wrap and move the toilet plunger or just buy a new one on arrival?—without supervision. Anyway, when I was thanking her for all their help, she suddenly burst into tears, and said, Oh, that’s just what parents do; that it felt like yesterday, just yesterday, that she and my dad were young marrieds and had bought their first house, and dad’s parents, Wendy and Jenny, came up from New Jersey and helped them fix it up, cleaning and sanding and painting. What happened? She asked, plaintively, rhetorically, Where did all the time go?
I suddenly felt as though I had crossed an invisible bridge from childhood into uncharted territory. I had a vision of generations telescoping together. I could see that my mom was no longer the young mother in my mind’s eye, that I myself was no longer exactly young, that I was a married woman moving 3,000 miles away from my parents, that the next step in the cycle of life would be for me to have a baby of my own, whom I might one day help clean and pack up an apartment to move away from me to start a new life, and get, in turn, weepy over memories of my own parents.
Living so far away makes everything poignant.
We drove cross country from Boston, arriving in Portland on the first of January, 2008, a coincidence which makes calculating our time in Oregon a snap. It was a wintry voyage. Much of the time the interstate was covered by eddying snow, sifting like sand across the pavement, obscuring road markings and occasionally making it quite nerve-wracking to pilot the car.
It was memorably punctuated by a rousing unplanned stop in Iowa to stand 50 feet away from Barack Obama in a high school gymnasium a few days before the Iowa caucus, and for the first time in my life feel personally invested in a candidate and hopeful about the political process.
The last day we drove all the way from Salt Lake City to Portland, arriving late at night to blow up our air mattress and fall asleep in our empty new apartment, wondering what our life here would be like. The last hours of the drive were on I-84, along the Columbia River, the border between Oregon & Washington state, and I still remember when Mt. Hood swam into view in the darkening sky, magisterially hovering above the lights, and seeming, silently, to welcome us.
But mom, dad: I miss you.