When I was going into the 7th grade my family moved from Muncie, Indiana to Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Instead of the one-day drive north, however, my parents decided to go from the Hoosier State to the Dairy State by way of The Evergreen State of Washington. My father’s family was in the Seattle area, so my parents and all five kids bundled into the station wagon and headed into the sunset to visit our west coast relatives before going to our new home.
Part of any visit to the Pacific Northwest should be spending time at the beach, and this trip was no exception. Although I don’t remember all our specific ventures to the ocean, I do remember the souvenir that we came away with. At some point in the trip my mother found a large, dense piece of wood that was clearly world-traveled and well populated. Over the years many shelled sea creatures had made homes in this wood, carving out rounded holes as they grew. It was about three feet tall, two feet wide, and very, very heavy. It had been burned at least once, and my mother had to bring it home.
Keep in mind that the trip “home” was driving in a station wagon from Washington state to Wisconsin. We already had five kids, two adults, assorted luggage, and a cooler filled with inexpensive lunches on board. So there wasn’t a great deal of extra space for flotsam and jetsam. Not that this deterred my mom.
If the driftwood could have stayed snuggly stowed in the back of the car it would have been one thing. But in that trip we had at least 2 flat tires, which necessitated my father unpacking everything in the rear of the wagon and removing the cooler, luggage and driftwood (can you call something that weighs well over 80 pounds “driftwood”?) each time. Although I don’t recall the specific words uttered, they made such an impression that even today, fifty-some years later, my older brother and I roll our eyes in mutual remembrance of what a pain-in-the-ass this souvenir was.
For the last 50 years my mother has had this piece of wood in all her homes. After my father died and through future moves she took it along and it was always on display in her living rooms. Even when she moved into assisted living, that heavy, hole-ridden wood went along. It got a bit lighter as it dried out, and over time most of the white shells that filled those holes crumbled away. But it was still interesting and beautiful.
So when my brothers and I recently cleaned out my mother’s apartment I couldn’t throw it in the garbage. It still weighs over 60 pounds, and shipping it from Wisconsin to Cape Cod was ridiculous, but how could I toss it away? So first I put it into my rented car, where a small piece broke off, which meant that I had to decide if I should ship both sections to the Cape. And if not, what to do with the smaller one?
In the end, I shipped the large piece to Massachusetts and placed it in my “loggery” garden. The smaller section I put under a bush by the old Administration building (“Old Main”) which was where my father’s office was when he was President at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.
Sometimes the things that are most precious aren’t those that have any value to the rest of the world, but we treasure them nonetheless.