Editor’s note: Each Thursday, we feature a throwback piece from Topology’s predecessor, catapult magazine. In this essay from 2008, Katie Hoogendam shares how a rambling vacation yields delight, generosity and gratitude.
Blessed are those who can give without remembering, and take without forgetting.
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
W.S. Merwin, “Listen”
Less than three hours have passed since I walked through the back door and stripped off my sticky red cowgirl boots. It’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve been home: two weeks since I’ve been able to amble around my garden clad in my old pajamas, nearly two weeks since I’ve had the delicious pleasure of sinking softly into my comfortable queen bed. I haven’t ground my own coffee beans or smelled my own flowers. I haven’t grilled my own food or pulled any wine out from our little basement collection. None of these things have I done in 13 days, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. Despite unnaturally early mornings spent preparing to board various aircrafts and foolishly late nights spent carousing with friends and loved ones, I am no more worse for the wear. In fact, although I have had little control over the amount of creature comforts in my day-to-day life, I have certainly lacked for nothing. Why am I so plump and rosy despite my rough and tumble travels, you might ask? Well, I’ll tell you: purely by the grace of God and the generous hospitality of others went I (and my husband, Jordan).
It all started June 26, 2008. After a long day of work and housecleaning, Jordan and I hopped into our air condition-less Toyota and headed westward. After a grueling six hours of highway driving, we found ourselves map-less and lost amidst the labyrinthine streets of Ann Arbor. At long last, we pulled into the gravel driveway that leads to the home of my Uncle Louie and Aunt Donna. We were late, but they had waited up for us. Four hours later and despite our five a.m. flight the next morning, we were laughing and telling stories over Merlot and old candles on their front porch. We were greeted the next morning with a pot of hot coffee and, so that we wouldn’t have to pay for airport parking, a free ride to the Detroit airport in Uncle Louie’s Buick Roadmaster.
From there we boarded a plane to Texas, where Shannon, my best friend from junior high, was to get married in a quaint little Hill Country town called Dripping Springs. Jordan and I were exhausted upon arrival, the heat clinging sickly to our bodies like a sweaty pair of too-tight underwear, and yet a second wind blew briskly into our lungs at the sight of our old friend. I am convinced that the world would be much better off if there were more Shannons in it. Warm and thoughtful, open and humble, encouraging and loyal—Shannon’s just about the perfect human being, although she’d balk to hear me say that. If the world ends and we are taken over by humanoid robots, I think I could feel okay about it if their prototype was based on the real-life Shannon Michaud. She greeted us with open arms and, even on her wedding day, was concerned for our well-being over any of her needs. Her family, friends and new husband were much the same. It seemed that we could’ve been complete strangers—vagrants picked up to fill some of the seats at the ceremony—and they would have showered us with just as much love and just as many hors d’oeuvres. Hearts two sizes two large for their bodies—yep, they’re that kind of people.
After a rollicking weekend of wedding fun, we boarded another red-eye, this time for Portland, Oregon. I was proud of myself for my very meticulously planned Oregon itinerary. I had booked all of our sleeping arrangements ahead of time, had mapped out the distances between each day’s location and the next, and had even reserved window seats at a restaurant famed for its view of the July 4th fireworks. I had never been so well-prepared for a vacation before, and I couldn’t wait to begin our days-long trip down the coast. I would have to wait, however, because our flight was delayed due to “crew problems” and we spent a solid eight hours in the Phoenix airport, waiting for standby tickets on each successive flight to Portland. Twelve hours after our first flight that morning, we finally boarded a plane. By this time, however, it was too late to make our first reserved campsite, and we would have to forfeit the fee we had paid online for the reservation. Needless to say, we felt like airport zombies. I asked my husband to stop poking me in the eyeballs with sharp objects, and then realized that I was just tired. Unsure of what to do for a place to crash that night, I called my sister Cheryl who had just moved to the city about a month ago. Although she routinely rises at four in the morning to go to the gym and prepare for work, she kindly stayed up hours past her bedtime to greet us, feed us homemade tomato cilantro soup, and prepare a space for us in her apartment. As we had been at my Uncle’s place, we were once again greeted with mugs of hot black coffee upon rising. I’ve never been so thankful for airport malfunctions.
The week was spent admiring the beauty of the Oregon coast, drinking good chai and camping in our favorite old haunts. On Thursday, July 3, after having miscalculated a “short cut” across a treacherous one-lane mountain pass that would eventually lead us to our destination in Ashland, Oregon, we arrived too sorrowfully late to camp in our intended venue and so decided to look for a place to stay. Because Independence Day was the next day, many of the hotels were filled to capacity, or only had the most expensive rooms available for the night. Having a tight budget and a strained neck from all of the crazy mountain driving, we became quickly irritable and indecisive. Finally, after searching the town and the Internet (cobbled together wireless in the Safeway Grocery parking lot) we stumbled into a deceptively sleazy-looking ma and pa hotel on the outskirts of downtown. A friendly older woman came to the door and said that she’d knock $30 dollars off her normal price and give us the cheapest rate in town. Our room was large, the bed was comfortable and the shower was hot. Plus, we were but a short walk from Ashland’s downtown, site of Ashland’s wildly eclectic Fourth of July parade. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
We left Ashland full of new ideas and warmed hearts, having spent nearly three hours visiting some of our former professors at the Oregon Extension, the off-campus program where my husband and I first met. We drove back up to Portland with light hearts and rejuvenated spirits. The next few days were spent reconnecting with old friends. We spent Friday night and Saturday morning with Kris, one of my best friends from college. The night was spent eating good seafood and watching fireworks explode over the river. The next morning Kris took us on a tour of her place of employment, the stable yard for the horses of the mounted police. In the midst of old factories and light industry, ten or so horses frolic and ride and generally have a good old time under the all-seeing eye of Kris, who is their caretaker, stall-mucker and friend. I know a lot of people of love animals, but never in my life have I met anyone who loves them as much as Kris does. The pampered equines of the Portland Mounted Division are one lucky bunch.
We left Portland for Newberg, where we were excited to participate in another wedding, that of our long-time friend Rae, whom we hadn’t seen in years. The ceremony was beautiful, and attention had been paid to every last detail. The bride entered the wooded grove where we all sat, and as she walked towards us, her bridesmaids filled the air with a beautifully subdued Latin hymn. The procession was an ethereal experience, to say the least. The night was spent eating good food, reveling in good conversation and toasting the newly wedded couple with words and song and dance. For the first time in almost seven years, Jordan and I slept out under the stars, with no tent ceiling to block our view of the universe.
We headed back to Portland for one day with my sister Cheryl and Kris. After a long day spent rifling through the shelves of Powell’s bookstore, we ended the evening with another home-cooked whole meal from Cheryl, this time, with Kris in attendance. We boarded our plane the next morning with heavy heels. We touched down in Detroit and were greeted in the baggage by Uncle Louie. He said that he hoped we’d stay for dinner—and for the night—as my sister Carla and her boyfriend were driving down just to meet up with us. We spent another evening bathed in conversation and candlelight, and awoke the next morning to steaming mugs of coffee and plates brimming over with eggs and ham and buttered toast. We hugged our goodbyes and slid reluctantly into our old Toyota.
It had been a good trip, a really good trip. Our stomachs were full and our hearts even fuller as we made our way home. The drive back was uneventful, the car quiet as we reckoned with the reality of daily responsibilities and expectations, vague thoughts of the clothes to wash, mail to sort and e-mails to answer flying thorough the sphere. And then, just when we had polished the heavy yoke and prepared to put it over our heads again, we pulled into our driveway and looked around. Something was different. Someone had, out of their own inner prompting, decided to mow our front and back yards for us.
The gracious hospitality of others has overwhelmed me, made me weak in the knees, made me reconsider everything all over again. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.