Before this evening, I had never been to Scapoose, a small town in Columbia county in the exurbs of Portland, a town that only has a few thousand people in it but manages to get prominently mentioned every time I watch the weather, for reasons I have yet to uncover. My destination tonight was not Scapoose, no matter how much I like saying the name (probably because it rhymes with “moose”), but the small town of St. Helens, county seat of Columbia seat, about seven miles further west (more like north) along US 30, where I had dinner with a friend of mine from church and her family. Since I enjoy good conversation over good food (and this evening provided that), it was very much like a trip in a time machine, or a look at a familiar situation from a bizarre and somewhat unfamiliar angle.
This evening’s dinner, in many ways, was a trip back to 1985, at least in my timeline, so to speak. My hostess was a friend of mine from services, who not too long ago returned to her home area to live at least temporarily with her parents after a disastrous marriage with some small children in tow (who were all pretty happy to have guests and a bit disappointed that I wasn’t staying over, as apparently they are rather starved for socializing themselves, and were in particularly silly moods, as is to be expected of young children). Almost 30 years ago, I was a young child myself in that situation, with a grandfather who wanted to preserve his man cave, who enjoyed his books and had strong thoughts on prophecy and church government and a love of giving sermonettes, as well as a certain independent streak.
It is strange to me, and more than a little melancholy, that despite the long and complicated course of my life that I am still on the same roads, sometimes literally, as the ones that marked my youth. A great deal of my activity in life deals with the repercussions of broken families with fatherless children or abusive family situations, and though I am no longer the child, it is merely a matter of switching to different roles in the dramas of other people in many cases. In the case of my friends just off US 30, that literal road, close to its eastern terminus, is the road that marked much of my childhood in Western Pennsylvania. Add thirty years of life and 2600 miles or so of road down US-30, and I find myself dealing with the same sort of situations, with much to ponder about the threads of life that connect us to generations in the past, or to the worst but most formative moments of our lives, as well as the lives of many others who we meet along the complicated course of our lives.
As I drove the long miles up Cornelius Pass Road into a scene that reminded me a great deal of the hills and twisty roads and rivers of Western Pennsylvania, to a family situation that was very much like the one where I grew up in Central Florida, to eat foods that reminded me of my journeys to West Africa and Thailand, to talk about conversations that reminded me of the thread of generations past in both my host’s family and my own, I was left with a lot of complicated material to ponder. We are the project of generations of deeply set patterns of thought and behavior that show up in our own lives, and we are a part of stories that are both distinctive but also extremely common as well. Even if I may be a bit of a stranger in some of the more outlying areas of the Portland metropolitan area where I now live, I am inextricably drawn into complex links with others that carry with them deep and symbolic reminders of my own past even as I make my way towards an uncertain future. Yet I have no idea what it all means, except that even unfamiliar roads come with ghosts of a complicated past, fraught with far deeper meaning and a far more unsettling familiarity than I can grasp.