Jun 22, 2006

BRISTOL, Connecticut –  Mountain laurel lumps across the low hills: pale pink blooms on the broccoli clusters. My 87-year-old grandmother and I are daytripping to see the state flower.

Twenty years ago, she chauffeured me. Now I shepherd Emma in the borrowed Subaru: over the river and through the woods...

I am a much, much better driver than Grammy, who once ran OVER another car –  sailing up and across its roof – then landed in a cemetery. My grandfather, a surgeon, unwittingly treated the victims at the Emergency Room, which created some insurance-claim excitement.

This trip is less eventful. We cruise smoothly through the wooded ridges and valleys, the chocolate-box villages, the landscape of my early childhood. The scale irritates now, after greedy gulps of the West. Even the budget bracket is spectacular out there. From my desk, for example, I can glimpse Mount Rainier's cone, a violet ghost on the horizon, and a slice of the sapphire Ship Canal.

“That's big sky country ... for Ballard,” a friend once remarked.

Very true.

The mountain laurel, on the other hand, is a pretty, two-minute payoff for 1.5 hours of driving. Stringing out the anticlimax, I pull onto the verge.

And then Emma produces one of her immortal quotes, which makes the whole trip worthwhile.

“Romance today is hard,” she remarks. “It's not like when I was young. Why your grandfather and I went on a first date at the morgue!”

Oh, for simpler days...

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