The Big Trip : Part 1

On the Monday, July 8, 2001, a couple of days after Jeremy passed away we determined that we would have a memorial service in Utah the following weekend. Checking with the airlines we determined that for the five of us (me, David, Emily, Eden, Steve) to FLY to Utah on such short notice would cost something like $3,000-$4,000.

We decided to drive instead. We knew it would be a bit of a squeeze but the Outback holds five, there’s ready access to the reasonably large cargo space, and the car was just a little more than two years old, and in perfect shape.

We left Wednesday morning, the first leg taking us to Jeremy’s parents’ house in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City. By the time we had arrived Ron and Becky (and Melissa, too?) had already flown to Utah but Jocelin and Larry were still there. I can’t remember what we did, if anything other than crash, although I do recall Becky’s nextdoor neighbor, a very nice retired woman whose name I forget, brought us stuff to eat.

From Moore we headed north Thursday morning, up to Wichita and then to Salina, Kansas, where we picked up I-70 and headed west to Colorado. Eden and I took turns driving, Steve kept the kids entertained in the back seat. It was his first exposure to Erasure and he must have listened to that CD a hundred times on the trip.

Our road game was “spot the cute guys,” which all of us got into with the exception of David, who just rolled his eyes a lot. “Ooh, that’s my boyfriend Chris,” Steve would say, and then he’d tell us about their life together. Five miles later we’d see another one and he’d say, “Ooh, that’s my boyfriend Jason,” and we’d say, “What happened to Chris?” It was anyone’s guess with regards to a particular boyfriend whether he’d broken Steve’s heart or Steve got bored and decided to dump him.

We ended up that evening in Ft. Collins, Colo., staying at a big Holiday Inn (I think) next to the campus of Colorado State University. By that time we'd driven like 750 miles that day and I was worn to a frazzle. Eden took the kids and Steve to Olive Garden for dinner, where they flirted outrageously with the waiters.

The kids had never been west of Oklahoma City so the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains was pretty danged impressive. For that matter, I’d never driven out that way, just flown over it. Seeing it from the ground is an awesome experience. We took the state highway, not the Interstate, north from Colorado Springs, and at Laramie we followed up on Ron and Becky’s suggestion and took the mountain road over the Snowy Range, which is just amazing, especially for anyone who grew up in the Southeast.

On the other side of the range we stopped in Saratoga, a little mining town that has been well preserved and ate at the Wolf Hotel, which has been around for more than a hundred years. A good lunch in an historic setting, what more could you want?

The trip across southern Wyoming was a bit surreal – now I know what Mars must look like! But eventually we stopped for a snack in Evanston, in far SW Wyoming, and I could tell we were getting close to Utah – lots and lots of blond hair and shiny white Osmondesque teeth.

The passes into the Great Salt Lake Valley are magnificent, especially late on a summer afternoon with the sunbeams glancing off the tops of the Wasatch Range. Eden said, “You look at this and you know why they (the Mormon settlers) thought they’d reached the promised land.” It’s simply the most spectacular landscape I’ve ever seen.

We stayed with Carol, Becky’s childhood friend, and her son in Layton, a short drive south from Ogden. I can’t remember much about our stay other than that the morning of Jeremy’s memorial service I woke up to find my wallet missing. I’d left it on the windowsill with window open above it. I thought my heart would stop. A thief in the night? A raccoon? Eden’s eyes got big when he saw the look on my face. Turned out it was the dog, who’d taken it scattered the contents all over the backyard – just as the sprinkler system came on. I spent half an hour drying everything out. Have you ironed money before? Now I can say I have.

The memorial service was powerful and moving. I was simply agog at that Emily was able to get up there, at age 12, and talk about having lost the world’s best stepdad. I was pleased to see Wanda, Jeremy’s stepmom, and I was quite civil to his father, John, who had the look of a man whose tight control of his emotions was finally, perhaps for the first time in his life, completely failing. (I was in no mood to be critical at that point, although I think any of us who loved Jeremy would have been well within our rights to punch him in the nose.)

Afterwards there was the customary luncheon and then a whole slew of us (the five from Houston plus Ron and Becky, Jocelin and Larry, Melissa, and Jeremy’s uncle Mark and his daughter Melanie) all trekked up to Huntsville to look at the cemetery where we agreed to place a marker for Jeremy close to the graves of Becky’s grandmother and great-grandmother, both of whom helped raise Jeremy from infancy. And then it was time for swimming in the lake (actually, Pineview Reservoir, I believe), which was much too cold for MY taste. July in Utah at 4900 feet is NOT the same as July in Pensacola at sea level!

On the way back we stopped at the waterfall in Ogden Canyon and took pictures, some funny, some sad, some charming, most more than a little wistful. Nine months later it’s easy to see the pain in all our faces.

At some point I’ll get them scanned and posted here but I want to finish writing about the trip first. It was, despite the circumstances, a grand adventure.

RPJ

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