Over the Christmas holiday, Mrs. sirhc and I made plans to join my dad’s entire family in celebrating his mother’s 80th birthday. We’d planned to fly from San Diego to Seattle on Thursday, stay at a quaint bed & breakfast, attend the party on Saturday, and return home on Sunday. However, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
As I mentioned on Monday, we had to modify our plans at the last minute. As my family juggled schedules and rearranged plans, stress levels rose until, finally, we agreed upon arrangements that worked for everyone and would hopefully unfold smoothly.
It was much too expensive to re-book our flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Portland, so we instead rented a car to make the two-and-a-half hour drive south to Wilsonville, Oregon. On the Hertz web site the previous morning, I had reserved a Camry. Partly because I wanted to test drive it, as I’m thinking of replacing my Avalon in a few years; partly because my other option was an Impala, and we didn’t like the last one we rented. As an added bonus, the only Camry left had a GPS unit, which I didn’t request, so I didn’t pay for it. This turned out to be more useful than I expected.
We arrived in Wilsonville shortly before my parents left to pick up my sister and her husband from the Portland airport (they were smart enough to fly Southwest, so re-booking the flight didn’t cost them an obscene amount of money), so we went ahead and checked into the Comfort Inn. We had some time to kill, and Oregon doesn’t have a state sales tax, so we went over to the local Costco to take advantage of a sale on Samsung u550 phones. This turned out to be a big mistake (more on that later).
When my parents returned with my sister and her husband, and they got settled into their own hotel, the six of us headed out for a bite to eat. Across from our hotel was a pub called Wanker’s Corner. It had a decent menu and a good selection of beer (we were, after all, only 20 minutes south of Portland). I had a steak covered in sautéed mushrooms and blue cheese, which makes my mouth water to remember it.
A Farewell for One Grandmother
My grandmother’s funeral was scheduled for Friday afternoon. In order to reduce some of the shock of the planned open-casket funeral, I took my sister to the mortuary in the morning to view the body. The best way to describe the visit would be that it was an odd experience. It was a bit like visiting Madame Tussauds: extremely realistic, but lacking that spark of life. This woman only vaguely resembled the grandmother I remember. Had I not been told who she was, I may not have recognized her at all.
I find the whole concept of open-casket funerals odd. The event is already a painful one for friends and family. The sight of their loved one’s lifeless body can’t be easy to take. I think I prefer an urn. However, I’ve only attended two funerals; the first was a Catholic mass for my (cremated) paternal grandfather.
The funeral service itself was nice. The pastor really didn’t know the family, as he was just the guy who performed services for everyone who passed through his mortuary, as it were. The eulogy was nice, if inaccurate in a few areas. My grandmother’s children—my mother and her two brothers—each said some words, as well as did one of my cousins. I was offered the opportunity, but didn’t take it. I had thought about it, but everything that came to mind was more about me than it was about my grandmother. I don’t think everyone needed to hear that; the service was about her, not me.
Following the service, the entire family joined my grandfather for dinner back at his retirement community. Since we had to get on the road to Snohomish immediately after dinner, I had gone ahead and changed out of my suit and back into my t-shirt and shorts, which I always wear when traveling. My uncle pointed out the community’s dress code, but since my shorts weren’t denim, I was okay. A cheese and fruit platter was laid out as an appetiser, the main course was salmon in a hollandaise sauce, and dessert was a delicious chocolate cake with a coconut raspberry sauce. Overall a good meal, but unfortunately the salmon would come back to haunt us.
While we had not intended to visit Oregon at all, circumstances combined for us to see most of my mom’s family (a couple of cousins couldn’t make it). A sad event to be sure, but without it I may not have seen these members of my family for several more years.
Sleepless in … Tacoma
About two hours into our three hour drive, Mrs. sirhc started feeling a bit “iffy.” We pulled over once, then a second time on the side of the freeway, as the salmon made its way back upstream, so to speak. After the second stop (a daring dart across two lanes of freeway traffic merging into the I-5), we chose to find a place to stop and wait it out.
We spent about 45 minutes at a Shell station just south of the Tacoma Dome. The temperature was only a few degrees above freezing and I’m sure the wind chill off the sound was well below that (recall that I was wearing shorts). The wind off the sound will cut right through you. It’s vicious.
When Mrs. sirhc was feeling better, we headed back to the freeway. It was an easy entrance, directly across from the gas station … had I been reading the road signs instead of listening to the GPS. The GPS guided us onto the wrong freeway. On the plus side, once it realized it had done this to us, it sent us through a rather dodgy neighborhood in its attempt to steer us back to the entrance we had missed in the first place.
Later, the GPS unit was nice enough to guide us onto the I-405 freeway … after we had passed the turnoff. That’s okay, though; I wanted to take the I-5 anyway.
A Very Happy Birthday for the Other Grandmother
On Saturday, we kept our scheduled appointment for my paternal grandmother’s celebration of her 80th birthday. My dad’s whole family was gathered together for the first time since my grandfather’s funeral, eight years ago. I played some video games with my cousins, and took a lot of pictures. For dinner, we had steaks, which I was volunteered to grill. Somehow I always end up with that job. I was happy enough to do it. I got to stand outside in the chill air in front of two Weber charcoal grills.
Finally, well into the evening, we started a game of poker. The delay is unusual for my family. In the past, the game would have started immediately, and continued all day and well into the night. These days Texas Hold’em is all the rage, even in my family. It presents a much different dynamic that not everyone has picked up. I was up at the end, which came much earlier than we had planned.
My parents had left earlier in the evening to get back to their hotel in time to get a decent amount of sleep. Not long after they got on the road, I started receiving phone calls from them. Apparently, a snowstorm was passing through, for the first time in who knows how long. My parents were urging me to get on the road before it got worse. I took some flak from my Denver-based cousins, but my grandmother needed to get home, and I was the only person both sober enough and competent enough to make the drive. So we left.
Just as no one in Southern California can drive when it rains, it seems no one in Wa(r)shington can drive when it snows. I of all people, the kid who grew up in Hawai’i and Southern California, managed to handle the conditions just fine. Better, in fact, than the majority of people we encountered on the road.
In the end, the drive was more annoying that it was stressful. We saw two cars in ditches along the side of the road and, at one point, got stuck behind someone driving under 25 MPH and continuously braking … uphill. Anyone who has driven in the snow knows this is a particularly dangerous practice.
At my parents’ urging, we opted to take the “river road” instead of Highway 2. My grandmother protested this move until my mother finally communicated to her that this was the route she takes home from bingo. Apparently, the road is actually the Old Snohomish-Monroe Highway, while the “river road” is another route entirely. The old highway ended up being a pleasant drive. Few people go that way, and the river’s relative warmth kept the road clear of snow. Yes, my mom referred to it as the “river road” because it follows the path of the river.
At one point, we pulled into the cover of a gas station to clear the car’s windshield and air intake of snow and ice. Fortunately, this time I was wearing pants. My hand still froze as I cleared the ice. Apparently, I didn’t think to pack gloves on a trip to a location that hasn’t seen snow in ages, particularly in March.
Our flight home was delayed by an hour, so Mrs. sirhc and I had plenty time to grab lunch and spend some time relaxing at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. After evaluating our myriad options of gourmet choices, we somehow passed up Wolfgang Puck’s pizza in favor of Wendy’s hamburgers (actually, I had a chicken sandwich). As Mrs. sirhc ventured off in search of a table, I waited for our order outside the cashier area, which was sort of enclosed with windows on either side.
To understand the rest of this story, I need to first explain something. Ever since I found out Mrs. sirhc was carrying a little sirhc or sirhcette, I’ve become much more aware of two things: pregnant women, and children. What once was something I never took notice of, I see everywhere now.
Through the window on the left side of the restaurant, just inside the cashier area, was a little red-haired girl. She couldn’t have been more than four or five years old and, for some reason, I had caught her fancy. Every time I looked in her direction, she would catch my eye, smile and wave. After noticing this, I played a bit of peek-a-boo with her while I waited for our order. When our food was ready, I passed her, said hello and went on my way. Shortly after, as we sat and ate our food, the girl passed by with her family, found me across the food court, caught my eye again, smiled and waved.