Mixed feelings during the journey back home

By Jayson Jacoby November 30, 2012 10:08 am

I recently drove twice with my family on precisely the same 250-mile route through Oregon’s abdomen, the only change being the passage of four days, yet the trips seemed to me vastly different.

This was a purely psychological matter.

I think so, anyway. I’ve never taken a psychology class but I’m eternally fascinated by the hijinks my mind can get up to.

The day before Thanksgiving we traveled from Baker City, by way of John Day, Mitchell and Prineville, to Sunriver for the Jacobys’ annual holiday weekend gathering.

On Sunday we retraced our path.

This two-part experience reminded me, with unusual clarity, of something I think each of us instinctively understands — which is that the giddy anticipation of any long-awaited event is offset, to some degree, by the disappointment that intrudes when that event ends.

This dichotomy seemed to me especially poignant this year, and for a few reasons.

For one, the Sunriver rendezvous was noteworthy, and in a good way, because it was the first for my family since our newest member, my niece Lily DeRenzo, she of the bewitching infant grin, was born on Aug. 20 to my younger sister, Alison, and her husband, Jonathan.

This was also just the second time in the past several years that we’ve all congregated in the same place: my three siblings, my parents and all their grandkids (who, with Lily’s arrival, now number an even dozen — the girls outnumbering the boys 7-5).

This rare and happy occasion was made possible because my older sister, Julie Pennick, and her family recently returned to Oregon after living the past seven years in Virginia.

The third factor was that my older son, Alexander, didn’t come back with us to Baker as he always has in the past.

He hitched a ride instead with my parents to Corvallis, where he’s a freshman at Oregon State.

Alexander’s absence left a distinct gap in our little two-car caravan as we plodded east through Deschutes, Crook, Wheeler, Grant and Baker counties, my older daughter, Rheann, following us.

I don’t mean to come off as excessively maudlin.

The sadness of saying good-bye to your kin is partially counterbalanced by the satisfaction of returning to the familiar comforts of home.

By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

There’s much to be said, I think, for being able to navigate to the refrigerator, when a powerful thirst comes on at 2 a.m., without barking your shins on a bureau waiting to pounce in the dark.

Rather than feeling depressed for the whole five-hour trip, there was a singular moment during our drive home on Sunday that for me distilled the miasma of melancholy peculiar to such situations.

The culprit, as it were, is an abandoned home that stands beside Highway 26 between Mount Vernon and Dayville.

I’ve driven past this structure close to 100 times over the past 25 years (I pretty well owned that highway while I was in college, traveling back and forth between Baker and Eugene).

But I had never really noticed the decrepit building.

I certainly paid it no attention on the trip west to Sunriver four days earlier.

During that drive we listened to The Beatles’ remastered box set on the stereo, relished the ice-free asphalt, rejoiced in the likelihood that we would arrive before dusk, and generally basked in that beneficent glow of a vacation barely begun.

On Sunday, though, this pre-holiday joy had withered, the flavor of the turkey and the pumpkin pie a fading memory, the anticipation of a family reunion as congealed as day-old gravy.

And so as we rounded a curve (of which there is a surplus along the sinuous John Day River) and the house came into view, the scene struck me as almost inexpressibly sad.

A neglected home, which gives shelter only to rodents and arachnids, needn’t be depressing, of course. When you are in a more optimistic frame of mind such a place can even instill a pleasant tinge of nostalgia, one in which it’s easy to imagine happy children frolicking in the manicured yard while their parents watch with fondness from the front porch.

Yet on a chilly Sunday in late November, with the ground devoid of snow and the trees barren of leaves and the gaiety of a familial celebration dissipated, the peeling paint and the crooked fence and the desiccated weeds can transform the same place into something inhospitable, even malevolent, its desolation awful and overwhelming.

This feeling, fortunately, was brief.

By the time we got to John Day, half an hour later, I was eager to show Max the wonderful model train display at the Dairy Queen.

(At 20 months, Max is still enamored of all sorts of things that fail to excite his 5-year-old sister, Olivia, whose attention was occupied with ice cream.)

And once we cleared Prairie City and started the climb to Dixie Pass, I felt the flutter of excitement of our impending arrival at home.

That night in bed only a fragment of the day’s emotional gloom lingered.

And that may have been because I suddenly remembered, with distinct regret, that I left my six-pack of Rainier at Sunriver, having drank but one of the 16-ounce cans.

The rest are probably chilling in my brother’s refrigerator as I type this.