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The end of the line for the California Zephyr: Emeryville
The California Zephyr pulled into the Amtrak station in Emeryville, California, right on time at 6:30 PM on July 5th. Even before we disembarked from the train, Gail happened to peek out of the window as she was gathering our luggage. "He's here!" she shouted. "Keegan's here!" Russell became nothing more than an obstacle in her way, as she flew down the narrow corridor with her bags in order to get out to the platform and our grandson.
One year ago, Russell's sister Joanne, our daughter Dawn, and her husband David had been the small party that bid us "bon voyage" at San Francisco airport. Now, the exact same group welcomed us home across the bay in Emeryville, one year later. The only difference was that our grandson Keegan was on the outside of his mother instead of on the inside. There were hugs and kisses all around. Dawn was amazed to see that 11-year-old Cameron was now only an inch shorter than his 26-year-old sister ("He wasn't that tall in Italy," she insisted).
The welcoming committee: our daughter Dawn, son-in-law David, and grandson Keegan
Russell's sister Joanne
(Keegan has also grown. Four months ago in Italy, he was in the 5th percentile of his age group. Now, at 10 months old, he's in the 95th percentile.)
We gathered the rest of our luggage from a baggage claim that looked like a large flatbed, then walked to the parking lot. "Our van!" said Cameron, who noticed it first. With Russell behind the wheel, we sped down the familiar Highway 880 into the South Bay, then across Highway 280 to Cupertino and our home. Russell thought he was driving fast, so he was amazed when we discovered that David had beat us to the house.
Turning the last corner before our house came into view was one of the biggest "butterfly-in-the-stomach" feelings we've had in the entire year. Gail had spent months renovating both the front and back yards before we left, and we didn't know what we would see. We needn't have worried. Turning the last corner, we saw our familiar homestead surrounded by lush and healthy green plants and trees.
Even more, the house itself was covered with American flags, balloons, and banners proclaiming "Welcome Home!" Gail's two sisters, Russell's sister, and Dawn and David had spent the last two days decorating the house. Everyone had helped, including our nephew and some of Joanne's friends. Joanne had even tied a yellow ribbon around the tree in front.
Our second car, a Toyota Prius that we had lent to Gail's sister, was sitting faithfully in the driveway. Joanne unlocked the front door (we didn't have our own key), and we were home again. The friends of ours who had been living here had just vacated it the weekend before, but everything inside was clean and spotless. We have never seen our house look so good, mainly because it was not decorated with our usual endless clutter. The aura lasted for only a few precious minutes before we dumped all of our things into the entryway, spilling them over into the living room.
Cameron and Joss, full of energy, yelled "We have all the space we want! We have all the space we want!" as they ran from room to room. Joss immediately sat down and started playing the piano, while Cameron preferred to play with Keegan.
Joanne, who had managed our affairs for the last year, had prepared for our arrival with her usual perfection by stocking the kitchen with some well-needed groceries and supplies. We ordered take-out pizza for dinner, and even then we had to remember where to find the plates and cups that we had packed up. Even so, we had to resort to delve into our suitcases to find soap and towels; we had no clue where the real stuff was.
Our extended family had done everything they could to make our re-entry painless. They had aired out the rooms. Cameron's and Joss' mattresses had been unpacked and laid out on the floor of their old bedroom; Russell and Gail's bed had been similarly uncovered. (On the other hand, they couldn't find any sheets. We couldn't either, and had to end up using some of the sheets that we had used to cover our stored furniture.) Poor David, while bringing down some of our appliances earlier in the day, had slipped and hurt his back, so he was having a rather painful evening.
Our advice to anyone who attempts an adventure of their own: don't forget about your re-entry. With three rooms packed floor-to-ceiling with boxes of stuff, we had difficulty finding anything at all that first night. In a stroke of luck, Russell stumbled upon a box marked "Close house," in which he had packed all last-minute necessities including the telephone. (Our family had also laughed at a box marked "Last minute no's," into which we had frantically dumped all of the things that we had wanted to bring but couldn't fit a year ago.)
Despite a lack of furniture, Gail catches up on phone calls
After a wonderful evening of eating pizza and catching up on old times, our extended family departed and it was down to the four of us again. As we walked through the house, we saw -- in addition to everything we had packed a year ago -- the dozens of boxes that we had shipped home (running a gamut of postmarks from New Zealand to Australia to China to just about every country in Europe), as well as a year's worth of mail. We have a lot of work ahead of us. But tonight, we get to sleep in our own beds.
Joss with his final menagerie of 17 stuffed animals
11-year-old Cameron now matches the height of his 26-year-old sister
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