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Champoeg State Park
Champoeg State Park is a reasonably pretty place along the Williamette River, south of Portland. The campground has no view of the river, however. It is divided equally between a grove of golden yellow cottonwoods and an open field where the satellite dishes work.
I went straight for the trees.
A 34 foot Itasca Sunrider backed in next to me, containing Peggy and her mother Bertha. Peggy is a fulltimer with a broad Texas accent, but Bertha has a little more Cajun in her cadences. Peggy had just picked Bertha up at the Portland airport, for a cruise down the coast. This was their first stop.
Peggy was not happy. She was having problems with her slide, and the sofa bed her mother was supposed to sleep on would not unfold with the slide closed.
"Do you have any tools?" she asked.
"Tools? Of course. I'm a guy. Stand back. We live for this."
"Ooooo." She cooed. "So strong. So masterful."
Hmmm. Could it be that I was being mocked? Well, no matter. This ain't my first rodeo. I cautiously peered in the darkened door of the motorhome, screwdriver at the ready.
"What's the matter with it?"
"I don't know. It just started making a grinding noise, and then it sort of popped."
She was just too short. From six feet up it was pretty easy to see the problem. But not at all clear why it happened. The metal along the top leading edge of the slide had caught a piece of trim and ripped it out of the wall. The metal edge was bent back in the process. I beat it flat again with a hammer.
Hammers are fun. Hammers I can handle.
We worked the slide back and forth a few times. The slide appeared to just be a little too high on one side for the hole it was in. It caught every time.
"Have you had this thing sitting a while, with the slide out?"
"I think what we have here... is sag."
Her face stiffened. She put her fists on her hips. "A gentleman," she replied crisply, in that uncompromising Texas drawl, "would not use that word in the presence of a Lady ... of mature years."
"Oh... er... ah... well, how about 'lean'? The slide has developed a 'lean'."
"Lean is good." There was a twinkle in her eye. But it was a hard twinkle.
"No, it's not. Not really. Somehow one side of this slide has gotten a little lower than the other. And I haven't a clue how to fix that."
"Dam." she said. "Dam, dam, dam. This is just what I need."
I had not quite reached the end of my expertise, but I was close enough to see the end. I tried to position the trim higher, but it ripped out again. The slide was catching way back toward the middle, with gradually increasing contact toward the end.
I allowed as how there might be an adjustment underneath that would make it level, but I didn't know how to do that. Better take it to a pro before we really break something. It seemed to work best if I just left it the way I found it, with about a foot of the trim torn loose and moving out of the way with the action of the slide.
At least it wasn't grinding any more. I thought I better bow out in favor of someone who actually knew what he was doing. And said so.
Bertha and Peggy professed themselves not to be...too... disappointed. They even invited me to dinner. As darkness came on, I contributed a bottle of wine, and enough firewood for a roaring fire. But it soon got too chilly for Bertha, and she went in to watch TV.
Peggy and I got to talking about how we came to this RV life.
"It's one of my earliest memories," she said. "I was walking down Magazine Street in New Orleans, hand in hand with my mom. Near where we lived. Not the most elegant address."
She swirled the wine in her glass.
"Anyway, I was only 5 or 6 years old. We used to go walking around and looking in the store windows, just for entertainment. We passed by what must have been a travel agency. There were these posters, with palm trees, and sandy beaches and umbrellas and beach chairs, and beautiful sunsets over a too blue sea, and handsome people all laughing and happy.
So I came to a dead stop. 'Look, Mom.' I said. 'Look. Can we go there?'
She looked at me like I was crazy. 'Yeah, right.' she said. And then she dragged me on down the street. It was probably my first exposure to really burning sarcasm."
Peggy poured herself a little more wine. The firelight danced across the bottle. She leaned back into her chair.
" 'Yeah, right,' she said. That's my Mom.
There was a world in those words. A world where 'people like us' didn't travel. 'People like us' didn't get to go places like that, didn't get to do lots of things. 'People like us' didn't get away....
It wasn't just that we didn't have the money. There was a sense that I ought not to be even thinking about stuff like that.
I thought about it anyway.
Later on, in school, I took all these tests to see what I would be good at. There were lots of possibilities. Law. Sales. Too many things, really. But nothing really appealed to me.
Finally this counselor said, 'Okay, let's try an experiment. Sit back. Close your eyes. Now think about being happy. Just being happy. Take your time. Now. Where are you? What are you doing?'
So I told her about the palm trees and the sandy beaches on Magazine Street. And she said, 'Why don't you go there?"
Peggy fell silent for a while, staring into the fire.
I couldn't leave it. "So? Did you?"
"Oh. Yeah. It took a while. I ended up living 3 years on Maui."
"Was it what you thought it would be? Were you happy?"
"Pretty much. I had a second floor apartment, two blocks from the beach. I used to sleep out on the lanai and listen to the surf all night. And sometimes I'd go sit on the sand, and look out over the ocean, and there'd be these great red and purple clouds, maybe even a green flash around the edges now and then, and I'd think I was too happy. Too happy. Like there couldn't be anything to top this. Like I could die and it wouldn't matter."
"Why did you leave?"
"I had a grandchild. Another story. But I've had that feeling lots of times since. You know what it's like ... when you go along a quiet lake, and the sun is bright, and the air is clear, and the mountains and sky are reflected in the stillness of the water so perfectly that it's hard to tell what's real.
Sky above and sky below. That's the way it was in Maui on the beach. Only I was the lake. Peggy Lake.
Once in a while, you know, you get to see something so right that it gets inside you, becomes part of you, and you can't tell where you leave off and that begins.
I don't think you can lose it afterwards.
It's called reflection, isn't it? When you really see things? Not with your eyes, but with your mind? And then it's all so obvious, like it was always there. 'Aha,' you say. 'I see.' Of course. There it was, all along, just waiting for you to relax.
Waiting for the right moment.
Moments like that just let you become who you are. Or who you ought to be. And moments like that are why I like to travel."
"And now ... you're headed for the coast of Oregon?"
"My mom is with me. She's 79. I want to show her the coast. I want to show her the redwoods. I want to show her what it's like to be on the open road. I want to show her that I'm not crazy."
"A kind of farewell tour?"
She laughed again. "No. Not at all. More of a Hello Tour. What I really want to show her is what 'people like us' can do."
I slept late this morning. Too much wine. They were gone when I got around to staggering outside.
I would like to have had at least one more campfire. Peggy can be tart. She can even be intemperate.
But she has her moments.
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