One of the best road trips I ever went on was in May of 2009, with my husband, Greg. We drove to Grand Marais, Minnesota for his 94 year-old grandmother’s funeral — 1,830.01 miles each way — 3 full, 12-hour days on the road from Olympia, Washington, and another three days for the trip back home.
The first night out, we stayed in Bozeman, Montana.
Somehow we left town without our digital camera. My cell phone at that time had no camera, and although we didn’t have a lot of time for sight-seeing, we were going to be seeing a lot of family. Also we planned to stop in the Badlands on the western border between North Dakota and Montana. Greg had never been there, and I wanted him to experience the amazing and dangerous feeling to the landscape in that wonderful, unique place.
So, we stopped for gas at a truck-stop in Spokane and bought a cheap, $20.00 digital camera.
There will be more on how that turned out later.
Of course, the Badlands were created by the Yellowstone Supervolcano, which is likely why they feel so dangerous, but at the time I didn’t know that.
The second night we stayed in Bismark North Dakota. On the third afternoon, we checked into our hotel in Grand Marais, and met up with Greg’s sister, Eileen. We tootled around town, and had a great time. The funeral was scheduled for 1:00 p.m. the next day.
Driving through the deep woods of Minnesota to Grand Marais was really eye-opening. The forests there are mostly birch, which was so different for me, and they are less than half the height of a typical Western Washington evergreen forest. I had only ever seen coastal Douglas fir or inland pine forests up to that point, as I had never been further east than Jamestown, North Dakota.
The snow was mostly melted, and the ice was off the edge of Lake Superior. We ate the free breakfast at the Best Western, and to kill time until the funeral, we hiked around the shore of Lake Superior all morning. It was the second week of May, and there was still snow in the shady places. We had a great time, trying to keep our then twelve-year-old nephew, Sam-the-dare-devil, from falling into Lake Superior and drowning.
After a leisurely lunch at the local diner, we walked up the hill to Bethlehem Lutheran Church where the service was scheduled. The church there is the same as any other Lutheran church I’ve ever been in–from the inside it looks like an upside-down Viking long-ship and the comparison is intentional, a traditional style of architecture in ELCA Lutheran Churches. Even though we are not active church members, the place was an echo of the churches of our childhood. It’s a comforting place with an air of Lutheran prosperity–simple, nice, and not too ornate.
Yes, it was quite comforting—but empty.
Really, really empty.
Apparently the email we Pacific Northwesterners had all received had a teensy, tiny, little typo.
Just one small digit.
The funeral had actually taken place at 10:00 a.m. and we had been told it would be at 1:00.
1:00 or 10:00—not really that large a mistake when you look at it, but we’re talking quantum physics here.
It’s the same with time. One hour more or one less totally changes everything.
Yes, it was upsetting, but also hilarious. How could we be angry with an 85 year old lady who very kindly tried to notify us that Grandmother had passed on? Eva had done her best to let us know, and we should have checked in with the church when we arrived in town the day before. We missed seeing the cousins from South Dakota by two hours–but we now have their phone numbers, just in case they ever want to do a road trip with us. And we did get to see my cousins in Minneapolis on the way home, so all was not lost.
The irony of having driven well over 1800 miles just to accidentally blow-off a loved-one’s funeral was not lost on us. It’s good that sort of thing doesn’t happen in books.
“Wait–where’s the rest of the story? The heroes were supposed to meet the Evil Minion of the Bull God! What do you mean their prophets got the time wrong and they missed him by three hours, so oh, well, sorry…!”
So remember the cheap camera and all the lovely pictures we shot on the way to and from Grand Marais? Remember, it was very reasonably priced for a digital camera, but it didn’t have a viewing window. So we had no idea what our photos looked like.
There were no instructions with the camera, which was apparently one way the kind people in China who manufactured it had kept the costs down. As a result, we had no idea that the capacity for storing images on the cheepo camera was only.20 shots. Nor did we know that anything over that magic number of photos deleted the previous ones.
Subtract one hour, add one molecule, shoot one photo too many–tiny little actions that affect the orbit of the planet.
All we had to show for our trip was 20 wonderful shots of our nephew Paul’s high-school graduation, which we had made it home just in time to attend.
Unfortunately, it was impossible to tell who was in the photos, or what they were actually depicting, so I found this image on the City College of San Francisco website, which I think totally commemorates the experience.
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and is a member of the Edgewise Word Inn staff.