Like other retirees in motor homes, my mother was a summer vagabond who escaped the Arizona desert for an annual trek with my father along the Oregon coast. I remember her talking with delight about the resident pod of whales in Depoe Bay, and the quiet charm of Garibaldi and other towns I had never seen.
Missing her, I retraced a portion of that gypsy journey to discover clues about my mother that those travels might reveal.
With the first swirl of fog through the cedared cliffs, and the sight of giant sea stacks rising up like leviathans on the misty shoreline, I knew time progressed differently on the southern Oregon coast. Walking around those calming monoliths at low tide, I sensed the slow thrust of the ages enduring from generation to generation.
And those agates glistening on the beach as the waves foamed back did my mother bend down and brush the sand away to examine the polished pattern of colors and striations each smooth stone held? Most likely she did. I feel certain that she would have watched the pink and gold of the setting sun waver mirror-like on the shore's wet sheen.
Further north, the craggy coast sloped to a stretch of dunes and sea grass, then rose again to summits yielding wide vistas of curving ocean and breaking waves. Everywhere wild flowers tumbled in red and yellow profusion.
Fish and chips her favorite was served from roadside stands, diners, and floating dockside restaurants. Only salt water taffy was more prevalent.
Just as my mother had done, I stood at numerous candy counters to test a wide range of peppermint, peanut butter, and lemon chiffon flavors.
I couldn't understand why certain towns enticed her. A few she mentioned seemed little more than a cluster of shops perched like tired shore birds on either side of Highway 101. But the tiny grocery stores and two-pump gas stations often were run by the same people who, year after year, greeted itinerants on their summer travels. Maybe she looked forward to those stops simply because she knew even the smallest rituals offer comfort and reassurance.
Between visits with each other in our separate states, we spoke constantly on the phone. But as outgoing as she was, she kept a reclusive inner room to herself where I never pried. Now I wish I had.
What was her childhood like growing up with three brothers and a widowed mother in Riverdale, Mich.? I recall her reminiscing about swimming in a stream that bordered their farm, stooping low to scramble into a white hen house to gather eggs, and helping sell Grandma Bradley's renowned rhubarb pies during the worst of the Depression years.
How did she feel as a young bride married during the war, then transplanted from the green Midwest to the parched desert where she raised her young family?
I should have asked thousands of questions about her experiences and aspirations, then recorded every detail. Although much about my mother is written in my heart, very little is in my notebooks.
But I found telling traces of her on the Oregon coast. Next summer, perhaps I'll journey to Riverdale and find more.