The first trailer in my life wasn’t the traveling kind—at least, it never meant to travel. Grandma’s single-wide guest trailer stayed tucked beneath the same sprawling Oak on North Carolina’s Intracoastal Waterway for decades, till Hurricane Fran blew it straight up Easy Street, along with the Oak itself.
My parents drove two hours from my native Raleigh to pick up the pieces. I was exempt from cleanup duty, having begun college across the state. I’d started to claim distance from my hometown—and knew in my heart I’d soon claim more.
Meanwhile, my parents sent news, and it wasn’t good. Gone was the garden from which we pulled veggies to complement Grandpa’s catch of the day. Gone were the pines and bamboo fronds secluding our Eden from passing boats. Amid that foliage, my brother and I hid from thunderous debates in the house above. We riddled tin cans with air rifle shot. We romped and played. Now, every trunk of every tree had been mercilessly uprooted.
Uprooted: Nothing would survive now, not without a good struggle.
Before Fran came along, we could clearly spot the place on Easy Street—from across the neighborhood or from across the water. Grandpa had marked his property with an eight-foot-long, fluorescent orange missile he’d found floating in the bay. He planted the thing in the ground like garden statuary, framing it with scallop shells and a “No Trespassing” sign. We could only assume the missile had been defused. Barefoot in the crabgrass, we’d walk extra carefully near the missile, imagining its bright casing exploding across the water like one of Grandpa’s illegal firecrackers.
Now the missile was gone, too. Nothing was precious to Fran.
The trailer’s innards had plain washed away. Its living room had held stacks of National Enquirer magazines, which had kept me enthralled on summer days. In the kitchen sat a brown refrigerator that I revered—a family friend had won it himself on “The Price is Right”. The prize fridge was always filled with Pepsi, while counters stayed stocked with other treats: Wonder Bread, Froot Loops and Oreos. At night, I lay on a thin mattress beneath a plaque of a wide-mouthed bass, trying not to think about the likelihood of cockroaches.
The bugs surely survived the storm. Not much else made it, though. The scuppernong vine grew strong, a fact that seemed as bittersweet as the fruit itself. Grandpa’s hardy motorboat was recovered several blocks away. And from the detritus, my parents pulled an exquisite conch. These days, the shell decorates my own trailer home in Sonoma, California.
Just before I moved to California—on the eve of my 25th birthday—I came to Easy Street to spend my final nights in my home state. I pulled my Subaru onto the lot and stepped out, disoriented by the missing trailer. I climbed the stairway of the main house, a yellow cinder block affair perched on stilts above the bay. This was where Grandma and Grandpa had slept while we visitors roosted in the trailer. Thanks to its height, the house had been spared the waves that washed away the rest of the neighborhood. It now reeked of mold. The deck was missing, so I looked out the battered, salt-sprayed sliding glass doors and looked to the horizon.
Even after Grandpa passed away and the house sat empty, this deck is where my own father would come to “sit on the dock of the bay”. To this day, he refers to his peace-finding efforts that way, wherever where he is. Sometimes he’s taking a walk in the local municipal park, or sitting on the deck of my childhood home, or napping in his recliner. No matter–he just wants to “sit on the dock of the bay”. My father’s quest for stillness is ongoing and sacred. After years in motion, I have adopted it as my own.
Boarding the plane to San Francisco, I fancied myself something of a family pioneer. No one ever leaves this place, I thought. I’d figured out how to do it all by myself. But I was giving myself too much credit. I was overlooking the pioneer in Grandpa, who’d left home as a teenager to ride the rails. Hopping train cars during the Depression, he’d seen most of the country. I hoped I was making him proud.
The original “bay”–the one in the popular song—is, of course, the San Francisco Bay. Otis Redding wrote the lyrics in 1967 while staying on a Sausalito houseboat. He had just recorded it when he tragically died in a plane crash.
I left my home in Georgia
Headed for the Frisco Bay …
When I’d gotten settled in San Francisco, my father came for a solo visit. He walked all over the city. He called me from North Beach to let me know he’d found a cigar at a fine tobacco shop. Later that day, he called me from the waterfront to let me know that he’d lit the cigar and was, at long last, sitting on the actual dock of the bay.
After 15 years of living in California—now nesting from time to time in a 35-foot trailer amid vineyards bathed in bayside fog–I’ve circled that sweet spot continually. My own trailer, unlike the one back in Carolina, does travel, and has taken me on one heckuva journey. Yet have I really found my father’s “dock of the bay”? Or did those blustery skies I once escaped actually follow me?
Peace is elusive. Calm hits like a glimmer on dappled waters. Then it disappears again. I try to pay attention, so I don’t miss it.
Two thousand miles, I roam
Just to make this dock my home.
Maybe I’ll find that sweet spot yet. Maybe I’m finding it every day.