I’ll never forget that stormy day in Newport, Oregon back in 1986 when my kids were small. Little Megan wasn’t even born yet. Stevie was six, Melissa four and Jeremy was my wild little three-year-old. Melissa and my mom had this special connection that was hard to explain. When we returned to the United States from Germany less than a year earlier, Melissa was three years old and she immediately recognized her Grandma. She hadn’t seen her since she was a baby and I hadn’t even seen my mother in at least three years.
Mom drove the car to Nye Beach just as she always did no matter where we went whenever she gave us a ride, which wasn’t often because she worked. Most of the time, I walked all over town with the kids because I had no car or phone back then. You can’t do much when you’re on welfare.
I was grateful I wasn’t walking with the kids on this particular a day as the wind blew the rain almost sideways and I could see the waves of the ocean crashing against the wall, or at least I could see the tops of them. It was one of those crazy Oregon coast winter storms that my mother loved to watch. I loved them too, if my kids and I were safe and warm.
Nothing could prepare me for what happened next. As the kids and I sat in her small gold car watching the storm, Mom opened her car door and jumped out of the car. The wind blew her long hair all around as she attempted to light a cigarette. I had put my foot down about her smoking in the car when I had the kids. And for good reason. I’m not even sure if she got the cigarette lit. The kids and I watched Mom as she sauntered towards the railing over the wall like it was no big deal the waves were so high we could see the tops of them and the sky a threatening dark gray, with the clouds moving so fast.
Then she wandered back, opened the back door of the car where my kids were and snatched up my daughter Melissa. She wore her winter jacket and she had a hood, but still. This storm was insane. I rolled down my window and yelled into the wind.
“Mom, what are you doing? Bring Melissa back!” Fear overtook me as I pictured her blowing away with the wind or falling over that railing into the ocean.
Mom laughed into the wind and said, “I’ve got her! Don’t worry!”
I could barely hear her. Melissa looked content and I could barely see a huge smile spread across her face as she clung to her Grandma.
“Mom, is Melissa gonna be okay? I’m scared,” Stevie said.
“I think so… ?”
I had no idea. Who was this crazy woman who was supposed to be my mother? I thought about running after them, but that would have made things worse and scared my boys. I just had to trust that Melissa was okay with Mom as I watched them by the railing overlooking Nye Beach which was usually filled with sand before hitting the ocean. But sometimes in the wintertime the ocean made its way all the way to that wall.
My hand gripped the door handle so hard my fingers ached as I worried. I don’t ask for much, I thought, but please God or whoever you are, watch over my daughter and my mom. I’m scared too.
Finally, Mom made her way back through the storm holding Melissa tightly. They were both laughing as if they’d had the times of their lives. Mom opened the back door and placed Melissa inside while the boys and I watched. Melissa was soaking wet but happy. She would not stop smiling. My mother was too. She slipped into the front seat, her long hair dripping now.
“Mom, you scared me half to death…”
“Don’t you remember when we’d go to the beach in San Francisco when it stormed and how much you loved it? You wanted to run on the beach during the storm, but I had to stop you.”
I shook my head. “Um, no, I don’t remember.”
We sat in the car for just a little while longer before Mom drove us home.
Later on, much later, I remembered. And I smiled.