When Kate and I drove through Eugene while on vacation in 1986, we stopped at the Saturday market downtown and were immediately charmed by the laid-back, colorful atmosphere. Racks of bright tie-dyed shirts, long braids and beards, homemade crafts and produce, folk singers, tarot counselors, tangle-haired kids splashing in the fountain, healthy organic food booths. Everyone seemed happy, smiling at us like old friends. And here I thought I’d missed out on the Summer of Love.
The next year a friend of Kate’s in Santa Cruz moved to Eugene and raved about the affordable cost of living there. The great schools, temperate weather, and how friendly and relaxed everyone was. We came up for a visit and looked at houses. When the earthquake hit the Bay Area in 1989, we slept in the backyard through two nights of aftershocks. As soon as roads opened up, we loaded our six- and two-year-olds into our VW van, left our rental house in shambles, and headed north. We bought our first house that week, at a fraction of what it would be in California.
Eugene was an ideal place to raise our kids, and it’s still a wonderful town. Driving back into it after more than a year, my heart lit up with that warm mix of elation and ease that signals home. For the last couple of years, Kate has talked about relocating, and on this journey there were several places we thought, Could we live here? But in all those 46 other states, there wasn’t a single town that topped Eugene for us.
It was still five days before we could get back into our house, but our friends offered up their flat driveway to us. We’ve been close with Kathy and Robin for most of our time in Eugene. We’ve had some great times together over the years, and we’ve been there for each other during the hard times. Our connections are deeply woven. So it was fitting to be welcomed home by them.
Although we were anxious to hurry up and get in our house, it was great to have this time with them, too. Fun to take turns cooking dinner, and take walks up to the nearby ridgeline trail, which offers a great sunset view. They have a beautiful home in a beautiful setting, and this gave us some time to relax and gear up for the big move from Bessie back to our old “stick and brick.”
Back to the Familiar
As we drove around town, we noticed a few glaring changes. Eugene’s historic baseball stadium had burned down, as had the neighborhood bowling alley. There were several new apartment buildings. A main road near us was converted from four-lane to two-lane to accommodate bicycles. But mostly, Eugene was just the same, and it felt like we’d never been gone.
When we went grocery shopping at our neighborhood store, we got lots of double-takes from familiar workers who’d noticed our absence, and I remembered how nice it is to shop and bank where people remember you and ask about your dog or your last vacation. It was wonderful traveling and seeing new places every few days, but coming home made me realize how much I’ve missed the comfort of the familiar.
During our trip, we’d stored my beloved 1999 Saab convertible in a side carport at Kathy and Robin’s. Before tucking it in for the year, I’d detailed and waxed it, disconnected the battery, and covered it with a fitted flannel-lined cover. When I pulled off the cover, she looked brand new but had no intention of waking up. I had to buy and install a new battery, but after that she started right up and purred like Gypsy in a love-me-now moment. Her top went down without a hitch, and when I took her out on the road in the warm summer sun, it felt like all was right in the world.