Grandma Lana drove us to the airport that gloomy, rainy Friday night with the windows of the car rolled shut. It was thirty-three degrees here in Salt Lake City, Utah. Extensive amounts of snow blanketed the ground while chilly gusts of winds blew past, making the tall, thick, pine trees sway gently back and forth with the sky a depressing charcoaled hue with thick, prodigious bands of grey-black clouds rolling across it with a thin, wispy fog lingering in the air, as if frozen there. I was dressed for the weather- furry, knee-high boots, a thick turtleneck, a scarf, and gloves. My carry-on item? Grandma Lana's big, bulky snow jacket.
Buried deep in the Olympic Western-most Peninsula and the Cascades of Washington State, a small town named Chagrin Heights resided within its boundaries. The town was made up of one thousand four-hundred people with a mixture of farmlands, mountains, islands, and the big cities not too far away. It was in this town, this gloomy, forgotten town that Dad met and remarried my new stepmother, Kirsten, and then transferred a few months later as a doctor there. It was in this town where I learned how to ride a two-wheeler and tell time on my Great-Great Grandfather's pocket watch. It was in this town where I grew up and attended school until I turned six and moved away with Dad to Utah where my Grandparents live. Shortly after Mom died in a car wreck.
It was Chagrin Heights where my dreaded sentence began- an action that didn't take my Dad long to ponder over. 'It'll be a good chance for you to get to know the place where you were born and you'll like living with Kirsten and Duke" he once said. I highly doubted that. In the few times Kirsten and I had actually tried to have some 'girl time' together, I'd never felt so uncomfortable and awkward in my life. Almost like having lunch with one of your school teachers. It just didn't sit right with me. I had resisted the urge to gag at the mention of my egotistical, half-brained, surfer boy stepbrother's heinous name.
I rolled my eyes at the memory and leaned my forehead against the cool, foggy window. I hadn't been to see Chagrin Heights in almost nine years- why would I want to spend the rest of my adolescent life in a gloomy, semi-abandoned town when I could graduate from high school with people that love and care about me? Why not with people that I knew?
"Ooooh," Grandma Lana began and reached over for the handkerchief she kept in the pocket of her coat. She sniffled once and then took one hand off the steering wheel to dab at her eyes.
Here we go again with the tears.
Dad reached over from the passenger's seat and patted her shoulder. "It'll be okay, Ma," he said and pulled his hand back. Grandma Lana nodded and patted a lock of her snow white hair back into its place behind her right ear. She sniffled again and dabbed at her eyes.
"Do you have to leave? I mean, of all the places-"
"Ma," Dad said sternly. Grandma Lana slowed down at a red light and held his gaze. They stayed like that- staring at each other intently, unblinkingly for a brief moment before Grandma Lana blinked back her tears and turned her eyes back to the road. Dad sighed and shifted his stare out the window at the scenery rushing past us in a multicolored blur of white, grays, and browns.
"I can't believe you're doing this," Grandma Lana muttered and accelerated. "If Harry were still around, he'd feel just the same way." Harry was my Grandfather who past away two years ago due to heart and kidney failure. Grandma took it pretty hard- we were all down in Florida for Thanksgiving at Aunt Marie's house waiting for him to arrive when we got the call for Doctor Colander, Grandpa Harry's doctor. Dad frowned. "You don't know that."
Grandma Lana scowled. "Oh yes I do, Drake- or my name isn't Lana Lorelei Gibbons Daniels!" She stepped harder on the gas petal and accelerated. Honestly, I didn't know what the big deal was. Why was it so wrong of Dad to take a job as a Doctor in another state and live with his new wife and…son? I sighed. Grandma Lana could be so dramatic sometimes. Dad rolled his eyes at her.
"Ma, I'm a grown man- I'm perfectly capable of making decisions for myself and my daughter. Don't-"
"It's not that!" Grandma Lana argued and shot Dad a death glare. "It's the fact that you're going back to that manipulative, demanding, she-devil of a-"
"Mom!" Dad shouted and Grandma Lana went quiet.
My eyebrows shot up in surprise. She? Who's the heck is she? And why was Grandma Lana so worked up over her? Was she talking about Kirsten?
"Who are you talking about?" I asked before I could stop myself. I knew better then in intervene in an adult discussion. I bit my lip and retreated further into my seat, knowing how Dad was going to react. Instead, he sighed and shook his head.
"It's nothing, honey," he said and shot me a weary smile. Grandma Lana's jaw twitched and her hands grip the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles turned white. Apparently, it wasn't a 'nothing' to my grandmother.
"You heard your Father," Grandma Lana interjected sternly. For a brief moment, our eyes met in her rearview mirror. Her wide, round, sky blue, and my deep-set, light brown ones. I sighed and retreated into the backseat of Grandma Lana's baby blue minivan again and wished that she would just pull over and kick me out. Dad sighed and turned to look at Grandma.
"I'm not talking to you," she growled and jerked the wheel to the right, jolting Dad and me along with it.
Her lips twitched in satisfaction, but only for a minute. Dad rolled his eyes and turned to look out the window at the wonderland of snow unfolding before our eyes. I leaned my head back against the seat and closed me eyes. The car rocked underneath me in a soothing, almost relaxing motion. Cars could be heard zooming past us every now and then, accompanied by muffled horns blasting through the sill, crisp air and angry warnings shouted from irritated drivers trying to get to their destinations. Despite my evolving case of car sickness, I felt relaxed- not nervous or anxious like I normally would be when we have to travel. I wasn't a big fan of planes: I didn't like being so high up in the air with the only way of escape in case of an emergency would be nowhere at all- unless you were up for skydiving- which I wasn't a big fan of either. The only possible way I'd feel at ease while traveling would be by car. No heights, no parachutes, no emergency oxygen masks. Just the good old petal to the metal.
"We're here," Grandma Lana announced sharply and pulled over to the right.
The airport was a large, rectangular glass building the size of a Wal-Mart super center with three floors and the broadest crowd of people I'd ever seen. I gawked at them- zipping in and out through the tall, glass double doors lugging luggage of various colors and sizes along with them. Women in thick coats and boots held on to whimpering, snot-dripping children while men uploaded the luggage from the backseat of their cars. The snow was falling still, but the chilly winds had vanished, which was a relief for me.
Grandma Lana cut the ignition then pushed her door open and stepped out of the car. Dad and I mimicked her movement and left the comforting warmth of the car for the numbing cold outside. I shivered and slid into my snow jacket. Grandma Lana let out a soft sob and dabbed at her eyes- the last of a hundred times- before we were to depart to board our flights.
"Ooooooh," she cried and pulled me into a crushing, air-depriving hug. I hugged her back just as tightly and buried my face in her shoulder.
Goodbye, beloved Utah. I loved Utah. I loved the incredibly friendly people and trolling around the neighborhood with friends and family singing Christmas carols. I was going to miss building snowmen with Dad and having our annual December snowball fight with Grandma Lana and the rest of the family. I took a step back and smiled at my sniffling Grandmother.
"You be good, Leila Lynn Daniels," Grandma Lana said with a small smile. I nodded and hugged her again. "I will be- see you, um, when I'll see you," I said and Grandma Lana laughed.
"Christmas dear," she replied and kissed my forehead. I nodded and kissed her cheek.
"And you," Grandma said, wagging a thin, skeletal finger in front of Dad's face. He raised an eyebrow at her, as if to say "you're talking to me now?" I swallowed hard and mentally prayed that she wasn't going to make a scene. Instead, she pulled him into a tight bear hug.
"Take care of my granddaughter," she warned playfully. Dad smiled and kissed her forehead.
"Yes, ma'am," he said with a hearty laugh. Grandma and I joined him and then we had our last group hug- until Christmas, that is. After we all broke apart, Dad and I grabbed our things and headed toward the airport.
Grandma Lana waved and called out to us, "You can come home whenever you like- I'll be here waiting! Just give a call!"
And then we were on the plane to Washington and she was gone.