We only had about two weeks to get there and back and what with all we had planned, it was going to be a whirlwind journey.
Our mission was to reunite my wife's mother with her father who had gone ahead over 10 years earlier. Part of our journey would be a fitting memorial to celebrate her mother's life and that was the part we most looked forward to.
We drove the 1,000 miles or so from home here in Bellingham, Washington to Central California where we picked up our daughter and son-in-law.
Our first stop along the way was in Ashland, Oregon where we go almost annually to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We spend 4-5 days in the area and usually manage to take in at least a half dozen shows. This year it was As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V and two other non-Shakespearean plays, Animal Crackers and Medea, McBeth and Cinderella. We haven't been too impressed with the Shakespearean productions the last few years and this year was no different. However, we very much enjoyed the other two shows.
Along with the festival we also have our routine places to visit. The Rogue Valley Creamery where they produce Oregonzola blue cheese. We didn't make it there this year since we visited the Harry and David's shop next door to our hotel in Medford and found their cheese there at a significantly lower price.
We saw a couple of movies. Did some shopping and ate at a couple of our favorite restaurants. Si, Caa Flores is a Mexican restaurant that we love to visit every time we're in the area. Great food!
The Black Bear Diner is just that, a diner with great breakfasts. We always have breakfast at least once at the Medford, OR restaurant. It is a growing chain that originated in the little town of Mt. Shasta, CA. It now has restaurants up and down the west coast and as far east as Iowa. Crazy! This time we ate at the original restaurant on our way south into California.
The drive through northern California, especially through Tehama and Glenn Counties is really boring. Just wide open ground with little of interest for hours. So it is a great relief when we finally pull off I-5 for our traditional stop Granzella's in Williams, CA. This is olive growing country and nobody makes olive products like Granzella's. We love to grab one of their muffaletta sandwiches and a few jars of their olives on our way through. They have a great olive tasting bar as well. So, we grabbed something to eat, gassed up and were on our way. Not much further to Sacramento.
After the long drive from Medford, Oregon to Fresno, California where we picked up our daughter and son-in-law at the airport, we were ready for a quiet, restful sleep before the next leg of our journey began.
Next day dawned bright and central California hot! We ate the lousy hotel breakfast and then packed the car. Our day began by showing Nick around the Fresno that Kate grew up in. Her schools, our two homes, both of which have seen better days, around Fresno State, where Leslie worked, a quick lunch at Sal's, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Fresno and then out of town.
We headed to the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery where Leslie's dad was buried back in 2000 and today, we would be taking her mother for interment.
We'd brought the urn with mom's cremains with us. She passed away almost 2 years ago but we'd waited until now to find a time when we could get the whole family together for this moment. We handed mom's urn off to the officials at the cemetery after holding a brief little moment at the gravesite of Leslie's dad, finally bringing mom and dad, gram and gramp back together.
We drove on to our hometowns of Atwater and Merced where we drove around showing Nick our past. Two little run down, seen better days towns. Sad. We managed a dinner at a favorite place of ours in Atwater--Rizzonelli's. We love there hot salami sandwiches and happily they are still in business.
We drove around Atwater, showing Nick Leslie's past before heading in to Merced to show off my past. We drove passed my childhood home on the way over to the motel.
Next morning we headed back to Atwater where we met my sister Susie, her husband Richard, my brother Matt, his wife Linda and their daughter, Mandy. It was a great family reunion. Breakfast at Granny's Pantry and lots of stories and catching up. We are looking forward to meeting again and spending more time with family. Hopefully next year!
After breakfast, we headed over to inspect Leslie's childhood home. It is a rental now and so we had no idea what to expect. We were disappointed in the way the rental management company had been taking care of it and we began taking notes on what we intended to talk to them about when we got home.
Then we headed off to the coast retracing a journey we'd taken so many times with Leslie's folks and during Katie's growing up years. It was always the same. Drive out highway 140 to Gustine, then a stop at Pea Soup Anderson's. Simply dreadful split pea soup, which is their claim to fame, but we only make the stop for the bathroom and to sample the spreadable cheese samples. Then back in the car and off to the next stop. Sounds dumb, I know, but it became our family's tradition and traditions have a strong emotional hold.
We headed onto highway 152 and over the pass passed the San Luis Reservoir. The next stop was at Casa de Fruta where we always stop at the fruit stand and sometimes the other shops. This time we bought a few bags of dried fruit, honey, spiced seeds. A quick bathroom stop and back on the road.
Our next stop is San Juan Bautista, one of the string of California missions established back in the 1700's by Father Junipero Serra. This mission sits astride the San Andreas earthquake fault. It is also famous for being where some of the Hitchcock film, Vertigo was filmed. We walked around the mission, went inside and then walked along the main street a while. Back in the car.
You could smell it and feel it before we saw it. The temperature had substantially dropped from the 100+ degrees of the central valley to the low 60's on the coast. The sea air smelled of salt, but it was Kate who announced it first. She'd seen the ocean. We drove along passed the former Fort Ord, now a state university until we exited onto Del Monte Avenue and on into Monterey.
Our final stop was Asilomar, the state run conference center we've stayed at so many times over the years. This is where Leslie's parents always took us each year right after school was over. Just a few days but a tradition we came to love. We'd stayed here many time on our own and in other B and B's around town. Pacific Grove and the Monterey Peninsula have always been one of our favorite places in the world and a place we'd love to live. Without the money to buy even a cottage here, we've always just settled for a few days here and there.
We checked into our room and settled in. Some went hiking down to Asilomar beach. I took a nap.
We'd planned to celebrate Kate's birthday while here and we found a new restaurant that sounded fantastic. We made reservations a couple of days earlier and this evening we drove over to the old Holman building, the tallest building in Pacific Grove for an unforgettable dinner.
Le Normandie is a two year old French bistro that is simply amazing. Down on Lighthouse Ave. downtown Pacific Grove, the decor is decidedly French bistro. The French family that own it are charming and the food to die for. A great piano/bass jazz combo played in the background all evening adding to the charm. We started with an order of escargot. For our mains, Nick and I ordered the boeuf bourguignon, Kate the Confit de Canard and Leslie, the pork medallions. Wonderful! Delicious wine pairings and when we mentioned to our waitress, the French owner, that it was our daughter's birthday dinner, she insisted on giving us dessert on the house. Not one but two desserts appeared. We hadn't intended to order dessert at all, but what are you going to do? A chocolate volcano cake came out along with a raspberry torte with raspberry sorbet. Amazing!
As we came out into the night air and walked up the street to our car, I noticed the marine layer had, as it often does, drifted back ashore wrapping Pacific Grove in its gray, foggy grip. I love these nights. It feels so cozy!
We all slept well. In the morning we met at the beautiful lodge where we have spent so many hours sitting in front of the fire sipping hot chocolate. This morning we ordered a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee. After the previous night's dinner, it was all we could manage. After one more quick walk along the beach, we hopped in the car and headed to San Jose where we would drop off Kate and Nick at the airport and we would travel on toward home.
We made an all too short stop in Albany, CA on our way to our overnight stop. I had sadly lost touch with my college friend Michael Bower some 40 years ago, but had recently reconnected with him on Facebook. I'd arranged to stop for a couple of hours for dinner and to catch up. It was great to meet his wife, Chris and to catch up on our lives in person.
Our stop that evening was a motel in Fairfield, CA. No special place, just a place to lay our heads. We were heading in a direction that would cut off a few miles on our journey north and back to home. Highway 505 just north and east of Fairfield, heads north across country skipping the entire Sacramento area. It reconnects with I-5 just south of our stop at Williams and Granzella's. We tanked up and grabbed our usual muffaletta before heading on. We didn't stop until we got to Mt. Shasta where we needed to stop at the Black Bear Diner to pick up Leslie's sweater she had left when we came through the first time. We stopped and had lunch as well and then kept driving. Our goal today was to get to Vancouver, WA--quite a drive!
We made it, stopping at a motel just 3 miles into Washington state. It felt really good to cross that border. After the butterflys we always feel in our tummies when we cross the California border, leaving the place we grew up, it felt good to be home.
We had dinner at Smokey's BBQ right across the street from our motel. I have to say it was really good pulled pork. The mac and cheese side was also good. The rest of it was so so. But really good BBQ.
The motel had recently been remodeled and the bed was so comfy. Next morning we got up and out as soon as possible. We were headed to The Pancake House for breakfast in Longview. We'd discovered this place on one of our trips home from the Shakespeare Festival a few years back and loved it. Friendly folks and fabulous breakfasts. The p-cakes are so light and fluffy!
We weren't quite done yet. After several hours of driving north we were only about 45 minutes from home when we turned off I-5 and headed west into the small town of Stanwood, WA for a lunch at Jimmy's Pizza and Pasta. We LOVE this place. Jimmy's is like a throw back to a time when Italian-American restaurants made real sauces that were simmered for hours on the back burner, when garlic toast accompanied the meal and the salads had dressing on them. We always order Jimmy's chop salad and a pasta dish to share. When you order the pasta, get it baked! They throw extra cheese over the top of the dish and bake it until it bubbles. Oh man!
It felt so good to see that Bellingham city limits sign on the edge of town, turning off at our exit, driving up Alabama Hill, making that right onto Birch and finally getting to push the garage door opener.
Home never felt so good. But I wonder about gramp and gram back in California, alone out in that cemetery in the barren, brown, rolling hills on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. It is nice to know they are lying next to each other again, having each other for company. But they are so far away and easy to forget from up here where we spend our days. We need to go back often and check up on them from time to time and remember.