This was an especially meaningful trip for me, as it was the first time I had returned to a city that had been my home from age 4 to almost 10 (6 days short of my 10th birthday, in fact!), when we immigrated to Canada.
We took the highway from Vancouver to Portland, knowing that our way back to Seattle would take us along the beautiful coast road.
My memories of Portland were, for the most part, of my neighbourhood, my school and the synagogue where we used to worship. So, in preparation for the other part of our trip, Hans Einar and watched a few episodes of Portlandia. Throughout our visit, we were truly mindful of some of the words from the opening theme song: “The Dream of the 90s is Alive in Portland”
…it’s like Portland’s almost an alternative universe. Where hot girls all wear glasses. It’s like Gore won. The Bush administration never happened…
Who could resist going to a place where the Bush administration never happened?
Downtown Portland is a “quaint” city with lots of hippies and hippy wannabees and “cool people” and great restaurants and safe pedestrians and bicycles that people are actually riding and youth pouring out of every corner bar and coffee shop…it’s really is almost as if the Bush administration never happened…
We arrived late on Thursday and had a wonderful dinner at Caffe Mingo, where our main dish consisted of penne with meat marinated in wine and espresso…this gives you an idea of Portland as a place for “foodies” and we were not disappointed. There is an entire park in the heart of the city dedicated to food trucks (a few of the over 600 located throughout the city).
Friday was “the day”, “jour j”, for my trip down memory lane. Since my lane was quite short and consisted of only 4 places in the Portland suburb of Beaverton, we managed to fit it all in in a day and an evening…and with a bit of something new thrown in at the end!
I had decided to take a chronological tour of my memories from Beaverton, beginning with the first place we lived, my elementary school, the second place we lived and, finally, sabbath services at our synagogue, Neveh Shalom.
Armed with a GPS, we set out to Vermont Court in Beaverton, Oregon. I did not remember our address but trusted that my memory would help me find the place…and it did. We drove into the complex, rounded the corner and there it was, “our apartment”, my home from age 4-6…a place full of memories that I hadn’t seen in 46 years…and it was still there, as I remembered it. Not totally trusting my memory though, and full of excitement, I rang my mother and this is how the telephone conversation went:
Me: Did we used to live at 7060 SW Vermont Court in Beaverton?
Mum: Why…are you there???
Me: I think so…(giggle, giggle, giggle)
Mum: Oh my goodness…Eli…Roberta is outside our apartment in Beaverton…
Dad (in background): Oh my god…
….and there were further shared giggles and exchanges of “remember the two doors here” and “wasn’t there a planter box inside the entrance” and “remember the two schoolteachers who lived upstairs?” and “were there big bushes in front of the door when we lived here?”
In fact, just about everything was as I remembered it. Feeling brave, Hans Einar and I walked up to the front door and noticed a small statue of the Indian elephant god, Ganesh (Hans Einar’s favourite Indian god). I rang the doorbell, sure no one would be home in the middle of the day, and yet, there was Andy, on the phone, asking his interlocuteur to “hold on” while I blurted out “Hi, my name is Roberta and I used to live here about 46 years ago and my husband and I have travelled from Norway on a sort of nostalgia tour and…”. Andy graciously invited us to come in and have a look, which we did.
I couldn’t believe how small the rooms had gotten…how was it that this living room in which I now stood was where my three sisters and I used to watch TV, listen to music on the record player, and, in general, run around. How did a family of six manage to sit at a table in the small room off the kitchen? How had everything gotten so small?…
Andy was very inviting and told us about the Ananda Meditation, Yoga and Community which owns about 60% of the apartments. The Community is home to individuals and families that have chosen to follow the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. Andy showed us the community room and the meditation room (all are welcome at 6 every morning). He invited us to walk around and visit the various shrines that had been set up throughout the complex and we visited the pool area (which was exactly as I remembered it…except smaller). I liked that there was good karma in a place that had been a part of my life.
I must add a photo that is an inside joke between me and my family…they will understand why I have added a photo of me, by the pool, showing that I am still wearing underwear…
The next stop was Raleigh Hills Elementary School, which I had attended from 1st grade to the middle of 4th grade. I remember 4th grade as being the “big person’s grade” because, instead of sitting in one classroom with one teacher the entire day, we changed classroom and teacher for each subject (very adult!).
We visited with a substitute 4th-grade teacher and I could not resist having my picture taken at what might have been the very spot I used to sit in. Funny, the desks had gotten a lot smaller…
I had with me the school sweatshirt I had from the school, packed away in my grandmother’s cedar chest and freighted with me wherever I moved. I had thought of gifting it to the school, assuming they would put it a trophy case somewhere on display “from the olden days”, perhaps with a special ceremony honouring me and a marching band…but the secretary we met with didn’t seem all that interested so the shirt will stay with me…even though it too has gotten smaller!
The school looked very much the same, except the population of students was more diverse than I remember, and the heavily outfitted IT library was…well, not in existence! But, the hallways looked the same, even the lunch room was the same (although I’m sure the students were eating more politically correct food than we had).
Our final stop of the day was to the house in which I had lived from age 6 to the time we left Portland. Unfortunately, as can happen with trips down memory lane, not all memories remain and our house at 5550 SW Spruce Avenue had been replaced by an altogether different house. I knew this before we went to visit but wanted to see the old neighbourhood where I played with my best friend Jeannie, ran after our dog Dum-Dum as she chased motorcycles, built snowmen, ran through sprinklers and rode my bicycle up and down the street and into the forest at the end of our street where Mrs. Denny lived. The forest is no longer there and neither is Mrs. Denny or Jeannie. But I was sure I heard Dum-Dum barking somewhere in the distance…
Our final evening in Portland was planned on a Friday so that we could attend sabbath services at our synagogue. Once again, we set off with the GPS leading us to 2900 Peaceful Lane and the Neveh Shalom synagogue. I’m not sure if spirituality has anything to do with it, but the building was as big as I remembered it…an imposing building with the 10 commandment tablets rising from the road like mountains.
We found out that the sabbath service was to be held in a chapel, named for the Rabbi Emeritius, Joshua Stampfer. He was our rabbi when we were members of the congregation and is still active in the activities of the synagogue, In November this year, the congregation will honour his 60 years of service with special activities and tributes.
On entering, we were warmly greeted by a long-standing member of the congregation, a beautiful woman originally from Argentina. She asked if we were new to the congregation and when I told her the reason for our visit, she was very touched. I asked if it would be possible to see the main sanctuary, as that was where my most vivid memories originated, and she took us there. It was almost exactly as I remembered it and, I’m not sure if spirituality has anything to do with it, but I started crying…
We attended the short sabbath service and I felt quite at home as so many of the melodies of the songs and the prayers were the ones I remembered and have not found at synagogues elsewhere. After the service, we were all invited to have wine and challah in the hallway. Hans Einar and I were immediately approached by people, curious to know about us. At the end of the social gathering, I found Hans Einar talking to a couple who introduced themselves as Julian and Lucille. Julian had been very curious about Hans Einar and Norway and they had a lovely conversation. We said goodbye with warm hugs and they left…only to come back a few seconds later to invite us to dinner. We took them up on their offer and spent a most lovely evening with them at Otto and Anita’s Restaurant (the dill pickle soup is to die for!). Julian, originally, from London, and Lucille were both in their 80s and had met 10 years ago on a Jewish dating website. They are both full of energy, curiosity and life stories and we thoroughly enjoyed talking to them about politics, Norwegian social democracy and Obamacare. We shared many laughs and a great dinner. Julian followed-up our meeting with an email saying
“I hope our friendship will not end here and if you come back to this area (you must, Roberta, it is ‘your’ roots) you need to call me for Kaufman’s FREE bed and breakfast, tour guide service, airport pickup and delivery, Temple shuttle etc. etc. “
We may go back just to visit Julian and Lucille next time!
Next up, Redwood National Park