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Cascade Observations: Hood River, where many paths cross

Hood River, Oregon – Where’s that?” was the incredulous response from my Bostonian friends when, in 1979, I informed them that I was moving from their historic city bound for a small town in Oregon. They all thought I was crazy, leaving their cultural Mecca to settle in the West.

On a morning in September of that year, I packed my Chevrolet Vega to the roof, kissed my parents goodbye and pointed my trusty little car’s nose toward the Pacific Ocean. Aside from loneliness and moments of self-doubt during my cross-country solo journey, the only negative of the trip was a flat tire in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on the eve of my arrival in Hood River.

Since then, my trips back East have been few and far between. I returned in 1980 to visit my parents (who mimicked my journey west when they moved to Oregon in 1982 in their Chevrolet loaded with beagles); in 1994 for my 20th high school reunion; in 2000 when I won a national contest and dined privately with Julia Child and Jacques Pepin in an elegant Boston restaurant; and in 2003 when I traveled with our daughter, my sister and my mother to attend my cousin’s wedding.

Three days ago, my cellphone rang and an unfamiliar number popped up in the screen. Expecting it to be spam, I answered the call with reluctance. A strong Brooklyn accent said “Peggy? It’s Scott Klein.” Scott is a friend from college, but I haven’t had any contact with him since our graduation 35 years ago. He was in Portland, bound for a town now renowned worldwide for its scenery, athletic opportunities, food, wine and beer — Hood River, Oregon.

We had a lovely visit, though trying to catch up (in an hour) on all of our friends’ weddings, progeny, career changes and deaths proved to be a daunting task. When we parted, we both expressed hope that it will be less than 35 years before we meet again.

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By the time this September rolls by, the summer of 2013 will go down in the books as the summer of reuniting. In June I flew to Carbondale, Colo., to visit my sister, who moved there almost two years ago. It was wonderful reconnecting with her, and finding connections between her town and mine.

While there, I toured an outdoor sculpture exhibit in the downtown. As I read the program notes, a familiar name and place popped out at me: Sculptor C.J. Rench of Hood River, Ore. Though I don’t know C.J., I’ve worked closely with his wife all year.

A few days after I left Carbondale, my sister informed me that she had met up with another Hood River acquaintance, Matt Miller, while tending her community garden plot. Miller traveled with us when he was a teenager, and he and his wife used to work for Full Sail, where my husband has worked since 1990. He’s lived in Colorado for many years.

Full Sail Brewing has proved to be a great venue for reconnection. It’s not uncommon for a second cousin twice removed, an acquaintance from middle school, or friends of friends to stop by the pub. This summer has been no exception — we’ve shared many a memory over a pint.

Significant birthdays and weddings have been the catalysts for many more summer reunions. My nephew’s fiancée surprised him recently by bringing some of his dearest friends to Hood River to celebrate his 30th birthday. Her present was the best one he received. At a friend’s wedding recently, it was delightful to watch others reunite — long-lost cousins embracing each other, college friends reconnecting, and grandmothers visiting their childhood homes for the first time in 70 years.

At the end of this month, the clan I’ve been lucky enough to join through marriage will gather in Sandpoint, Idaho, for a Wanek family reunion. It will be wonderful to see many of my husband’s cousins.

Our only regret will be the absence of my mother-in-law’s brother. The trip from Nebraska to Idaho is too daunting for a man in his 90s. Instead, we’ll try hooking the two of them up via Skype. In the Internet age, the computer has proven to be a great re-uniter. In fact, my friend Scott found my cellphone number through an Internet search.

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In addition to this year’s weddings, birthdays and other joyous events, this summer will be the time for a bittersweet reunion when we gather for a friend’s memorial.

When I moved to Hood River, the Doke family was one of the first who befriended me. Jeff (who later was the best man at our wedding) was my future husband’s roommate, mother Billie was my brother’s colleague, and Joanie was Jeff’s gregarious younger sister. She had an infectious laugh and a playful spirit.

On my return from Colorado, I learned through a voicemail from Jeff that Joanie had died. As her family moves through their grief, they’re also planning a memorial service for Joanie here in Hood River. When we gather, we’ll swap stories and share laughs, all the while aware that our reunion rests on a foundation of sadness.

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