The car begins to pull out of Gram’s long driveway. They all wave at us, and we wave back out of the car windows. I feel relieved when we finally turn out of view and don’t have to wave any longer. Our car is a giant – a 1995 Ford Expedition named Big Eddie; however, my knees still feel crammed in the back seat. Up in the front, Mom looks relieved. It’s funny though, because in the past, we would drive this exact same road – from Gram’s house on Banner Lava Cap Lane to the first highway and then the second and one more until we finally hit I-5 where we would go north until we were home again on Terra Linda Street and then later, Bybee Boulevard – we would drive this same road home, and Mom would be crying. Today, she isn’t.
I guess my Mom always thought we’d eventually move back to Nevada City. We live in Portland, one block away from Dad’s family but a ten-hour drive from Mom’s. Dad traveled a lot. Sometimes, he’d be gone for a month at a time, and Mom would tell us to pack our bags so we could jump in Big Eddie and head south on I-5 over the Siskiyous and past Shasta and through orchards until we reached Nevada City where we’d spend three weeks – three weeks in my swimsuit running around Gram’s property with my cousins and eating Froot Loops for breakfast and hot dogs for dinner. Nevada City is where we created the perfect storm in Gram’s pool using boogie boards while my cousin Nick in the blow-up raft would try to stay afloat amidst the giant waves and onslaught of human canon balls. When we tired of the pool, we went blackberry picking and strawberry picking and built castles out of dead pine needles in the woods. We got poison oak and sunburns and stomachaches from all the otter-pops we snuck out of the downstairs freezer when our moms were sitting outside under umbrellas reading magazines. One July, we spent an entire day searching Gram’s garden for a diamond that had fallen off her wedding ring that morning while she was planting. We all felt bad for Gram, but we were more interested in the reward she promised to the lucky grandchild who could find it. With a twenty-dollar bill, we could buy more otter-pops and go to the movies and buy all the popcorn we wanted. Our moms would tell us not to get extra butter, but we would pay for it ourselves and hey it’s a free country. At night, we’d all curl up in the giant guest room bed, my sisters and I wearing nightgowns made of giant t-shirts. We’d lie there – a pile of skinny arms and legs, a family between the sheets – and wish we never had to go home.
It’s hard to uproot yourself for a couple months a year. It’s hard to have two places that you consider home. It’s even harder when one place becomes the real home and the other the fake one. You miss things. You come into Gram’s kitchen and realize that the plastic rainbow plates are missing, that they were replaced six months ago. You come to her house, and the cat Gus who you once forced into a tutu for the ballet you were putting on in the basement is long gone – died in the winter. You start to notice things that the people who are always there can’t notice. You notice that Gram looks a lot older this year, that she and Mom are fighting all the time, and that she doesn’t buy Froot Loops for us anymore.
I don’t like swimming so much anymore. I don’t like otter-pops either. We slept until noon and drank beers by the lake, leaving our moms behind at the pool with their umbrellas and cheap magazines. Gram seems different this year, but I don’t know why. I don’t know her that well at all, really. I only know her two-months-a-year. Two out of twelve doesn’t seem like a lot, but it feels like a lot. Regardless, I don’t like to measure my relationships by how much time we can cram into the small unit of a year.
So when we leave Nevada City this year, the year Mom decrees will be our last, we all feel kind of relieved. Sad because we love this place, but relieved to know where we belong.