We got to California late in the evening on July 3rd. We’d flown out of Jacksonville, Florida, up to Chicago, over to San Francisco, and then down to Los Angeles. It was a lot of flying and a lot of airports and a very long day of traveling.
Just as a heads-up for anyone traveling through the San Francisco airport, if you have to switch to a different terminal, you have to go back through security again! It was a bit of a surprise, let me tell you.
But we made it safely through all our connections and arrived at Justin’s stepmom’s house late in the evening. We grabbed dinner at a nice little café in Los Angeles and then drove out of the city proper while I gaped at the massive sprawl of humanity in that area. It just goes on and on! And because there’s actually topography in that area but not a lot of trees, you can see that there are houses lighting up the night completely to the other side of the valley and spilling into the next valley after that! Great gobs of humanity. It boggles the mind.
We spent the night at Justin’s stepmom’s house and set out the next morning to his uncle’s house just outside of Ramona. It’s about a two hour drive and we took the route that went alongside the ocean for a ways so I could spend time gaping at the Pacific – a more awe-inspiring view that the sprawl of humanity, to be sure.
It’s surprising to me that the Pacific should feel so different than the Atlantic. The Pacific feels more wild and reckless than the Atlantic. The shoreline is more rocky, with the ocean splashing up along cliff-sides and rocks more than sandy beaches. We drove along a road that sat high above the shoreline so I could see out across the ocean for a ways – it’s not something I’ve found on the east coast, where the land is usually at the same level as the water and there are usually trees in the way.
(Sadly the morning was kind of gloomy and I have no good photos from this part of the drive.)
Eventually we turned inland and I got to see what California is like outside of the cities. It’s beautiful out there, but in a very different way than anywhere else I’ve been. There are not a lot of trees. There’s a lot of scrub brush and grass that clings to the thin soil covering the hills that are otherwise spotted with stones and boulders as big as houses. It’s like the topmost part of the world has been scraped away and all that’s left is a little bit of soil and rocks and the plant life clings to whatever it can. And then you turn a corner and go down into a valley and there’s a whole grove of orange trees nestled into the moist earth at the bottom of the hills. And there are rows of avocado trees lining the hills heading back out of the valley. And then you turn the corner up the side of the valley again and it’s just rocks and scrub brush again.
I hadn’t expected it to be so beautiful.
We got to Justin’s uncle’s house just after noon and his grandfather (Doug) and his girlfriend (of 30-plus years) (Pat) were sitting out on lawn chairs in the driveway beside a camper trailer. Justin’s uncle (Doug) and his wife (Lisa) and their son (Dougie) have a beautiful 2-bedroom home, so there wasn’t room for all of us to sleep in the house. Grandpa Doug bought the trailer so people would have somewhere to sleep while visiting.
We drove up to the trailer and Grandpa Doug stood up to meet us, reaching out his arms, nearly speechless and in tears, excited beyond telling that Justin had made it all the way out to California to see him. Grandpa had been so worried the day before that we would miss our connecting flights and that we wouldn’t make it out to Ramona. He gave Justin a “Doug-Hug” (as tight as you can squeeze, with “I love you – I love you – I love you” said into the other person’s ear) and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to let go until his arms fell asleep. But he did eventually let go and then he gave me a Doug-Hug, as well.
And then we pulled up chairs and watched as Uncle Doug and Cousin Dougie created a ramp for Grandpa Doug’s aging poodle, Linda, to use to climb in and out of the camper, trying to save her aching hips, while keeping it so Pat, with her broken pelvis and sciatica, could also make it up the stairs. Because isn’t that what visiting family is all about? Sitting around, chatting, and messing around with power tools?
I’m trying to write this well, taking my time to explain things, so that’s where I’m going to stop it for right now because it seems like a nice break-point and it’s getting pretty long. It was a very important trip for Justin and I want to write it so we can remember it very well.
Because Justin’s parents divorced when Justin was so young and the way that concentrated the time that Kirk and Grandpa Doug were able to spend with Justin as he was growing up, and because of Kirk’s death so early in his life and how that made Justin such a treasure to Grandpa Doug, Justin has a closer relationship with his grandfather than I have ever managed to achieve with any of my grandparents. I feel like I should have been able to do better at that with my grandparents, but . . . I haven’t. And I can’t seem to do it now; I don’t know why.
Grandpa Doug has been slowing down a lot — his sight is going, his hearing is going, and he’s getting very tired. He has trouble getting around. He’s getting to the point where he doesn’t strongly feel like he wants to to keep going. And that’s terribly, terribly sad for Justin. Also to me because Grandpa Doug is a sweet, sassy man who cut into our first dance at our wedding.
I’m very glad that we were able to take this trip out to visit him and I want to make sure that I write about it so I can remember it later on. It’s something I should have done for my own grandfathers before they passed. Something I hope I get to do for my grandmothers before they go. And something I was very glad we got to do for Grandpa Doug, even though we all hope he hangs around for at least a couple more years. One of his older brothers is still alive and doing very well at 93, so he’s got to at least make it as long as that, we keep telling him. He’s got to make it back to the big Barnett family reunion in July of 2015. This year is just too early.