Throughout my childhood, we often took trips from Kennewick to Lewiston, Idaho to see my mom’s sister Jewel, her husband Johnny, and my cousins Philip and Jeff. We rarely took vacations anywhere, so any road trip to someplace else was exciting for all of us–Mom, Dad, my brothers Matt and Mark, and me. I would run around our house, chanting: “We’re going to Lew-is-ton! We’re going to Lew-is-ton!”
They lived in a giant old house there, with a creaky spiral staircase and what seemed to be a crazy layout of rooms. In fact, this morning I tried to draw the layout but failed miserably. But I remember the details of that house so well–the old doorknobs, the one telephone in the hallway nook, the strangely tiny bathroom with the sink outside the door, the messy play room where we watched cartoons on a small TV, the kitchen where we could always find cookies in one of the many cookie jars, the little dining room that looked out onto the back yard.
Each time we arrived, Uncle Johnny would wrestle with us and Aunt Jewel would have something delicious for us to eat–fried bolgna sandwiches, chocolate cookies made in a waffle iron, or the best meatloaf I ever liked as a kid.
Being there was special. Whereas our house in Kennewick felt tense and emotionally awkward, that house in Lewiston felt full of love. It’s one of the happiest places of my childhood memory.
I remember the backyard being a sprawl. A swing set was built off to the side, on a slightly crooked slant. Some blueberry bushes by the fence. Sycamore trees that plopped their weird fruit everywhere in the yard, so we could pick them up and throw them at cars later. There was an old garage with a bent basketball hoop that I played on a lot. I would take out the trampoline and used it to try and dunk.
Whenever we visited there, Matt and I would play with Philip around their house and then walk to a store to buy as much nickel and dime candy as we could. This particular little store was one that we went to every time. We had to walk up a steep hillside to get to where it was.
Aunt Jewel died yesterday. My mom called and told me last night.
She was very close to Jewel. My mom was the last of twelve children born to her mother and Jewel was the second to last born. They grew up in Montana in the 1930s and 40s. One of their favorite things to do was playing with paper dolls that they made out of Montgomery Ward catalogs. They both had unsuccessful first marriages and both ended up raising several children with little money. When my mom gave birth to an African man’s baby (my brother Matt) in the early 60s, she was disowned by much of her family, but Jewel stuck by her and was her best friend.
And of course, they even looked alike. I don’t know if I have many photos of Jewel, but here is one of my mom (first on the left side) and Jewel (second on the left), with some of their other sisters.
And here is a set of photos that were taken about six years ago, the last time I was in Lewiston, with Matt and my son Zach. Jewel isn’t in any of these (she was probably the one taking them) but you can also see my cousin Philip (in the Rams shirt), my mom and dad, and Uncle Johnny (in the 4th picture).
It was really fun to go back and visit at that time. It had probably been about fifteen years since I’d been there. It brought back a lot of good memories, and even though the house seemed more ancient and worn-down than before, it was still a house of love, one they lived in for 45 years. Jewel and Johnny were married for about 56 years. I imagine that Johnny will still live there –even without the love of his life– or maybe hand it down to one of their kids. Whatever happens, it will always be a place I’ll never forget.