When my sister and I were kids, we spent a good chunk of every summer with our grandparents in Colorado. We both remember fondly the traditions and rituals of those summers—the daily swimming lessons at their pool, the picnic pool-lunches (fingers coated orange by Cheetohs, and purple tongues from grape soda), the yellow slip-n-slide on their grassy back hill, the plays we acted out in their stage-like front hall, weekly visits to the enormous library with its statue of Eeyore standing on his head, and the sewing projects in Grandma’s cool basement…
Some of the rituals are different, but the tradition of summer-visiting has carried on to the next generation, with our kids spending a couple summer weeks each year with my parents (known to them as “Grandy” and “Boboo”). Their memories will include picking raspberries in the back yard, eating meals at Grandy’s breakfast counter,watching the bunnies that hang out in Boboo’s garden (and the cat-on-a-leash, also on bunny-watch), river-rafting trips, week-long games of “Axis & Allies,” visits to the library and used-book stores, afternoons at the swimming pool…
This week is one of those visiting-weeks (the second, with a rafting-trip planned, will be next month), and unlike some previous summers when jobs tied me to home, the “portability” of my current work means I get to visit too. In fact, we planned to make a whole-family trip of it, with Keoni asking for a few days off work and Kapena joining us for the first time. (Package deal—he got a bonus set of grandparents along with his Wicked Stepma…)
This weekend we wanted to arrive at Grandy and Boboo’s house (six hours’ drive from us in northern Idaho) early enough in the weekend to catch my sister Kadi and her husband Scott, who had also planned a visit, and who would have to leave this afternoon to get back to work. Keoni asked for Saturday off—the first day-off he’s requested since returning from his December surgery, but… No Go. When he got the (disappointing) week’s schedule, we decided to “bite the bullet,” so to speak, and make the drive at night, leaving town when he got off work around eleven p.m. on Saturday. I should add that nobody in the family was particularly wild about this itinerary, given the winding miles of mountain roads with unguarded drop-offs into rivers… But if we wanted any time with Kadi and Scott, night-driving would have to be the plan. Nor did we know when we’d have to return, because Keoni’s workplace posts a schedule on Sunday evening for the week starting the next morning. Combined with declined time-off requests, that makes it tough to schedule even a doctor appointment, let alone a family activity or road trip.
Perhaps you’ll remember the picture I posted the other day—Keoni had texted a photo from his phone in the middle of his work-shift, of his kitchen thermometer registering 118F at his work-station… He came home that night (after seven hours of fast-paced physical work in that temperature) shaky and exhausted, clammy and dehydrated with his sweat smelling like vinegar. We tried to rehydrate him and restore electrolytes, but he was up half that night with his legs seizing up in monster cramps—and then right back to the kitchen the next noon. Same drill, except he started in worse shape, so it’s no surprise that he ended in worse shape. He called me about an hour before his shift was scheduled to end Friday, and I could hear the strain and shake in his voice. He couldn’t stop throwing up, and he was trying to cool down and stabilize enough to drive home safely.
We both knew he didn’t have another night of that in him. We’d been intending that he would continue at that job for whatever time it takes to process his application at the prison where he used to work, but this just isn’t sustainable. He called in sick due to severe heat exhaustion—a call we knew wouldn’t be received well on a day he’d already been denied time off—but we also knew already that he’d be writing a resignation letter next. And in the meantime, we took advantage of the changed schedule (after he’d rested thoroughly) to leave mid-afternoon instead of midnight for our drive north.
About an hour into the drive, Christian commented from the back seat, “The best thing about living in Idaho—for road-trips, I mean—is being able to watch the scenery.” I couldn’t agree more! Our rural state has just a single highway between its northern and southern halves, and it’s an absolutely gorgeous drive (when you get to do it in daylight)—mountains and rivers and green valleys and something new every few minutes.
Having grown up in this state and made this same drive dozens upon dozens upon dozens of times, driving this road feels to me like reconnecting to where I’m rooted, to Idaho itself. The whole highway is a string of “this-is-wheres“… This is where my university biology class had nets spread across the river, all of us wading in up to our chests… This is where I stopped with a girlfriend to pick wild sunflowers, and take silly pictures of ourselves poking up through her car’s sun-roof. This is where a cop pulled me over for speeding and he turned out to be wrong about the posted speed limit… This is where the tire blew out on our way back from a camping trip… This is where I bought that bracelet at a road-side flea market… This is where Christian used to try to “skip” pinecones like rocks on the lake… This is where I was snowed in at the Catholic monastery for a weekend, with the bread-baking nuns… And (as we neared my old hometown) this is where the bus used to drop us cross-country runners and leave us to run the rest of the way back to town.
Knowing as we drove yesterday that we had made a Decision—that Keoni does need to get out of that kitchen—opens up the horizons of the immediate future in unexpected ways. Perhaps we should feel nervous (his was the “steady” income), but we don’t. We quietly tallied the immediately upcoming bills balanced against the writing-jobs I already have underway, we embraced the idea that the whole family can enjoy this week’s visit before we head back (all of us together!) for him to job-hunt, and he feels an unspeakable relief in the lifted dread that he had been feeling about his hours in that kitchen. God hasn’t dropped us on our asses so far, and we have faith.
In the meantime… Today we enjoyed some time with my sister and her husband—not enough time, and I didn’t ask the million questions I’d meant to ask about their trip to Europe last month… But it was truly great to see them, even for the space of an evening and a partial day. Kapena (who drove up separately today with some friends who are moving here for school) has just joined us, and Grandy has just fed him. Keoni is still not feeling well—shaky and tired and easily dizzy—but he’s in a place where he can relax and rest. We’re with FAMILY. And God’s got our back.