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Portland on my mind

by Bernie Brown


Bernie is from Raleigh, NC. Her debut novel I Never Told You was published in 2019. It recently won an award as a finalist in the First Novel category of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. A collection of her ghost stories will be published by Gravelight Press in 2023. She has published nearly fifty short stories and essays, is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a writer in residence at the Weymouth Center for the Arts, a member of Women's Fiction Writers Association and the Author's Guild. Sewing, reading and British television occupy her when she isn't writing.

I don't relish a coast-to-coast flight from North Carolina to Oregon. But neither do I want to go without seeing my sister-in-law -- one of my favorite people -- to lives in Portland.

Let me back up. Mary, my SIL, had lived in Ames, Iowa, for years and years. My husband and I, both raised in Iowa, make annual visits back to our home state to see family and friends. On these annual visits we used to stay with Mary and her husband Bob, a gracious host and interesting conversationalist.

Several years ago, Bob was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The disease progressed, but slowly, and he continued to enjoy life. Around the same time that Covid became a reality, his condition worsened. Bob lost weight and his Parkinson's limited his mobility. Mary became his sole caretaker. She never complained, but I imagine the isolation imposed by Covid restrictions and the demands of caretaking were crushing at times.

She and Bob decided to move to Portland, Oregon, where Mary's son and family lived. Her other son lives in California, not that far from Oregon. He family could give her moral support and practical help.


I miss Mary's throaty laugh, her intelligent conversation, shopping on Ames' main street together, writing discussions, and dinners at The Cafe with her and Bob. She and I and another friend used to take writing retreats to Emerald Isle. We worked on our novels, gossiped, watched movies, and went out to eat.


When I think of Mary -- which is often -- I think of Portland. Whereas, I only used to think of it occasionally and then, as the place where Mary's son and family lived. I had dismissed it as a rainy place, not much fun, and far, far away. Then I saw a picture of Portland that belied my thinking about the city. The picture showed the sun shining on the Willamette River's blue water, with boats of various sizes docked there. The picture had been taken from a distance, and I came to picture the place from which the picture had been taken as Mary's house, a fact for which I had no proof.

I discovered that Portland is home to formal gardens, historic mansions, and quirky coffee houses with names like The Rocky Frog and Rimsky-Korsakoffee. The city even sponsors a naked bike ride, but I don't think Mary will be taking part in that.

Now I think of Portland with mixed feelings. Bob died of Parkinson's there. Mary's role as caretaker ended, and she started to get to know her new home: where to get her hair styles and where to shop for groceries. She has time to enjoy her grandchildren. But at the same time, she is caught in grief's clutches.

I would like to give her a hug--several hugs--enjoy a glass of wine with her, see her new home, and join her for a cup of coffee at The Rocky Frog.

But first I'd have to face that coast-to-coast flight.        

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