Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We may never pass this way again

Our long experiment with Oregon is over.

Having retrieved our daughter and her belongings after graduation from the University of Oregon last week, and swept up Nancy's mom and her belongings from the idyllic park of erstwhile snowbirds along the way, we retreated to California.

Their tents struck, the wayfarers in our immediate family have come home for good.

Mom will live with us. Our daughter, a lucky Duck who gets to study in Ireland for the summer, will then look for work in the land of movies and television and entertainment.

Save for a week at summer's end to settle affairs at the snowbird park, we may never pass this way again.
(Which made me think of the Seals and Crofts song, but just the title, which you and I probably think is meant to be wistful. Which is why I think my high school graduating class chose it for our commencement theme.

But it's really more of a "let's get it on while the gettin' on is good" song. Which may be why my graduating class picked it after all, which means I've been out of the loop longer than I feared. The song was already old when my high school class picked it. We were bad choosers or we had bad choices. Our junior prom theme was "Reunited" by Peaches and Herb. Think on that a moment, while we return you to our regularly scheduled post, now in progress … )
We've no compelling reason to visit Oregon anymore, inviting as it is. Portland, emerald and grand and sweeping along the banks of the Willamette, is a loooooooooong drive from Sacramento, even for craft beers and friends with whom to enjoy them. It was only a quick morning's drive from Eugene in the few times we were able to visit our daughter.

Last week amounted to one last run-through, one last check under the bed for belongings. We did what we did for one last time. We tried to close the circle on some things, and even succeeded a couple of times.

While we weren't looking, our daughter Mo graduated. It is the blur people describe. When we gathered in a ballroom at the memorial union for our daughter's school commencement — she exempted us from having to attend the main ceremony the next day with thousands of other grads — I realized it was the only room at the university I've been in twice. The first time was when we dropped her off four years before, for a campus orientation.

Between then and now we talked Mo twice into staying at the university. Bleak mid-winter brought her down and she couldn't stand it. Her saving was the Newman Club, for Catholics attending public universities. Her grandma and mom encouraged her to visit the Newman table during orientation activities, and the friendships she had gained in Newman kept her in Eugene those winters, kept her going.

Eventually Mo worked as a full-time peer counselor for Newman one year, earned a scholarship through it, and led music for student Masses. She organized the music for her own baccalaureate Mass last week, her last official task in Eugene. The rest of her fellow graduates in their green caps and gowns sat in the front row, families behind them. Newman staff members recognized them, and the priest blessed them.

The songs she and the choir sang made our worship back home seem dusty, and us seem old.

Mo became an Oregon resident to save on tuition, which impeded her studies for a full year as she had to account for most of her income and do Oregon resident kinds of things that weren't college kinds of things. Somehow, though, by attending summer school a couple of years, she made up the lost time and finished in four years.

Maybe it's not a homeless-to-Harvard story, but it's gutsy and speaks to hard work, and I'm proud of her. She tells us her real education is out in the industry of her choice, and we as parents take it on faith.

Since we skipped the big commencement, we did the town a day ahead of everyone else: A nice restaurant the first evening, with our son and his girlfriend; my sister; Mo's grandma, her surviving grandparent; and Nancy and me. We went to craft beer places the next, Track Town Pizza, dependable ol' wood-paneled no-frills Track Town Pizza, the next. No lines. We beat the crowds each day.

Goodbye, Track Town Pizza.

Goodbye, Eugene streets that I had only last week gotten used to. Goodbye, Target® and Lowe's™, where we had bought dorm stuff and moving-away stuff. Goodbye, Hirons®©, which advertises as a pharmacy but is more chock full of tchotschkes than any store I have ever seen. Goodbye, Safeway®™ on 18th Avenue, where it's hard to believe Mo's car conked out in heavy snows last winter and had to be abandoned for a few days.

Goodbye, Courtesy Inn, and you lovely family that runs it and revels in your children, both high school valedictorians and probably doctors by now. If we ever come back, we will stay in your motel and not the Motel 6®© which charged much more for much less. It used to be Motel 6™® rates ended in 6 and were double digits. No more.

Goodbye, Keystone Cafe, the vegan breakfast place around the corner from Courtesy Inn. We never ate the vegan plates but we loved what we ate, even if Mo didn't care for the place. We even loved the industrial-strength boombox atop a refrigerator in the corner, playing Motown hits.

Goodbye, Fern Ridge Reservoir, you shallow, reedy lake outside Eugene. I was going to swim you one last time, but signs posted at the entrances warned, "If in doubt, stay out," and the water exhibited three of the symptoms of possible high bacteria count. My latent adventurous spirit has its limits.

Goodbye, University of Oregon. Goodbye, Eugene.

Goodbye, Sutherlin, you mystery town of former glory with few visible means of support. It can't be the snowbirds parked nearby, because they shop for goods and healthcare in Roseburg the next town over.

Goodbye, Cooper Creek Reservoir, draped in fog and nestled in the dark forested slopes. I couldn't swim in you one last time either, having locked the keys and all my swim gear in the U-Haul®™ truck our last night in Oregon. (U-Haul's ™® motto should be: "Order a 10-foot truck and we'll give a 20-foot truck instead, and make you drive 25 miles to the next town to get it!")

Goodbye, verdant slopes of southern Oregon, starting to look tan and raggedy and — dare I say, Californian?


• • •

While I wasn't looking, the World Cup began. Not that I was looking all that hard, to our son's consternation. Though his love for the game has soared, mine faded when my children stopped playing. Similarly, my fascination with University of Oregon football team's flashy play and flashier uniforms, different each week, will die now that our daughter no longer attends.

I appreciate soccer; I appreciate that it's so much different than what we Americans expect of sports, that the joy is in the development of a near-goal so much more than the score.

But I left my heart in San Francisco with the Giants, and it doesn't have room for other sports.

• • •
While I wasn't looking, the Giants fell down a rabbit hole and became as expert at losing painfully as they had at winning handily.

Though I knew their rocket ride to first could not sustain, I didn't expect them to lose so atrociously, giving up leads in late innings all three times to the Colorado Rockies at home, losing six in a row and nine of 10 before finally righting themselves over the weekend against the Arizona Diamondbacks. As of last night they showed their losing side again, getting shut out by the lowly San Diego Padres, 6-0.

The Giants still hold the lead in the National League West. What kind of Giants fan does it make me if I wish they were in second, chasing the lead?
Long-ago logo for a mythical entity,
from Jan Conroy's design class
• • •

While I wasn't looking, Jan Conroy perished in a car accident.

Jan was one of the few people I'd call erudite. He was quietly bright, quietly mirthful, quietly tall, and it belied his passion for graphic design. He had retired as the executive director of communications department at UC Davis, and I was fortunate to be a student long ago in graphic design classes he taught.

Jan especially loved the history of graphic design, and it was contagious. He took great care to tell me when I had screwed up on a design, and when I had hit a groove, and he made me want to do more and better.

You'd have liked him. Goodbye, Jan.

• • •

While I wasn't looking, Gene "Gino" Bertolucci passed away.

Mr. B, as I called him, was larger-than-life, something I can't be. He was big and imposing, big laugh, big features, big laser eyes.

I don't know whether it would upset him to say he was the embodiment of the sacred and profane —truly a tireless volunteer for the poor and hungry in the neighborhoods around Our Lady of the Assumption Church, where he was a longtime parishioner, but with a disarmingly earthy way of describing the machinations of his volunteer work. You had to have been there.

Goodbye, Mr. B.

• • •

While I wasn't looking, Iraq all but dissolved.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, depending on your news source and political persuasion, and a slow U-Haul®™ truck and many miles to truck it all let me listen to the entire spectrum — has run of the place, I heard. The border between Syria and Iraq has effectively dissolved, many of the armed Iraqi units the United States had trained ran off, Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki is pissing everyone off, and his country may split into three politico-religious sectors.

Obama blew it, pundit after pundit professed on the caustic radio shows. My favorite was former Vice President Dick Cheney's blistering attack on Obama, "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."

One clever Cheney critic said that's like a starting pitcher giving up 10 runs in the first inning, handing the ball over and blaming the bullpen for the loss.

Yeah, except for all the blood and mangling of thousands of lives, the waste of billions into someone's pockets, the outright lies and misdirection.

Goodbye, human decency.

Is it wrong of me to burden my children with hope for a better world?

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