80 Extra Steps

By Laura Melton Tucker, September 8th, 2011

Listen to this entry.

My husband and I were lucky enough this summer to attend an adult version of “summer camp.” We accepted a gracious offer to stay in a family member’s vacant high rise condominium, overlooking all of downtown Portland, Oregon.  We stayed for 5 weeks and entertained 13 visitors.  Our adventures were of all types – physical (lots of hiking and crazy yoga with youngsters), emotional (you try being middle aged and plunking yourself down in a new city with few reference points) and spiritual (opportunities for deep connections with visiting friends and family).  One of the spiritual adventure days is a story worth telling.

We had expected our last visitors to come as a couple.  Instead, we got a phone call at the last minute from our friend saying she and her husband were having a marital crisis.  Our friend wondered if she could come alone.  This was a troublesome phone call for all the obvious reasons.   Our friends have been married for 25 years. They are the kind of couple who others look to with envy.  More than this, though, we didn’t want the husband at home to feel ganged up on.  Would this visit with one friend sabotage future opportunities to interact together as couples?  We love them both.

Our distraught friend arrived after having sat next to her husband’s vacant seat on the airplane.  She was exhausted after many sleepless nights, and in need of a break from endless talking with her spouse.  Her husband was having a mid-life crisis, she thought.  Both of our friends were experiencing emotional upheaval.   As medicine, we took our friend on hikes to the manicured gardens of Washington Park, to the wild forest on Bristlecone Trail and on her last day, to the beach.  The beach is several hours away from Portland, but Oregon’s starkly beautiful beaches are worth the drive.  At Rockaway Beach, about a mile out to sea, rigid against the crashing waves, two tall rocks, one with a distinct archway, stand side by side.  The beach is wide, with fine, white sand.  On this sunny day in early September there were few visitors.  We walked and walked, admiring the mist coming off of the sand, which cast a ghostly, surreal beauty over the landscape.

On our way back to the car we expressed our need for a bathroom before the two hour ride home to Portland.  My husband gamely approached a Porta-Potty, but my friend and I were choosier.  We walked up to a beautiful A-frame church overlooking the beach.  The doors were locked.  I turned around to tell my friend and noticed another couple approaching.  “Sorry” I told them, “it’s locked. “  I assumed they were searching for a restroom, too.  ‘Oh, it’s always locked between services.  Can we help you?” Apparently, they were locals.  I explained that we were looking for a restroom and had rejected the Porta-Potty.  The woman responded sympathetically, “Oh my goodness, I don’t blame you, but that’s really your only option, unless you come home and use our bathroom.”  We all laughed, feeling a mix of awkwardness (we were strangers, after all) and ease (this woman oozed folksy warmth). The woman grabbed my hand and started to pull me along, “We’re just six houses down.”  She pointed to a row of houses set back a street from the beach.  I looked at my friend who nodded her approval.  We knew this was an unusual invitation, and despite little voices telling us we might be crazy, we agreed.  My husband exited the Porta-Potty in time to follow along.

The house was beachy, informal and immaculate.  After directing us to two heavenly bathrooms, our new friends, Al and Becky, led us upstairs to meet their large family  – a grandma, teenaged children, nieces, nephews, a cousin – a group of ten gathered in a large room with a deck overlooking the street out front.  The only thing separating the view to the beach was a hotel.  Walking us out to our car, (serendipitously parked directly in front of Al and Becky’s – as if fate knew we’d be meeting!) Becky left us with one final story.  She told us that cousins visiting a few months ago from Australia weren’t much for walking the 80 steps to the beach.  They preferred the sunny deck upstairs, where for one whole day they had an ocean view! Becky explained that following a busy holiday weekend, hotel rooms 5, 6, and 7 – directly across from the deck and all in a row – were cleaned especially slowly: “they leave the doors wide open when they’re cleaning and you can see straight through to the ocean!  That day the rooms were open from 10 in the morning until 8 at night, giving them a view for the entire day!”  My husband, friend and I made meaningful eye contact – delighted by the absurdity of a pounding surf steps away and people sitting on the deck content with a sliver of a view.  Al and Becky shook their heads and laughed at the irony of it, too.  After exchanging email addresses with our new friends we drove off.

And we grinned all the way home.  Yes, our friend was still sad over her marriage troubles.  But we’d just had a chance encounter with strangers who generously shared their bathrooms, their home, and their hearts.  And their story, today’s takeaway, was not lost on us! As my friend grapples with the hard work of re-examining her marriage, as I revel in memories of a summer filled with adventures, we are committed to the truth that Becky’s Australian cousins missed: Never settle for the sliver view when a mere 80 extra steps take you to the beach. See you next year at summer camp…pinky promise.

One Response

  • Leah says:

    Laura, you are such a delightful, wise, masterful storyteller. I’m in awe of your ability to inhale life and exhale the meaning. I love this piece and this story. And I would love to attend your summer camp!

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