A Fascination Thing
A shaft of light permeated my window blind and pitched me from a sound sleep. I could hear the birds already with their cheerful songs of greed and lust. Perhaps my pair of Northern Flickers would appear this morning at the feeder, looking at once dowdy and exquisite in their silver-gray plumage and black bibs. They were a species I could relate to, large and not too dolled up. Funny, I had never heard their song. If they had one. It was always the little finches and chickadees who had the most to say as they preened and bickered at the assortment of seeds and nuts I put out.
I sat up and realized today was the day I was going to drive to the Oregon coast with my friend Cheryl. We considered ourselves travel buddies, although we’d never actually taken a trip together. First, we had a planned cruise which was canceled when her husband became ill two years ago. Then came COVID. Then a lot of missed opportunities because we hadn’t yet been vaccinated. If age had its privileges, then early vaccination had to be one. Here we were now, a couple of women over the requisite age, footloose and fancy-free. We didn’t plan to let this opportunity escape.
Both of us avid writers, Cheryl was out to scout locations for a story she had in mind about a murder in a fishing village. Me, I intended to write an essay about the trip itself. I was thinking My Dinner with Andre meets Thelma & Louise.
She picked me up in her trusty Ford SUV promptly at 8 a.m., and off we went careening down the freeway at breakneck speed, trying to get to the scenic route that would take us through the coast range and into the bay town of Newport. From our home base there, we would wend our way south fifty miles to Florence and then, the next day, up another fifty miles to Seaside before rejoining the interstate and heading home. It was just an overnight hop with lots of stops to admire beachy architecture and imagine the crew of characters who might people her story, but we were giddy to be out in the world after a year of COVID restrictions had kept us close to home.
Cheryl cocked her knit cap back on her head and wondered ‘what if’ for the hundredth time already that morning. “What if my main character was a city couple who moved to this fishing village to refurbish an old hotel? What if, as outsiders, they weren’t accepted by the locals?” She smiled conspiratorially. “What if there was a murder?”
And so it went. We took pictures of cotton candy shops and old train depots. We shopped the antique stores and souvenir emporiums until it was time for a leisurely lunch at a locally renowned chowder café.
“What if,” I asked her, “We never get to travel internationally again? We don’t have all the time in the world to wait, you know. What if I never make it back to Rome, and you never get to go to Crete?”
“Well, we can’t foretell the future, can we? We can only do what we can do.” Cheryl was matter-of-fact about our options. I couldn’t tell whether she was as terrified as I was about getting older when we still had so much to do.
I thought of something I’d read and threw it into the mix. “I saw where Keith Richards once said that ‘getting old is a fascination thing. The older you get, the older you want to get.’ I hope I live to be a hundred.”
“And do what? Sit in your rocking chair and reminisce?”
“I guess so. I mean, that’s just what I’m talking about. We only have so much time left to travel and do things before we’re too old to be out and about.”
“Well, I want to get married again,” Cheryl pronounced. I knew she was still missing her husband, who had died the year before last after a brief illness.
“It would be nice to meet someone,” I agreed. “But how? Where?”
She pulled out of sheaf of papers that she’d printed out from home. “I went on Match. What do you think?” She showed me a photo of a sixty-something-year-old man with a little mustache and kind eyes. “We’ve been messaging back and forth.”
I had had some prior experience with the same dating website and recalled the motley bunch of sorry old men I’d met there. “He looks nice. Maybe I should try that again.” I knew I never would.
I told her about one man I’d known who ditched me at a rural tribal casino where we’d met for a weekend together. I went to load my bag into my car, and when I returned to our meeting place, he was long gone. At the time, I chalked it up to an error in communication, but I knew that he’d snuck out as soon as I left the building. I never heard from him again. Then there was the man who took me to lunch and promised me a ride on his Victory touring motorcycle. As soon as he’d talked me into giving it a try, we made plans to meet, and then – poof! – I was ghosted. Men. I was tempted to email and ask him for some feedback on why he lost interest, but I felt too foolish. I guessed I would just have to stay single.
Cheryl knew what she wanted and went after it. I admired that. Her analytical mind was an inspiration to me. I guess I had become more of a fence-sitter.
I was profoundly hard of hearing, and Cheryl had knees that sounded like Rice Krispies. I guess we were quite a pair. But we weren’t dead yet, and we just wanted what all other women wanted.
At the end of the first day, we stopped at a hotel where each of the rooms was named after and furnished in the style of a certain author. I stayed in the Virginia Woolf room with its early twentieth-century décor while Cheryl chose the Alice Walker room. It was a charming B&B right on the beach and adjacent to the quaint town’s old bayfront businesses where we shopped for souvenirs and ate clam chowder. By the time we’d retired to our rooms, we were both exhausted and ready for bed.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes to the proprietors and headed north for more of our particular brand of subdued adventure. At lunchtime, we sat over our seafood and revisited the Keith Richards truism. Just how old is Keith, we wondered? He certainly looked old. We were sure he was old enough and had seen enough of life to have acquired a fair amount of wisdom. But a lot of people just became old and foolish, it seemed. We couldn’t decide which kind he might be.
“I’ve got a good one for you. I remembered something I’d read in one of the Virginia Woolf books in my room the previous evening. She said, ‘I don’t believe in aging. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun.’”
“It sounds lovely. But what does it mean?” Cheryl asked as if I should know.
“Well, maybe it means that you don’t have to get older if you don’t want to. Maybe it means you can simply change your perspective to suit yourself. I’m not sure that I believe that, but maybe that’s what she meant.”
We sat in companionable silence until the waitress came by to ask us if we needed anything more. She was nineteen or twenty with a willowy body and long blond hair. At least she wasn’t talking to us as if we were children the way so many young people did.
“We’re fine,” I answered with a little too much finality. “We just need our check.”
Back on the road, after the obligatory restroom stop and re-lipsticking, we traveled on, almost to the junction of the freeway that led us the rest of the way back into civilization. “How about next time, we do the Tillamook dairy tour and then take the dinner train out of Garibaldi?”
“That sounds fabulous,” Cheryl said, already fishing out her phone to check on the train. “Maybe we could spend the night in Astoria.”
“I like the way your mind works. And maybe we can figure out what it means to grow old.” The sun was setting among the wizened manzanita trees that lined the highway and crept off into the underbrush. “If it means anything at all.”
About the Author
Linda Caradine is a Portland Oregon-based writer whose work has appeared in The Oregonian newspaper, TravelMag, and Blacktop Passages, among other publications. She is currently managing a nonprofit dog rescue and working on a memoir. She looks forward to traveling again post-pandemic.