My life goes in themes. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, this was the trip of family, and the ghosts of family.
The roads from Napa to Mendocino, California are some of the windiest that I know, and driving them brought back memories of being horribly carsick on our way camping. I also remember being a helpless passenger in my brother’s blue Chevy truck. We would come speeding toward a hairpin turn, where we would see the quickly approaching 30-35 mph speed limit sign ahead. He would look over and shout out to me “Double it? Or triple it?” I would scream “DOUBLE IT, DOUBLE IT!” as I closed my eyes and held on. He laughs a wicked, older brother laugh to this day when I mention it.
Something in my gut was telling me to drive this coastal route through Mendocino on my way to Seattle. But when I tried to find a hotel, everything was unbelievably booked. Everywhere along the Mendocino coast and north to Fort Bragg seemed to be off-limits. I checked online, I called several places that were not online and the only room I could find was in Westport, population 299, a tiny town miles farther north than I had planned to go. It so happens that this little hamlet is where my great-great-grandparents lived when they came to the United States from Germany. I booked the one room available in the restored 1890’s hotel.
I called my mom and she informed me that my great great-grandmother used to work cleaning linen in the hotel, so I knew immediately that I was heading to the right place! The only room that I could find on the whole coastline is the one room in a hotel where my ancestral grandmother used to work doing laundry while pregnant with my great grandma. Destiny is a strange thing. I’m expecting great things.
Arriving at the Pacific Ocean I was bombarded with the pungent coastal smells, salty air, seaweed, eucalyptus trees, and even the fog seemed to have a presence. I stopped at Van Damme State Park, where we used to camp and where my dad would go diving for abalone, and where I got seasick just floating amongst the kelp holding onto the inner-tube. At the campground I walked among families pounding their abalone meat and divers shedding their wetsuits and kids playing games around the campfire like I used to do. I had walked into the past and remembered a quote I had seen hanging on the front porch of a house, “Everybody has a secret world inside of them.” I felt that secret world bubbling up from my deep subconscious and driving me toward a visit with my past.
Rounding the bend into Westport the sun boldly shined on the headland for first time since I hit the coastline. A little patch of sun brightening the town waving a welcome. I checked into the darling old hotel and went for a long walk along the beaches. I made up songs, sang to the wind and waves, and imagined my ancestors wandering these same sands. I saw my old favorite flowers growing wild along the highway, remembered calling them Pink Ladies, but in looking for them on my phone, saw that they are referred to as Naked Ladies. It was a reminder of Westport’s checkered past, which included brothels to keep the lumbermen satisfied.
The evening was uneventful. I was hoping to be haunted by the ghosts of my grandma rattling towels, sheets and making beds, but I was given a luxurious night’s rest.
I said an appropriate good-bye at the cemetery the next morning. There was one gravestone in particular that grabbed my attention. It was so weathered I couldn’t make out all of the inscription, but it was something about leaving this earth “satisfied.” It makes a lot of sense to me, to die satisfied. No regrets, a life not lived in vain. No one is perfect, least of all me, but I am satisfied. I can “double it or triple it” and keep leaning into the curve. I know where I’m going, there’s nothing else that I need to accomplish, I am satisfied with me, more than satisfied with this incredibly beautiful world. I drove off humming a Seals & Croft’s tune…
Dreams, so they say, are for the fools and they let ’em drift away.
Peace, like the silent dove, should be flyin’ but it’s only just begun.
Like Columbus in the olden days, we must gather all our courage.
Sail our ships out on the open sea. Cast away our fears
And all the years will come and go, and take us up, always up.
We may never pass this way again. We may never pass this way again.
We may never pass this way again.