Momma’s Journals

Dear Liza,

Your great-grandma Billie and Great-Grandpa Lowell loved to go camping. They took us kids out to the mountains or desert, or even the seaside, every weekend of our lives until brother Tim went off to the Marines, Jim got work, and I went to college. We slept on the ground in a tent, hauled water from the tap, and used whatever toilet facilities happened to be available.

The freedom to explore or fish or just do nothing, the excitement of making a fire and watching the stars come out, was one of the joys of my childhood.

The joys of camping

As we kids grew up and the folks got older, Momma decided that sleeping on the ground was “for the birds”. They combined their skills and built a trailer from the ground up, so they could keep camping and not sleep on the ground. And when they went away for their first long haul trip, I gave Momma this Journal to write in. “Oh, I won’t have anything to say,” she said, but I nudged her a little, and she did.

An invitation to write

The other day, I got it out. I’ve had it for years, holding on until I “had time” to read it. Well, I figured, I have time now.

Day by day by day

It is the daily record of their trip from July 1st to the end of September, 1985. They drove up the coasts of California and Oregon, even walking out on the beach by Astoria, Oregon, to the wreck of the Peter Iredale.

The wreck of the Peter Iredale

This place is special to me because it is where, just a few years ago, our family got together to place both Momma and Dad’s ashes into a sand castle, to be carried out to sea. That was the end of their journey.

The folks’ last visit

In 1985, however, they continued north to the Olympic Peninsula, across to Glacier National Park, then south through the Rockies and into Colorado, then turning back west to head home. They visited with Dad’s family in Washington and Momma’s in Colorado. They visited every tiny museum and national Monument in their path. They had a really good time.

What strikes me most about their adventure was how ordinary most of it was. They cooked breakfast, went for long walks, did laundry and shopping, wrote letters to grownups and post cards to grandkids. They ate out and played Scrabble and fed the ducks at parks. They rarely stayed up past ten and were usually up and about by six. They were living their normal life…. except when they took a cogwheel train to the top of Pike’s Peak or walked through the millions year old petrified forest.


In reading the Journal, I can hear Momma’s voice telling about her day. She is calm and accurate, and doesn’t get irritated (she doesn’t write about it, anyway) or frightened or worried. Her most emotional writing is saved for seeing her dear sister Hazel and describing a stunning hailstorm that caught them out on a walk.

It has been a nostalgic few days, traveling with Momma on her first long road trip. I will read some of her later Journals, and let you know if I find anything interesting.


Grandma Judy

Camping with Our Dads

Dear Liza,

Your Daddy David told me that you and your classmates got to go camping last week. I spent almost every weekend of my childhood camping, so I know how fun it is!

Two year old me, on top of the world!

Your great Grandpa Lowell, my dad, was a great camper. He loved and respected the forest and desert and made sure we were responsible with our trash and our campfires. He always found just the right balance between “just like home” and “roughing it”.

Ten year old me, hydraulic engineer, and Grandma Billie

My favorite thing was playing in whatever water was around. I would make bath tubs for my troll doll, Tina, or soaking tubs for me.

Dinner, caught by Grandpa Lowell and Uncle Tim

When I graduated from High School, my mom’s gift to me was a really good typewriter. My dad’s gift was a ten-day backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park with him, Uncle Tim, and Grandpa Nelson.

Me, Grandpa Nelson, and Uncle Tim, 1974

What an adventure! Grandpa did all the planning, mapping us out a route that was easy hiking with good scenery, near Jerky Meadow. He made sure we all carried enough supplies but not too much weight. We took off two days after my graduation.

We started very early one morning and by that afternoon we had been passed by several badly organized groups of loud, littering hikers. They rambled through the forest with their radios blasting music, yelling and dropping gum wrappers.

“Are we gonna be stuck with them for the whole trip?” Grandpa Lowell wondered out loud.

Just chillin’…

That evening, while we were relaxing, Uncle Tim took off for a walk. He came back in about an hour. “I found our spot,” he said. We put our packs back on and followed him, cross country, for about two miles.

“This is more like it!” Dad said. We were off the trail far enough that we didn’t hear anyone else. We had a whole bend in the river to ourselves, with a sandy bank to spread out on and tall rocks to climb. It was the perfect gift for me, a ready to move out high school graduate who needed one more chunk of childhood before launching into the real world.

And while finding these pictures, I found another: Your Daddy David and Grandpa Nelson, on a hike to celebrate David’s Bar Mitzvah.

Your Daddy David and Grandpa Nelson, 1993


Grandma Judy