Over the River and Through The Woods

Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.
I sang the phrase to my kids as we headed east from Marysville, California on I-70. The road still feels familiar to me, though I haven’t seen it in a decade. I traveled it multiple times each summer throughout my childhood as our family went to visit Grandma’s house. The words really fit our journey as the road winds up a canyon complete with trestle bridges over the river,

three tunnels,

and lots of woods.

Sometimes the woods are broken up by impressive rocks.

It is a stunning drive. I highly recommend it, but be prepared for winding roads next to precipitous drops. Also pick a day with nice weather. In bad weather the road can be downright terrifying.

As we drove I subjected my kids to nostalgic stories. I think they half listened, but speaking the stories mattered to me, so I talked. We were adding two hours of driving to our trip home in order to stop by and see my Grandma’s house. I’ve felt a longing to see it in the past few years.
It is a strange little house tucked into a tall pine forest.

Who ever built it, used local materials and much love in it’s construction. It is created with a combination of local rock, pine logs, concrete, and clapboards. The roof is made out of sheets of airplane metal. There isn’t anything standard about this house.

I can see the love that went into creating it. There are small details everywhere. I know the love that went into maintaining it. Grandpa was always fixing things and making things better. It was their shared project and they had many a lively argument about how things ought to be done. Or rather, Grandma filled the air with words while Grandpa pretended he couldn’t hear her because he’d “lost” his hearing aid again. Then Grandpa would fix things how he thought they ought to be done.

Right now nobody lives in the house. It is watched over by a neighbor except during the times when my parents bring Grandma up to stay for a bit. Grandma can’t stay by herself anymore, not safely. I’m sad to see the place empty. Grandma loves it still. My siblings and I love it too. It is a place of memories. I remember the giant garden they used to grow.

That high in the mountains there is only a short growing season, but Grandma and Grandpa managed. They even coaxed a peach tree into bearing fruit though their neighbors said it couldn’t be done.
Here is that same garden plot today.

I was pleased to see that Grandpa’s rock wall was still standing.

It’s been there for a very long time.

We didn’t get to go inside. Grandma has the only key and she doesn’t like people going inside when she is not there. Part of me felt strange driving two hours out of my way just so I could spend thirty minutes crunching through dried leaves to look at the exterior of a house and take pictures. Stories spilled out of my mouth as I walked with my kids. I would point to things and tell them how those things used to be. In my eye “how it used to be” is so clear.

Pretty sure my kids just saw the things as they are.

Grandma keeps talking about selling the house and land. She knows she’s not taking care of it, but letting go is hard and the effort necessary to make it ready for sale is beyond her. My parents will sell it after she’s gone and we will all grieve. We all love the house, but none of us want to live there. It is in a tiny town with few jobs available and the house itself is problematic in a dozen ways. The rooms are oddly shaped. It is all constructed under the assumption that the primary heat source would be a wood burning chimney in the center. That never worked well, so now there is a wood burning stove and a smattering of built-in electric heaters.

One year my parents brought Grandma up in the spring to discover mushrooms growing in the front room carpet from a leak in the roof. They called a guy to come fix it, he took a look and quoted a really high number. My parents gulped and agreed to pay it. Then the guy started working for an hour and said “never mind. It can’t be done.” and left. They finally found someone else willing to do a completely non-standard patch job. I doubt a single thing in that house is up to current safety codes. Yet there is a piece of my heart that looks around and says “surely this can be saved and made beautiful again.”

It will likely be purchased by someone who wants the land and who will tear down the house and the garage behind it. So I took pictures, many pictures. When the time comes, I’ll help clear out the contents and I’ll take even more pictures. Because someday when I drive over the river and through the woods, Grandmother’s house won’t be there anymore.