The Internet tells me, Gentle Reader, that the Duckabush River flows through the Olympic National Forest and is totally a real place. When I first heard of it, I didn’t believe that it was – it was too absurd. Nonetheless, my great-grandparents had apparently owned property out there, and they’d spend summers there rather than in the magnificent Seattle house (which had a conservatory, incidentally) next to Mr. and Mrs. M. My grandfather enjoyed his youthful summers out there, and once caught a turtle there, I guess? I learned all this during his last summer, and his memories were a little vague, towards the end. Still, given that my Uncle was moving to the area, Grandpa wanted to trek out there one last time. Maman and I were happy to take him.
During the three-hour drive* there, we heard many of his stories, and it was one of the last times I was privileged to do so. I learned how his father built a church that is still standing in Bremerton, and a little about my Great-Great-Grandmother’s brothel in Australia, but mostly he talked about his childhood. Once we arrived in the general vicinity, we spent another hour driving up and down what was little more than a half-lane track, looking for the old rope bridge. We never found it.
Eventually giving up, we turned around and went back to the little cafe that was the only non-residential building in miles. We waited there to meet my Uncle, who hadn’t answered his phone for the last hour. Grandpa had his heart set on seeing his son – he knew that he didn’t have much time left. When Maman finally got ahold of Uncle, she used this, blackmailing him into coming. It worked.
My late Uncle had always been very careful not to let the family see him when he was high. However, given that it was probably the last time that he’d see his father alive, he made an exception. What’s worse – he drove himself. When he and his entourage showed up – Uncle was living in a greenhouse on a property that he may or may not have purchased, with a twenty-six year old girlfriend, another couple of about that age, and his friend W., in his fifties – it should not have been a funny reunion. It should have been a touching, heartwarming moment, the two men of different generations sharing a special goodbye, father and son. That is not what happened.
SKREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! went the tires, as my Uncle whipped into the parking lot.
SKREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! went my Grandfather’s hearing aid, which was perpetually maladjusted, like the lot of us.
SKREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! went my mother, as she tried to stifle her laughter at the black Bronco full of people, with my sixty-five-year-old uncle leaping out, sporting a brand-new mohawk.
As my mother jumped out of the driver’s door of our car, running off so that she could guffaw without offending, my Uncle walked up to my Grandfather’s window. Grandpa’s hearing aid was still mis-tuned, and there was a twenty-minute exchange that was essentially this:
“Son! Some of your mail came to my house again.”
“Oh hey thanks, Dad. You know, I was thinking you could come and hey this isn’t my mail, it’s your mail – see – it’s been opened.†”
“What’s that? I can’t get the damn thing SKRREEEEE is that better? No, son, I don’t want your mail.”
“No dad that’s your SSN not my SSN and anyway it’s from last year and anyway did you want to come see the new place, dad?”
“You keep that mail.”
Twenty minutes. Finally, a decision was reached; we followed my Uncle to his new place, but not too closely – he was bouncing off the cliff-face to our right up the winding, mountain road. I should note that on the left was a drop into the ravine, and into the river. We finally arrived at the entrance to the driveway, where the greenhouse was. It was one of the ones you can get at any garden supply store, about six feet by eight. There was no running water, and no tents were in sight. This, evidently, was the new home.
“Butya have to make it down to the place, hmmm, where we’re gonna build the new house, Dad. Get behind me on the ATV”
We ended up taking my mom’s van down, instead, because getting on the ATV behind my Uncle would have been an insane act.
We also ended up not making it all the way down, because a van is not an ATV, and as the only one young and physically able enough to push a van up the steep mountain road, I refused. We got out, walked around. There was more disapproving intergenerational banter. Neither man would address the real point of the visit, or acknowledge that they were saying goodbye. We’re stubborn, we Yoders. Claiming fatigue, Grandpa had me help him into the car, and we left. Once we were safely out of earshot, he turned to me.
“Do you think your Uncle was smoking dope?”
* I checked, via Google Maps, just now.
† I am trying and failing to recapture my Uncle’s speech patterns here. Just go with it.