Posted by: christinelaennec | November 22, 2014

Oregon Impressions

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tram or light rail tracks in downtown Portland, Oregon.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

What a beautiful front porch:

Jenkins Estate, main house.  Tualatin, Oregon.

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.

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!”

Coffee shop in Beaverton, Oregon.

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.  At home in Glasgow.

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.



  1. Christine, you write so incredibly well. I feel like I was on the trip with you. How kind of you to share your thoughts and your feelings as you took this trip home. I wish for you time to heal and time to grieve well. Blessings on you, my friend.

  2. It is very special to learn more of your life through this post, Christine. Thanks so much for the narrative, and especially the photos of your dear friend, Gay, some of your family members and the wonderful umbrella statue your father made.

    You have given me a new perspective on Portland, and in particular a part of the city I do not know but appreciate now because of you.

    Although I have not noticed the results of plastic surgery around me, I can understand your confusion about our coffee and your sense of culture shock with our obsession with our electronics 🙂

    Blessings on you and yours as you continue to process the changes in your family relationships. It has been ten years since the death of my father and seven since the death of my mother. There are memories of them that puzzle me or bring some sadness and regret, but I am so grateful for their care, the chance of life I have through them, and I’m still processing my relationship with them as my life on earth continues 🙂 xx

  3. Such a lovely post, and though I don’t know much about Portland, I think your observations about America are pretty spot on. Great pictures, the Minneapolis airport is something. We ran through it like crazy people in a movie on the way home from D C. I would have preferred a two hour lay over. glad you are back home.

  4. Loved to read about your trip although it was tinged with some sadness, I am sure that you will treasure the memories you have of your dad.. I love his master piece ( brollies ) . X

  5. Glad you are home safe and sound and feeling a little better. Your post was a delight to read a real insight into life in Portland. Hope you will be able to grieve and heal over time. A beautiful piece of art to treasure.

  6. What a beautifully written post. And the Umbrella sculpture is fabulous. What a lovely reminder of your dad to have in your home.

  7. This is great Christine – I’m so glad that you had some sense of peace on your trip home. As usual, I love looking at your photos and some of these are stunning. I’m glad you didn’t get the bad weather that hit the north of the US although it still looks a bit chillier than Sussex! I’ve started a new blog if you want to have a look – I’m not going to be blogging that often as I found that I just couldn’t keep up the old blog on a frequent basis so started again with a new one! Here’s the link if you want to have a look:


  8. You really must explain the difference between a wet and a dry coffee! Spill the beans! 😉
    Fascinating! I imagine I would be the same if I went back to London after being away for 10 years. I am sure the tribe of Barbies is growing there too.
    And what an amazing delicate and yet strong-looking sculpture! I can see why you didn’t try to pop it into your hand-luggage.

  9. Thanks for sharing so much of your trip with us! I enjoyed hearing all about it. I’m glad you had some help for this difficult task. So fascinating to read your impressions of America again. I’m sure we are much more Midwestern (backwards??) here than Portland so some of the things are different — you’re right, people are starting to say “You look….” more. Interesting. Especially since sometimes it isn’t really how they are feeling. never heard of the dry or wet cappuccino but I must not frequent enough coffee houses. 🙂 Your dad must have been so artistic! I love the umbrella sculpture. It is also perfect for Scotland. 🙂 Celebrating Rachel’s 14th birthday this weekend and doing prep for Thanksgiving. 🙂 Off the to the kitchen….Hope you have a good Thanksgiving this week!

  10. That was a lovely post Christine, it sounds like you have processed your trip in your mind and there is a peacefulness about your post which I’m sure reflects how you feel now. I hope so. What a lovely memento from your dad too, it’s very unusual and I’m sure now has pride of place in your home. I am always flumoxed when we go to the States and use our credit cards, it seems so strange not to have to use the pin number! I did laugh when you said the tree/branch came down just as you were talking about trees coming down – isn’t that always the way of things lol. Thanks for sharing. xx

  11. What a beautiful post Christine and thank you for sharing it. I will be in touch once you are settled at home again. The piece of sculpture you brought home is so simple yet so beautiful.thank you for the many pictures of Portland as I have family there and it was interesting to see the city in which they live. See you soon.

  12. An amazing blog post. Thank you for sharing so much insight with us. (I did smile at your observations on plastic surgery…) What a challenging time, which you obviously handled very well. Awesome sculpture. Hugs, xx

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this chapter of your life, Christine. Both moving and uplifting, a wonderful post.

  14. Hi Christine,
    what a lovely post and wonderful pictures! Thank you for sharing with us!
    Love the picture with you, your Mum and sister :O)
    Have a wonderful new week,
    sending hugs and blessings,
    Claudia xo

  15. I can relate to a lot of this, especially having to clear a parent’s house, even though it’s almost forty years since I had to do it. My mother, like your father, had made it easier by getting rid of a lot of stuff, and I’ll always be grateful for that. In a lighter vein, I agree Portland’s transport is wonderful. And I’m fascinated to know your father had a part in fixing up Powell’s bookshop. We were totally fazed in California when we were asked if we wanted our cappuccinos wet or dry. I think the explanation we were given, by our son’s mother-out-of-law, had something to do with milk between the coffee and the froth. Your photos are lovely.

  16. Glad to hear you’re home and all is well. I can relate to the “culture shock”.
    After living overseas for a few years, we came back to the US in ’82. It was amazing how women were “not dressing” at airports and places of business. We lived in England in ’78, and it’s not the same country now. Times change, unfortunately, not always for the better in my opinion. ☺
    Wet or dry cappuccinos? Now that’s a new one to me! Maybe that’s a west coast thing?!
    Looking forward to visiting here again.

  17. The Jenkins Estate looks wonderful. I imagine that walking among those beautiful tall, straight trees would have been a great break from the stresses of dealing with the remnants of your father’s life. I’m interested that the type of tree (mostly deciduous?) in the back-lit picture of you starting a walk through the woods is different from the type of trees in the other pictures of Estate trees – which seems to be evergreen with needles. In envisage that walking through the former would create crackling, crunching sounds, while the needles underfoot would be soft and quiet. I love that variation of vegetation during a bush walk 🙂

    • Yes, it was interesting how – even in the city (if you look closely at the cityscape with the West Hills in the background for example) there is a real mix of coniferous and deciduous. The trees in the woodland were swaying in the wind, but only the tops way up high. The conifers tend not to have many branches down near the ground, I suppose because they all block each other’s light. I think the trees nearer the house had branches lower down because they had more space and light to grow. You’re right about how nice it was to walk with leaves and needles underfoot. And I was very glad it wasn’t too muddy! You must do a post about a bush walk – I have very little idea of what “the bush” is like. Perhaps there are lots of different kinds, just as there are lots of different kinds of forest?

      • I did notice that the ground under your feet looked quite dry….and I was a little surprised, but my knowledge of Portland’s weather is such that I assumed that my expectations of wetness were probably erroneous! You’re right, of course, that Australian bush is somewhat variable, although the Sydney area does have a certain character which I think of when I think of local bushwalking: the dry sclerophyll forest. However, when you walk in the coastal national parks you see a distinct vegetation change whenever you move from drier, sun-exposed, north-facing areas (usually classic dry sclerophyll) to shady, damper, south-facing areas. Perhaps the mix of natural native vegetation and introduced species (probably ‘weeds’) also changes significantly, but I’m not knowledgeable enough about what is and isn’t a native to be able to say much more!

        And, by the way, I forgot to comment earlier that I am rather partial to “Be Thou My Vision”, which you sang at the First United Methodist church. As many others would no doubt also report, this hymn was attempted at my wedding. A great Irish hymn, but whenever I have heard it sung the congregation has been confused about the way to sing the “Be thou my battle-shield” line which is used here instead of “Be thou my breastplate” in the ‘English version by Eleanor Hull‘!

  18. Thank you so very much, everyone, for your very kind comments.

    It’s a comfort to me that not EVERYONE in America knows all the latest coffee lingo! I was told that “wet” vs. “dry” had something to do with foam, but I never really grasped it. Do you see how the coffee shop The Case Study looks a bit like a chemistry lab?

    Gracie, I have always thought (though others I know don’t agree) that our relationships continue whether or not the other person is alive or not. Thank you for sharing that you continue to puzzle about some things. I agree that while we have to acknowledge perplexities, the most important thing is to focus what is/was good and clear, to treasure those memories.

    Lucinda, glad it wasn’t just me running like a crazy person through Minneapolis airport!

    Judy, best of luck with your new blog – I will come over and check it out!

    Heather, it did cross my mind that the umbrellas sculpture is perfect both for the Pacific Northwest and also for Scotland.

  19. ‘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.’ – this made me a bit teary! So glad you had Gay’s support at a difficult time.

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