Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Greatest Day of My Childhood

We did what we could. I have a lot of great memories from my childhood. One thing that we didn't have was vacations.

Because everyday life was enough, fishing trips and church camps were about all we had. It was good and I'm grateful for that, but a couple of times a year, one of my friends would return to my small hometown of McMinnville, Oregon, from a faraway place and tell stories. I'd only crossed the Columbia River one time to go to Fort Vancouver, bringing my "states visited" list to a total of 2, including the one I lived in.

Except that one time. One time in 1990, our family took a trip to California to meet my grandpa--who I believe lived in Houston at the time--at my aunt's house in Stockton. We drove all night the Thursday before Memorial Day to make it happen. Yep, the biggest vacation I took as a kid was to Stockton, California.

That's not the whole truth because the trip wasn't exactly just to Stockton, but to Northern California. Stockton was just the starting point. That Saturday, Grandpa, my brother, Mom, Aunt Liz, Aunt Theresa and I went to Marine World/Africa USA in Vallejo, California, north of Oakland.

It was a real-life theme park, just like the ones that my friends talked about when they came back from their summer adventures. Sure, it was a knock-off Sea World, but there were dolphins and elephant rides and water ski stunts and a butterfly pavilion.

The little kid brain in my head was blown.  It was the greatest day of my childhood.

Aunt Liz, Mike, Grandpa, Aunt Theresa with Mom and I hanging on the fins.

Also, it was the most fun I ever had with Grandpa. We all were having fun being together and probably having the adults spending money they had no business spending. Our family probably struggled to smile, especially during that time, but that day was different. 

I didn't know that four years later, Grandpa would give me the first job I ever had at his auto repair shop downtown McMinnville, Oregon. Cleaning grease traps and sweeping floors bought my school clothes my freshman and sophomore years, but the lesson it taught me about what it meant to show up every day ready to sweat was even more important.

Ray Mullen wasn't pulling any punches. Grandpa didn't even care that I got my middle name from him. If I wasn't getting the job done, he'd tell me it was wrong and show me how to do it right. And I did, because it wasn't Marine World: it was the real world.

And that was the world Grandpa lived in just about every day of his life, except that one day. The greatest day of my childhood. I could tell Grandpa stories until you stopped reading, but that one day is the one I remember most.

I'll miss you my dear, grumpy Grandpa Raymond Mullen: 1931-2022.

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