Remember Lewis and Clark? They are those two brave guys that ventured into the unknown territory of the Louisiana Purchase way back in 1804. Once the Pacific Northwest began to form towns and states, two little cities took shape on the either side of the Snake River, which is the border between eastern Washington and western Idaho. These two little towns are called — get this — Lewiston and Clarkston. Most of my relatives live in and around these small towns, so in the middle of summer 2007, my family boarded a plane near our home in Knoxville, Tennessee, and headed to the Pacific Northwest.
After three airports, two delays, and ten hours of flight, we arrived in Lewiston, Idaho. I will never forget the feeling I had as I stepped off the small plane into the late-night air. It was not the swelteringly humid Southern air I am used to, but more of a cool, empty breeze. The change, however, felt natural. The environment of the Snake River valley is completely different from my home in Knoxville. In the South, everything is lush and green, with rivers and ponds galore. Where I was going, on the other hand, is every shade of brown imaginable: taupe tumbleweed, fallow mountains, and copper shrubs. The golden wheat fields cover rolling mountains and stretch for miles, waving gently as you drive by. The Snake River winds furtively through all of it, like the reptile itself winding through a massive field.
Although my surroundings were completely different, I felt right at home. I was born in Washington, and the rest of my family was either born there or in Idaho. Because of my dad’s job, we have moved from Washington, to Idaho, to Massachusetts, to Tennessee, back to Washington, followed by Utah, and finally back to Tennessee. Even though I consider Tennessee my home, I have always felt a connection with Washington and Idaho. We go back to visit every couple years, and every time we go, I feel like I learn a little more about myself.
This trip was about a lot more than visiting long-lost relatives. It was about my family as a unit. It was about my roots and my history. When I was in elementary school, Sharon Creech wrote a novel called “Walk Two Moons.” It won the Newbery Medal in 1995, and it was about a young woman who travels to Lewiston, Idaho in search of answers about her mother’s disappearance. She learns that her mother died in a bus accident there, and by traveling to Lewiston, where her mother is buried, she comes to terms with the loss. Much like that young woman, my family trip to Lewiston (and Clarkson) helped me develop a sense of self-identity. I have spent most of my life in Knoxville, and I might even consider myself a “Southerner.” But no matter how I look at it, my roots will always lie in the towns along the Snake River, where my ancestors lived and still live today.
As we boarded the plane to go back to Knoxville, I felt like I was leaving a part of myself behind. It had been a long, weary trip — a week spent crammed into a hotel room with my family, rotated nights spent sleeping on the floor, issues with the rental car, you name it — but I was disappointed to go. No matter where I go, my roots will always be there. I will probably end up making many trips back to Lewiston and Clarkson, because each trip changes how I look at that area and how I look at my family. No, it was not a tropical beach vacation, nor was it a trip to Disney World. It was an excursion to an all-American classic small town, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. My friends may have dubbed it as a “lame” vacation, but I smile and know otherwise. I know deep down that it was something my family and I needed to do. Once we got back to our home in Knoxville, my father sent an email to our relatives to let them know that we had made it home safely. His email was concise, but his last sentence surprised me. It was the perfect summary of our trip. With an unwonted show of emotion, he wrote, “Sometimes in life, you realize that it is the memories your children have of what you did as a family that really matters.”
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