Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Go West, Part I

I was going to tell you how I ended up here in the Pacific Northwest with Mike. Boy, that's a long story. 

When I was in high school, one of my classmates asked me where he should go to college. I forget the name of the colleges on the chopping block, but one of them was in California. You know how dramatic kids are in high school, so I swept my arm out  and said, "Go West, man, go West." 

"Go West, young man, go West," my literature teacher said with equal flair, "and grow up with the country."

He actually thought I was quoting Horace Greeley, but dork that I am, I was not. At least it made him laugh when I admitted my ignorance. Somehow, that one line gelled the adventure that would lie in the West, even for me, even in the twentieth century.  Oh, it's not entirely true that it started there. I watched the Lone Ranger as a child. I saw the 'Gunfight at the OK Corral."  Wallace Stegner also wrote about the myth of the West in his book 'Marking the Sparrow's Fall.'  According to him, the Pacific Northwest doesn't even count, since the landscape is so different. You know, it worked just fine for me.  There's a grandeur to the snow-covered mountains, to the height of the evergreens that says I'm in the West, despite the damp weather. 

Nope, I have to admit, the idea to go West came to me long before that moment in the classroom.  It was even in my family.  This short version of the story is all that I know, but it's a story I heard over and over.  I could hear it all over again with just a phone call and a verbal cue. 

When my grandpa was a young man, he bought a car and started driving West.  When he ran out of money, he'd stop in a town, get a job for a while, then move on.  He made it all the way to California that way. He hadn't been there all that long when he got word that his brother, who had been newly engaged, had died in a tragic accident.  Since they didn't quite know where my grandpa had been, it took a long time for him to find out.  Remember, people didn't just pick up a phone back then. 

My grandpa's brother had been out hunting, had leaned his gun up against a fence and it fell and accidentally discharged when he climbed over the fence.  He was killed.  His fiance was devastated.  When my grandpa found out about his brother, he came back home as quickly as he could. Then, he married his brother's fiance. I always thought that part was strange, buy my mother always told me that they did that sort of thing back then, felt a sense of obligation and married the girl.

So can you picture this story?    It's the 1920s.  A young man, not even close to being a grandpa, leaves home with a good buddy to go on an adventure.  Pictures of him show him as a tall, lean man with a shock of long black hair over one eye.  You could make a whole movie on that story alone, but when they told the story, they never fleshed it out for me.  They never even put feelings to it, though I'm suspicious that I always felt a little sad when Grandpa had to rush back home and take responsibility.  Maybe the teller didn't want to say what he'd given up by coming home but it hung there in the air anyway. 

So maybe it was destiny for me to move West.  I don't know.  I didn't go about it in a straightforward way, in any case.  When I graduated from high school, I went straight to a state college.  I had only applied to the one place.  I could afford my tuition that way. 

When I graduated from college, I felt so incredibly free.  I had made it.  I could go anywhere.  I could do anything. 

So, within two weeks, I moved to New Jersey.

Surprised you, didn't I?

Thank you for listening, jb


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