Ghosts of Christmas Past

Moving to Seattle, I was young, stupid, and broke. I ran out of money between Las Cruces and Seattle and had to stop in San Francisco, where I got a job putting price tags on ladies’ clothes for a mid-price clothing store. Read Chronicles of Narnia in the parking lot on breaks. When I had enough money to keep on moving, I headed up north, caravanning with my friends who were also young, stupid and broke.

At the north end of the Oregon border, the transmission in my 1965 Corvair ceased to function. I had no money, no credit cards, and no plan other than getting to Seattle. So I drove up the coast in first gear, from Portland to Seattle, at about 20 mph, with my friends trailing shamefully behind in their old VW bus. It took us three days.

We got there and rented a ratty little house near the university. Learned several new things in those first few days. Like oil furnaces: we’d never heard of them. Buy oil for heat? Up front? With cash? We didn’t have cash. We didn’t have anything, not knowledge or experience or safety nets or . . . well, anything. And like food banks and blankets: wow, people give things away to the unfortunate and the foolish – hey, that’s us. Cool.

That first Christmas in Seattle we ate red beans and rice, in an unheated unfurnished house that smelled of mildew and young nerves. The lights in the city were one thousand fold brighter, reflected in the wet streets, than the lights in the streets of my childhood, where the sand and the tumbleweeds whistled through the warm winter nights.

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6 Responses to “Ghosts of Christmas Past”

  1. Wow, what an incredible reminiscence! While driving to Seattle in first gear would be a drag, I’ll bet it also meant you saw lots of stuff you’d have whizzed right by, otherwise.

  2. Thank you, Ombudsben — I found the entire world absolutely amazing and baffling at that point in my life. And yes, going 20 mph is a great way to see what you might otherwise have missed. I remember that it was hard to be so clueless and that our Christmas that year was really cold and a bit hungry. But it marks a particular turning point in my personal path and I guess that’s what nostalgia is, memory lit with a nice amber warmth, an unexpected afterglow.

  3. I can almost smell those young nerves under the red beans and rice.

  4. I was a jittery young thing. Don’t know how I managed to have so many adventures, shaking in my boots all the way through.

  5. that’s the very definition of an adventure – you were nervous, but did it anyway, go you!

  6. I’m looking forward to something fun and frivolous and active – I don’t know, whitewater rafting or even just a little lightweight camping. Laurie’s sister and husband keep trying to get us out snowshoeing with them – that sounds pretty good. Off to the gym with me….

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