Wednesday, October 24, 2007

higher ground (a personal essay by andrew david)

some februaries my parents and i would strap the camper to our truck and head south. we'd drive down I-5, through evergreens, olive orchards, and southern california sprawl, until we made our way to the edge of some lonely desert. we'd consult a map and point definitively into an expansive blank space and say, "there. that's where grandpa and grandma are."

sure enough, somewhere in that sea of sand we'd find their rig, parked like a lone outpost in the wild. after pulling in and trying some of their prickly pear jam, we would usually head across the border and into mexico--we'd pass through tijuana or ensenada and then stay a few days in san quentin or san felipe.

i remember one such trip where we all piled into grandpa's truck and out into yet another desert. we may have packed sandwiches, mexican pastries, and water canteens, but all that i can recall are lemon drops--grandpa and grandma's truck was always well-stocked with lemon drops. after jostling about in the pick-up cab for an hour, we started to traverse a dry lake bed. the sand there was nice and flat and made for quick bump-free sailing. but as we drove, grandpa started to notice wet sand sticking to our tires. we began to slip and slide--the lake wasn't so dry after all. my mom sat white-knuckled beside me, afraid that we might get stuck there, doomed to feast on cacti and century plants.

but grandpa led us on. he kept the wheels turning and instructed us to look for higher ground, for tufts of grass that might signal a way out of this mud pit.

perhaps it was because i was an adventurous, short-sighted kid, but on that day it didn't occur to me to be afraid. i believed that grandpa would find a way out of the mess. that's just the way he was: grandpa had a resourcefulness and a quiet strength about him. it was there in his handshake, his bear hug, in the way he worked the timber and served his church, and it was there that day when he urged us to look for dry land. throughout his entire life he always pointed us up, always exhorting us to head for higher ground.


author's note
after my grandpa passed away, my grandma asked that we cousins write something to communicate what he meant to us. some of the letters were shared at his memorial and graveside service; they were all very touching. in any case, this was my contribution.
i wrote it during the two-hour car ride from oregon city to marcola. but as you can see, i've been thinking about it for awhile.