[I wrote this essay in 2002. My grandfather died this week, so I recalled this essay and wished to share it in memorial of him.]
Well, I was able to drive all the way down that mysterious road on Monday, March 25, 2002.
Of course, instead of it being the green of summer and being all by myself, at a leisurely speed, with my deep thoughts and Tommy Cochran's "Life is a Highway!" going full blast over the stereo -- instead, my car was stuffed with seven people, five of them children incapable of being entertained by more hills, barns, and fields; and it was a heavily snowed spring; and we were going as fast as we could to the next restroom.
Still, inside me, there was a happy, excited, thoroughly satisfied little voice sing-songing, "I'm doing it! I'm doing it! I'm driving all the way down this road!" I had told my husband, "I know we could turn around and go back the way we came, but I just want to see where this road leads." And the sense of discovery was not dampened by the reading of the map beforehand to see that the road safely came out onto the highway we needed to be on -- eventually. Eventually.
This wonderful road is names Chesterfield Road. It is tucked in the ancient hills and valleys of the southeastern part of the state of Idaho. It curves around far enough that by the time you come out the other end of it, it is called something else, but I forget that.
I met Chesterfield Road before I could truly comprehend it. When I was very small it was (and still is!) the way to "Grandpa's house". I loved it then because of the tickles in my tummy I got every time the car rolled over the relatively steep ups and downs in the road. I found out later the thrills only worked on small tummies. When I was older, I was worried it wasn't the right road, because the road hills didn't seem so big and I no longer got the urge to say, "Whee!" But oh, well, it is still a memory to laugh about.
The last time I experienced Chesterfield Road as the way to Grandpa's house I was about eleven years old. After that I never saw my granparents or their marvelous old farmhouse again until 1994 at the time of my father's, their son's, funeral. That was a gap of more than ten years. Attending that funeral wasn't the best trip I ever had. Besides mourning, I was very pregnant, my kids were very sick (throwing up in the car), there were too many people around to think (although it was nice to be with everyone in an another sense), my stepfather was in charge of the vehicle that got me there and therefore was in charge of how long we stayed there -- not very.
It wasn't until August of 1999 that I saw Chesterfield for the first time. It was my grandfather's 90th birthday. A larger family reunion (all the Holbrooks from my great-grandfather Jonathan Earl's posterity) was also being planned around this birthday. My brothers and sisters and I had been left out of so many Holbrook family gatherings in the past for a variety of reasons that were, when you came right down to it, out of everyone's control. But my Aunt C. made sure we were invited this time, I'm not even sure why. My father's youngest son (my brother), M., was out of state in the military and not able to come, but myself, J. (my sister), and N. (my brother), and our spouses and children all came to the birthday/ reunion.
The first wonderful thing that happened to me at the reunion was that as I found my grandpa and greeted him, I heard his voice again after such a long time. In fact, I literally felt: 'That's what I've been missing." I knew my grandfather's voice, and it represented love, among other things, and I was so happy to hear it again, recognize it -- have it be something that still existed and that I could enjoy.
On our way home, I (and my sister and our families) started down Chesterfield Road. We passed the historical village of Chesterfield. We stopped at the cemetery where my father was laid. By this time, with the magical summer green of hills and blue of sky, and the smells associated with that, I was already feeling sort of out of my body. We drove along the curves of the road.
I began to think spiritual things. I realized even more deeply than I already did that I didn't KNOW my family. At the reunion I had seen a video presentation of Grandpa's life. I knew this man as Grandpa. But they showed on the video a photograph of Lawrence Earl Holbrook when he must have been about eighteen. I was struck with the good looks of that young man (at some odds with his mature look from the result of hard work, hard emotions, hard alcohol). His hair was dark blond, thick and curly. His shoulder muscles seemed firm, wiry, quick. He wore a cowboy hat and a loose bandana around his neck. He wasn't just dressed up. He worked in those clothes -- they even seemed dusty in the picture. I gasped at the youth I had never imagined in my Grandpa. I see his face in my brothers and my sons.
And then I gasped again. The scowl on that boy in the picture could have fried the sun to a crisp and the bleakness in his eyes beamed cold and black. That photograph was a picture of a boy whose heart had already been pulverized and locked away.
These were only part of my thoughts and feelings as I drove down that sweet road in summer 1999. In these valleys that seemed tucked away and hidden from the rest of the world (at least well away from the freeway :) ), people had settled here, people still lived here, and people would probably always find a place here. Not just people -- my people. This road, this summer belonged to me. Before a set of genes blossomed into the human being I am, they spent seasons on Chesterfield Road.
My sister and I decided to take a short cut home, so I was a little disappointed to not get to finish the drive down Chesterfield Road that 1999 day. I took a few moments to memorize the last horizon I reached on that day. The road kept winding through barbed wire, flat creeks and ditches, homesteads at the feet of identical and seemingly never-ending slopes. I was hungry for the rest of that road. I had a fantasy that the road just kept going forever. ButI felt pretty certain I would never be back -- at least not until, AND BIG FAT IF, I was rich and had lots of time. That felt just like never.
Since 1999, I have told a few people, if the conversation warranted it, "There's a road in Idaho I want to finish driving . . ."
Now it's March 2002. That tough cowboy in the 1920s photo is 92 years old, and I went to visit him on Monday, March 25th. As I said, the hills were weighted with tons of snow, instead of grass and wheat, but that's a good look for them, too!
Grandpa's look is even better -- his eyes are peaceful, and delighted that I have come. He has a freer heart that I get to be near when he smiles and hugs me. The best, best thing is that I am the one looking into those eyes. I am his granddaughter and I am sorry that life in general ever made me wonder anything else. Grandpa has hurt a lot of people in his lifetime -- he hurt my father -- but the very, very, very odd thing is, is that he has never hurt me. He cares about me, he likes who I am and what I've done, he believes I will do great things, he remembers things about me. Lawrence Earl Holbrook loves me.
When I was done visiting Grandpa, I idled the car at the end of the drive entrance to the farmhouse. If I turned right on to the road, I would go back to the small town of Bancroft. If I turned left . . . I might get to find out where my precious road leads.
I turned left.
Hello, I said to the red-brick ruins of once prosperous Chesterfield village. I didn't so much count each of the farm dwellings along the road as to register them one by one upon my consciousness. I thought I knew that my dad had probably been inside some of them and had once known children there. I drove so far that I was never sure when I passed that 1999 horizon/ stopping place -- it all looked the same in a very satisfying way.
So that's the happy ending. I can tell you where my mysterious, revelation, country Idaho road ends. It ends called by another name I never intend to remember. It ends at the crossing of another road where I had to make another decision about which way to go. It ends at the same highway I started from. Not only is Chesterfield Road NOT a road I will never get to drive on again, it is a road I will be back to many times and very often.
I can tell you all about where my road ends. I can even tell you that the road goes on forever.
Tags: Vacation Grandfather Grandpa Road Essay Family Funeral Idaho Repentance