Now that people know we traveled to the US in the midst of a global pandemic and spiking cases in America, you might be inclined to wonder why we decided to make this trip. People are canceling 2 hour flights, and we logged 30 hours of flying in protective gear. But this was a special trip, an important trip, and there was no way we were going to miss it. ￼
Although Jackson and Cassius sadly have no grandparents on my side of the family, they are incredibly fortunate to have two on Karen’s side of the family—her dad and his wife Britta. They live in Bend, Oregon, and it had been 5 years since we’d seen them.
We had planned this trip at beginning of the year, following Jackson’s completion of High School, and we were all looking forward to it. When we lived in the states, we had visited them for ten consecutive summers, and we had lots of great memories of those trips.
Moreover, Karen’s family is from Oregon. Now, when some people say they are from a place, you imagine that’s where they grew up. But Karen’s Oregonian roots run deep, very deep! Her family was the 3rd to settle in Eugene, Oregon! 3rd! They came across the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon. They fled Europe as Hugonots oppressed in France only to find themselves in an early America, yet to fight the British, immersed in conflicts with Native Americans, and long before the Civil War. So their ties to the US and to the state of Oregon are not only epic, but in many ways, historic. These strong bonds have always made Oregon a special place for Karen, and we both felt it was important for Jackson and Cassius to feel this, understand it, and experience it during this special trip.
As often as Jackson and Cassius had been to Oregon when they were younger, they were, well…younger. And that made all the difference on this trip. They returned this time as young men, young men who have lived in a different country, young men who have learned to live in an entirely different culture. They also returned as young men who have been separated from their roots, their origin, and this was the perfect time for them to gain a better understanding of where they come from and reconnect with it.
In Portland, this family history tour began with a trip to the neighborhood where Karen’s mom was raised, in suburban Portland in a beautiful wooded area outside the city. We even made it to Skyline Hamburgers, the joint Grandma Pat frequented during her high school years. It’s a great, classic place that oozes with character and they make some fantastic burgers and a serious rootbeer float.
The next stop was Eugene. In Eugene, I think the boys began to comprehend the full weight of those who have come before them, of the lineage they will now carry. As I mentioned, long before the University of Oregon was in Eugene or Phil Knight was donating millions to the university, the Bonnett family had endured a journey across America where they became the 3rd family to set up shop here, trading horses and working the land. It’s hard to conceive of this time in history, but we read about some of the Bonnett family members on the internet beforehand and brought flowers to lay at the family burial plot—that sits in a beautiful cemetery under beautiful shady trees on the U of O Campus.
We also saw the house Karen’s dad grew up in Eugene, as well as where he went to high school. The kids were quiet and respectful and pretty moved to get a real sense of their family’s history.
After Eugene, we headed to Florence, OR. Florence isn’t on everyone’s destination list, but it’s worth it. And like so many other spots in Oregon, it holds special significance for Karen. It is a humble town that sits on the dramatic Oregon coast, with big, sweeping, flat beaches and a Lighthouse. The Siuslaw River snakes through the Old Town, which has been renovated and now boasts charming shops, an ice cream parlor, and the simple allure of small town America.
When Karen was a kid, it was much less developed, but her grandparents, Rae and Big Chuck, owned property here. Karen and her siblings would visit them in the summer. Here they would take long walks, roll down giant sand dunes and leap off the docks at Honeyman State Park—where her grandpa Big Chuck helped teach the kids to swim nearly 50 years ago. I can only say that it was very special for all of us to revisit this place with Karen. Time moves so fast. We depart the places that once held so much meaning, but the memories remain and a visit awakens them like little else.
Of course, the real highlight of this trip was going to be our visit with Karen’s dad Chuck and his wife Britta. And after fourteen days of keeping our interactions in Oregon to ourselves and four negative COVID tests, we headed to Bend to see them.
Five years is a long time not to see anyone, and the changes in Jackson and Cassius were the most apparent. Grandpa Chuck told the boys they had grown taller while he and Britta had grown smaller. While this is true, Chuck and Britta looked good, and we all had a wonderful reunion with them. I reminded him of his prophecy that I would one day have no hair had been fully realized and he laughed. And Karen, as always, carried the emotion of our family. She has always felt entirely at home in Oregon, and this showed. She loves the clear skies and soaring mountains and she has always been keenly aware of her family’s history. She loves being there, and her dad and Britta were excited to see her.
On previous trips to Oregon, we had often focused our attention on everything we could do, all we could accomplish—from white water rafting to swimming in the Cascade lakes to visiting Mount Bachelor. This trip was entirely different. Although we got outside and enjoyed the fresh, Oregon air, this trip will be remembered for long, sustained visits with Chuck and Britta—going through old photo albums which Chuck has arranged meticulously, studying the family tree and learning more about the family history, and gaining a better understanding of Chuck’s career as both a renowned orthopedic surgeon and incredibly successful commercial real estate owner. He was very gracious to oblige the boys, and they were eager to talk with their grandparents, listen, and learn from them.
At the same time, they really got to know Jackson and Cassius, these young adult versions of Jackson and Cassius. Cassius shared his passion for Film, NBA history, basketball, and boxing, and Jackson had the chance to share a bit about his interest in sustainable development and economics as well as his excitement about attending University College London. We also watched Jeopardy each night, played constantly with their fantastic dog Oz, and the boys took Oz on golf cart rides with their grandpa too while Britta showed Karen and I cooking techniques. On the last night, Cassius asked Grandpa Chuck what his favorite movie was and then proceeded to download Casablanca for all of us to watch together. Beyond these lovely interactions, the boys also had the opportunity to share about their lives over the past four years from travel to friends to school, and Chuck took them on a tour of his properties. His real estate portfolio is an incredible life’s work (on top of his distinguished medical career) and it was fun to see how proud and impressed the boys were—as they should be. Pretty special.
Lastly, we enjoyed some great meals together with Chuck and Britta in Bend. Although the rarely eat late in the day, they made an exception for us. This allowed us to eat many of the foods that don’t exist in Spain (or don’t taste the same) including pancakes, American bacon, omelets, onion rings, jalapeño poppers, clam chowder, and more than a burger or two. We even had one meal where everyone at the table ordered a dessert—something Jackson remarked we had never done in all of our years of eating together. But this was a special occasion and these were special treats. Food really does bring people together, and we shared lots of stories and laughs around the table.
However, before taking off, we had a small gift exchange. Chuck and Britta are very generous and expert gift givers. Britta made Karen a scarf and they bought her a beautiful watch and some jewelry. The boys got handsome shirts and I can never have too many caps. The challenge of gift giving was more difficult from our end, but earlier in the trip we discovered something they liked but didn’t have. So Chuck and Britta are now rocking pairs of Bose sunglasses that play music without the people around you realizing that you are listening. Chuck selected some Jazz to listen to first and Britta chose Rod Stewart, so that was pretty cool.
In the end, we extended our trip nearly a week, though we wished we could have stayed longer. In some ways, it felt like we were just settling in, getting into a daily routine, and looking forward to our daily interactions with Chuck and Britta with enthusiasm. As always, they were incredibly gracious and generous hosts–treating us to meals, showering us with gifts, indulging our stories, and sharing so much time with us over our two weeks in Oregon. We can’t thank them enough. Goodbyes are always difficult, and there was never going to be a good time to leave, but we had a truly wonderful visit.
We always hear so much about generation gaps, but so many things in life are universal. No generation would exist, could exist, without the previous one. The challenges may change over time, but every generation has them. The nature of work evolves, but everyone works. And, at some point in our lives, we are all children. We are all someone’s child and, if we are lucky, someone’s parent and one day grandparent. We pass on what we can to those that follow, try and learn from those that came before, preserve the stories that are ours, and perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to eat dessert from time to time…together.