When I married, I knew I would never again live in Western Washington. Although I would return to visit my parents, the pleasures I took for granted would no longer be mine by right of residency. The thrill of accelerating up a steep road bracketed by thick stands of Doug Firs, glancing into the thick underbrush for signs of ripe red huckleberries on clear cut stumps or small animals making their way on padded moss floors. The contentment of walking along an isolated rocky shoreline, examining shells with a mental dichotomous key – one valve or two? – while overhead seagulls wheeled and screamed their victory cries. The rhythmic symphony of rain outside my bedroom window: the soprano tick-tick-ticking of droplets hitting the concrete sidewalk accompanied by baritone beats from the downspout and occasional bursts as pooled water slid through the slats of the upstairs deck.
When I returned to my family home in Tacoma in the early years of my marriage, I took mental inventory even before I got out of the rental car. Was it the same? Sometimes I could tell Mom had been out dead-heading the rhodies, noting a tidy pile next to the giant that reached to the gutter. Or I could see her handiwork in newly planted annuals in the front flower bed along with evidence of a futile attempt to sweep up the loose dirt that had spilled onto the concrete.
Anticipating my return, the front door would be unlocked, so I’d enter and set my suitcase down on the green slate entry floor. Did it shine, as it did when one of my chores was polishing it? Before Mom developed dementia, you could count on seeing an arrangement of fresh flowers – whatever was in season in the yard — placed on the drop leaf mahogany table in the entryway.
By then, Mom would have noticed my arrival. She would push the kitchen pocket door open, shoo the dog from underfoot and approach me. Her warm smile and twinkling eyes felt like an embrace from six feet away. What did she say? “Welcome home, honey,” I think. Did she call me honey? Or was it dear? Or just Betz? (It was rarely “Betsy.” She said she really meant to call me Betz but didn’t have the gumption to spell it that way.)
What I remember most, however, was not the visual details. It was the feeling.
I had the feeling that old 8601, my parents’ home, waited for me. Mom, Dad, the house and the dog (Meg, the Brittany Spaniel, in later years) all waited for me. The deadheading of the rhodies, the planting of the annuals, the fresh flowers in the hallway: they felt like preparations for my arrival. I don’t think I’m being egotistical here. I knew that I was important to my parents, and they waited in expectation on the afternoon when I arrived.
Something in me waited, too. When I met my husband a couple of years after graduating from college, I said to myself, “This guy is not going to leave Sacramento. If you get serious about him, Sacramento will be where you live.”
Hot and flat. Those were my two initial impressions of the Central Valley town. From the air, the valley floor looked like a crazy quilt of browns and greens, embroidered by curving ridges that partitioned flooded rice fields. After the lush tall forests of the Northwest, the ground looked bald. Colorful but bald. During the first summer of our marriage, Sacramento experienced 45 days over 100 degrees. Or as locals like to say, temps “in the triple digits.” It left me speechless. I didn’t even have a vocabulary for that kind of extreme heat. When I climbed into my VW rabbit, with its cloth and vinyl seats, it had to be over 200 degrees.
For many years – 10? 15? – I still felt like a foster child of Sacramento’s capitol. By then, I was a mother twice over, my career was established and I had a large network of friends and colleagues. When would it really feel like home?
Something in me had waited for that moment when I would arrive at 8601 43rd Street West. I inhaled, my lungs filling with crisp air cooled by the inland sea, smelling slightly of salt, earth and vegetation. Moisture penetrated my skin, plumping it after the desiccating dryness of California. I smiled, imagining the regeneration of the webbing between my fingers and toes – a Northwesterner’s inside joke.
My parents, the house, the area — all seemed to wait for me. But a part of me had been in suspended animation, too. I had been waiting.
Sometime in the past 15 years, Sacramento (finally) started feeling like the place I belonged. Maybe it happened after the death of my mother in 1999. Or perhaps it was after my father moved to be with me in his late 80s.
I thought about all this two weeks ago, as I waited for the arrival of my son from college. He had spent a couple of weeks tooling around Washington after graduating. I sped toward Sacramento from Santa Cruz, intending to arrive before he did. I wanted to be waiting.
During the two-and-a-half hour drive, I realized what a privilege it was to wait, and to be waited for. Perhaps my parents did not put their lives in abeyance when I visited, but it felt like they did. I felt cherished.
With both of my adult children now living in Sacramento, I doubt they have this feeling. Our lives are busy, bustling here and there. I’ve got stuff to do, and they know it. My world doesn’t screech to a halt when they’re around.
I cherish them, nonetheless. I should wait more often.