My sincere thanks to everyone for your caring comments. I so much appreciate them. I’ve been home for a week now, and am feeling more settled. I have been trying to process lots of different things – inevitably – and one of the things I’ve been thinking about was the sense of culture shock that I had upon going back to Portland. Was it because the trip wasn’t planned in advance? Was it because I was in a bit of a state of shock about my father’s death? Or is it because I’ve been away from the USA for over 22 years now? (Previous to this trip I had returned in 1995, 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2011.) Who knows!
Anyway, here are some of my impressions.
On the airplane from Amsterdam, and particularly while standing in the long lines at passport control and baggage claim, I was perplexed by something. I kept noticing these women who all looked as if they belonged to, or were descended from, some kind of minority group. They had almost elfin features in some respects, but large-ish lips. They looked girlish, but their skin wasn’t young. I wondered what sort of ethnic group they belonged to. And finally, just as I was going through customs, I got it: these women had all had plastic surgery!
Portland itself is a very busy city with lots of traffic, freeways and construction. Here is the view from my father’s apartment. You see the West Hills in the background, the building they call “Big Pink”, the two black towers of the Steel Bridge. The autumn colours were really beautiful. I had only gone back in the summer (and once at Easter), so I hadn’t been in Portland in the fall for a very long time. The foliage was stunning.
View of Portland from my father’s apartment.
My darling friend Gay (who last visited us in 2010 – I posted about it here) arranged care for her son and came down from Washington for three days to help me. Gay and I have known each other since childhood, and although separated for many of the intervening years by geography, our destinies have had a lot of parallels. She too is a full-time carer of her child.
Years ago, I had said to Gay how I dreaded the day my father would die, as I knew it would be my responsibility to go through his things. (I was the only member of my birth family who had remained in touch with him.) “Call me,” Gay said, “I’m good at that kind of stuff”. When I got the news, I emailed Gay that Dad had died, never dreaming she could or would come to help me. But she did, and there can be no greater gift. With her help, love and encouragement – and also wonderful help from my father’s best friend – we managed to clear my Dad’s flat in less than a week. My father, who had written to me in the spring saying he was done with life, had gotten rid of so many of his possessions (and creations, sadly) that it wasn’t the enormous task I had feared all those years ago.
Gay and I had dinner at – of all places – an Ethiopian restaurant! My, Portland is becoming cosmopolitan.
I kept being quite confused about how to use my credit card in the States. Whereas in Britain, you must key in your PIN number to make a charge to a credit card, in the States (or Oregon at least), you merely sign. And furthermore, no-one ever seems to check your signature against your card! At some places, you have to sign on one of those parcel-delivery pads, where your signature looks as if you are a very untalented forger who has had far too much to drink. “It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t match,” I was told. “No-one’s does!”
Gay and I at an Ethiopian restaurant.
My father’s best friend and I arranged a memorial gathering. I was able to choose flowers for a bouquet for this occasion at an organic supermarket (there are quite a few such places). I was highly amused that amongst their beautiful selection of flowers they had globe artichokes! I included an artichoke because, although I love flowers as you know, my father could never understand why on earth you would grow things you couldn’t eat! So the flowers were for me, and the artichoke was for Dad. The lighting isn’t great in this photo – the colours of the flowers were very pleasing indeed.
Memorial bouquet, with artichoke.
I didn’t take my camera along with me, so these photos are all taken on my little phone. Everyone seemed to be absolutely glued to some kind of device or other. My sister chuckled at my handset (just 2 years old) because it was so small and old-fashioned. On airplanes, streetcars and even in their cars (!) people were interacting with a screen. I asked, “Isn’t it illegal to use your phone while driving here?” “Oh yes!” came the answer. But it seems to be an infraction on the same level as jaywalking.
On Sunday, my mother and my sister and I all went to church at our old church:
First United Methodist Church, Portland, Oregon. Its youth group helped me survive my teenage years, and it’s where I was baptised at age 16.
I think I have mentioned before how close the Methodist church (well, this one anyway) and the Church of Scotland are in terms of their services. However, there was one thing you wouldn’t see in a mainstream Church of Scotland. There was a woman knitting two pews ahead of me! She glimpsed my hand-knitted jacket and during the Sign of the Peace she asked me if I’d made it and was a knitter too? It was a beautiful service. We sang Be Thou My Vision, which is one of my favourite hymns and was certainly a good thing to think about during this trip.
After church, the three of us went for brunch at the Heathman Hotel. When we were quite young, our family lived in a rented house whose landlord was Mr. Walter Powell. He used to take our family out sometimes to the Heathman Hotel, and Sarah and I would be treated to Shirley Temples. I still recall the thrill!
Me, my mother and my sister. Brunch at the Heathman Hotel, Portland, Oregon.
I was amazed by the number of waiting staff who were constantly in circulation, attending to our every need or perceived need. America, the land of endless glasses of ice water! Our waiter, Gabriel – aptly named, as he was an angel – took the above photo of the three of us.
Going back to Portland circa 1970, one of my father’s abiding passions was carpentry and woodworking. (He was an academic in his professional life.) My Dad helped Mr. Powell, our landlord, with a venture he was starting up. My Dad designed and built the first bookshelves for Powell’s Books. At the memorial, one of my Dad’s colleagues told me that at the time he had remarked, “I hope Mr. Powell is ready to lose his shirt!” But my Dad believed in this crazy idea that there could be a successful used bookstore in Portland. While I was there, I had occasion to visit the massive Powell’s Books, run now I believe by Mr. Powell’s son.
I spent a few hours one morning in downtown Portland. I was surprised or had forgotten that nothing opens up until 10 am. Here is the library, where I spent many a happy hour reading magazines, in the music room going through records, in the crafts section, and studying in the little-used map room. I was too early to go inside on this visit, and noticed a lot of homeless people queuing up outside, waiting for 10:00 to arrive.
The Multnomah County Library, Portland, Oregon. My refuge for many years. I was so happy to see that the elm trees are still doing well.
On previous visits, I had already seen that the character of downtown had changed tremendously since my childhood. I used to spend a lot of time downtown. In the 70s and 80s you could get just about anything you needed downtown. There were several department stores, a couple of “five and dimes” (I regularly scoured the fabric and pattern sections), stationery stores, a fruit market, and so forth. Nowadays there are extremely pricey shops and restaurants. If you needed a box of band-aids in downtown, I’m just not sure you would find any.
What you will find everywhere are coffee shops. Here’s a nice one across from the library:
The Case Study, a coffee shop across from the library.
Coffee in Portland (perhaps the US generally?) seems to have become VERY complicated. I was completely befuddled when someone asked me whether I wanted my cappuccino “dry” or “wet”. “Isn’t it liquid?” I asked. The precise terminology and the proliferation of choices really threw me.
Another thing I really noticed, along with the fall colours, is how large all the trees in Portland are now! I think it’s wonderful that throughout the city there are so many, many trees. I am also very proud of Portland’s public transportation. I actually had a temping job at the bus company years ago, when they were discussing the possibility of installing light rail. The light rail trains and the streetcars are just terrific. They are clean and pleasant, and priced very affordably.
Streetcar or light rail tracks in downtown Portland, Oregon.
Most of the time I was there, I relied on friends and family to ferry me about in a car. I hardly walked at all for the first week of my visit. Even with good public transportation, I think it would be difficult to live there without a car, as I used to do. I was actually asked for help using the light rail by a man who hadn’t taken public transportation for over 25 years – his car had broken down and his wife needed hers for work.
Towards the end of my visit, my sister and I had some fun together. She took me to the Beaverton Bakery:
My sister Sarah outside the Beaverton Bakery.
I was very amused by the selection of baked goods. Here are some of their iced cookies: footballs, basketballs, rulers (pink and green), turkeys, corn cobs, acorns… We bought a wishbone cookie and made a wish. Since I went vegetarian I haven’t had a real wishbone, so it was nice to have a cookie one!
Inside the Beaverton Bakery.
Sarah took me to a lovely place for a walk.
Starting out on a walk through the woods. Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.
Everyone kept telling me, “You don’t look exhausted!” I was never sure quite how to take this, but I have noticed that people in the States often say to each other, “You look [fill in the blank with a positive adjective]”. Did I used to do this too? It seems strange to me now. I was completely running on adrenaline, and didn’t sleep at all well until the last night of my stay. Anyway, in the above photo I was very happy to be in the woods. As I recently posted, I love the forest.
The place Sarah took me is called the Jenkins Estate. The Jenkins family settled here, and in 1912 gave the land and the buildings to the city of Tualatin, one of Portland’s suburbs.
Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.
What a beautiful front porch:
Jenkins Estate, main house. Tualatin, Oregon.
I asked Sarah if the trees often fell on the houses – something I never bothered worrying about when I was growing up surrounded by tall trees! She said that it’s a good idea to have an arborist check trees near your property, but that the wind was rarely strong enough to bring them down. She said 40 mph winds would be considered really strong. I said that in Scotland we regularly get much stronger winds than that. And just then, as we were walking through this beautiful forest:
The forest, Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.
“Ka-changgg!” Down came either a small tree or a large branch, some ways off from where we were. You should have seen us jump a mile and clutch one another!
The morning that I left, before I took the light rail to the airport, Sarah took me out for a coffee at her favourite independent coffee shop. Once again I was mystified by the huge amount of choices available, so she translated. I was amused by the tip jar, which read: “Afraid of change? Leave it here!”
Jim and Patty’s Coffee shop in Beaverton, Oregon.
And I began my 22-hour journey home, which included a mad sprint through the airport in Minneapolis, as I had 40 minutes (gulp!) to get my flight to Europe. This, apparently, is considered “plenty of time” by the airline! A lesson for next time. I was just so glad I was relatively fit and well!
Although he had destroyed or perhaps given away so many possessions and creations, my father had left one statue specifically to bequeath to us. It is one of my very favourites:
Umbrella sculpture in bronze and wood, by my father. The statue is now at home in Glasgow.
I brought back a few other things to remember him by, and of course the Dafter will always treasure the marvellous doll’s house that he made for her. And so, while I continue to absorb the fact that there will be no more letters or sculptures or drawings from him, I continue to be very glad I could make this journey to take care of what he could not, and to honour his life. By this past spring, he was more than ready to move on, and so this is what we must do now too.