Standards are important. They let us know when we have achieved what we dreamed of doing, or if we’ve lost our way. The trip back from Portland with my cousin Jeffie reminded me of some of my earliest benchmarks, the standards against which I have measured all other things.
One of those firsts was the first time my Grandpa took me through the old road in the Columbia Gorge. As we drove the winding road through the moss-hung forests he told me about driving the road in trucks, about Celilo Falls, about Multnomah. And all the while the rain pattered on the car windows, dripped off the trees, and soaked the lichens growing on the pitted gray arches that guarded the steepest sections of road. The heater hummed, and I curled up on the back seat, warm and drowsy, as Grandpa’s voice went on and on, weaving a magic strong enough to last me the rest of my life.
I looked out at the rain-polished world and thought about how we were driving exactly where Grandpa used to drive. All that divided us were years. Now, I am startled to realize that when Grandpa told us his stories we were only about thirty years apart. More years now divide me from that day in the car than divided me from Grandpa in his truck. But never mind.
We passed a small stone house. Its windows glowed golden and glistened on falling droplets as we passed. I watched the house as long as I could, kneeling on the back seat, staring out the back window until a curve blocked its silent promise of a dry place by the fire.
That day, that road, and that house became benchmarks for me–the road a gateway to a mysterious realm, the house the ideal home for which I would strive, the day a symbol of a time when anything and everything was possible, as long as it was contained in my grandfather’s soft, rusty voice.
I have driven the old road many times in the years since then. The road has had its ups and downs. Sections have fallen into disrepair. Some have been restored. The small stone house stood empty and derelict for decades. But two days ago, when I drove the road again with Jeffie–who increasingly looks like Grandpa, even as I am coming to resemble Grandma–the rain still fell, the leaves and moss still shone as if they had been polished, even the asphalt looked like glass. And the house? The small house that became the standard by which I have since measured home? The house that stood forgotten, broken, and sad? Well, take a look. Someone has looked at it, saw what I saw, and gave it back to itself. The benchmarks hold firm.
(Thanks to Jeffie, who took these pictures while I drove.)