As a part of my ongoing tour of Oregon, my Mom and I trucked over to the far East and visited Baker. For the uninitiated, Baker City is where my Dad and the original thirteen grew up, earning the very clever nickname of Baker's Dozen. Do you see what they did there? Anyway, Baker has its roots in gold mining and still has former vestiges of the glory days, aka the 1800s, tucked away here and there, which is kind of cool. Also I just googled Baker and apparently it's the namesake of Edward D. Baker, the only senator to ever die in military combat. So that's a fun and oddly fitting fact. Really though, there are few places that lay claim to my heart like Baker Valley does. The drive in is maybe one of my favorite parts--the highway is long and straight through the heart of the valley, fields of green and gold spread out to meet the Elkhorns, and suddenly you are caught in a world of color and height that didn't seem possible a few minutes before. Sadly, it rained for the whole 22 hours we were there, so I only caught glimpses of the mountains, shrouded in fog and rain and snow, and almighty mystery. We were there one year in the summer at the high school football field with the sun setting and the mountains were a dark purple and the sky was a pinky gold, and I wondered how, if you were the Baker's Dozen, you could get used to seeing anything else.
I mean when we were walking down main street in the rain, and I thought of how it would be if it were snow, I started to whistle a different tune. But that's neither here nor there. I love Baker for many reasons, and maybe because I never had to live there, it was always just a place we got to go and experience nearly total freedom in. I have confused, kid memories of Baker--images that are difficult to articulate and verge more on sensory perception than actual memory. My grandparent's house is a maze of jumbled things seen, heard and smelled so that I don't always know what goes with what. The stairs creaking and red and black shag carpet, nailed down. The garden room. The sound of the tub filling up upstairs, and maybe some whales that were there? The kitchen that towered over us and carnival glass, that table by the door with the photos, the piano keys that were stiff, the wall of photos, Grandma used to keep potpourri on the sideboard in the dining room, the closet that Kyle got stung in, the yawning maw of the basement, the porch--a yellow and brown knit blanket, old-school roller skates, a push lawn mower, lace curtains, the miniature composer busts. A thousand things I can't quite remember but won't quite forget.
My earliest memories of Baker are really of my grandparents, but then we got older and my Dad started the race, and then Baker got tangled into those memories--too numerous to count, because those times I remember more of. Or remember in a different way, I guess. My time with Mom there, those sweet 22 hours, were more reminiscent of the race days, because we went to all the places we would haunt for that weekend in June. Betty's Books, Bella, Carnegie Art Center, and I felt a little pang for the places that weren't there anymore. RIP Mad Matilda's and Sane Jane's. Also, my Mom is somewhat convinced that she can single-handedly support Baker's economy so I've always looked forward to Baker as a time to restore my book/kitchen good supply.
I have to note too, that though I realized a long time ago that be it nature vs. nurture, I am my father's daughter, I love and admire my mom more than I can possibly say. She is, bar none, one of the most generous and genuine people I've ever had the pleasure of learning from. She's a believer in the power of humanity, the benefit of the doubt, and in good, old-fashioned earnestness. It's almost unbelievable how wholeheartedly she buys in, but it's a beautiful thing. Mom believes. The grace of Claire has become something almost mythical to the people she regularly comes in contact with, and it's well-deserved. Also, my mom delights in things. Like really loves little things. This is one thing I think I can legitimately claim to have somehow, miraculously, inherited, but not to the same degree that my mom can find joy in very small, innocuous daily occurrences. When we were driving home from the auction, she drove twice past a house on the block my cousins live on now that had a candle lit in every window of an otherwise dark house. She was right to, it was magical, but who does that? I just hope that the people of that house knew someone out in the night was so grateful for that gesture, because more of my mom's kind of light should be known.
When we were in Baker, we also drove to see where my grandma was buried. It was raining and cold, and no one else was there. The grass hadn't taken yet so I could still see where the outline of the grave was, and that I didn't like. I had a hard time with that, I don't know why. A little too much reality, I think, for me. So we left a little pot of mums and a tiny pumpkin--another Claire gesture, because G. Claire loved Halloween, and called it a day.
So that was a little part of the Baker trip, a dense experience if there was one, and far more in 22 hours than you would maybe think could be. But stories for a different day, memories for another night.