The Chevy and Me, A Hero’s Journey: Death, Rebirth, and Honoring the Ancestors

(For the first chapter of this journey, read “History and the Call to Adventure.” For the second chapter, see “Crossing the Threshold and Riding with Jesus.” For the third chapter, see “The Land of Adventure and an Introduction to Totems.”)

The original plan had been to do the final 12-hour haul from my brother’s house in Orange County up to home on the other side of the state in one brutal driving day. However, after waking up in SoCal and then lunching with my brother, we began to feel a strong pull from who would be our next mentor; we were pulled towards a genre of spirituality in which we had not yet dabbled. An overwhelming desire to honor the ancestors overtook us, and we decided to make a late night pull up half of the state to the place where my dad had grown up in the Berkeley Hills, and a place where I had made many trips while growing up to visit my grandmother. That night, we blasted up Interstate 5 and grabbed a hotel near Telegraph Avenue in soul-soaked Berkeley, California. We dined on specialty franks from the historic Top Dog, and fell asleep with plans to spend the morning honoring the past and our ancestors. We would be waking to the end of this journey, and to the beginning of the next. It was only right to remember what had come before.

When we headed out of the hotel in the morning, it was pouring rain, but in true Northern California style, a little rain wasn’t going to stop the nearby farmers market and craft fair from happening. We ran through it in search of a breakfast place that was the perfect combination of mellow and groovy. We found it, and got our earth omelets and fair trade coffee on.

Later, we would be visiting the gravesite of my grandmother, Shirley, who passed away with dementia when I was in junior high. I had never been, and was eager to finally make the pilgrimage. We instinctively recognized the need to find a totem to bring to her, and decided a small cross would be appropriate. We stopped in one of the handful of head shops on Telegraph Avenue to search. It was a place that primarily sold marijuana paraphernalia, questionable sexual products, and a variety of figurines and posters to trip out on while perhaps exploring one or both of the previous two products. It was the perfect place to find a cross for grandma—a woman who kept her living room so clean that we were not allowed to even step foot in it; a woman who used to exclaim, “Oh, pardon my French,” each of the possibly three times I ever heard her use the word “damn.” In the way that many events on this trip had happened thus far, our walking into this shop was just meant to be. We found the perfect two-inch, wooden cross to leave our blessings with and then place on her grave.

crossAnd, what better place to fill the cross with blessings than at the Berkeley home where she had lived for many years? It was our next stop. I hadn’t been back there in over ten years, but have always carried fond memories with me of both the house and of my grandmother. I remember being a little girl, standing out on her balcony that claimed a gorgeous view of San Francisco. I’d look at the big city lights and wonder if I’d ever make it to a place like that someday. Just seeing the house as we pulled up was an experience. Everything looked so much smaller than I remembered, but then again, I realized that I was now also much bigger. We looked at the house for a brief time while sitting parked outside before quickly deciding, “Eh, what the hell—let’s go knock.”

The current residents welcomed us into their home with open arms. Things looked different, but they also looked the same. I could see my memories running through the halls, dining in the breakfast nook, and sneaking down the creaky stairs to the basement. Throughout the tour, I held onto grandma’s totem, letting it fill with the warmth of family in her old home. She would’ve liked to know that this life existed there.

Upon leaving, my dad took me on a little driving tour of the neighborhood, sharing stories as we passed Bishop family landmarks. We paid our respects to the history, and then continued on to honor our ancestors.

It was pouring rain as we stood looking down at Grandma Shirley’s headstone. I thought about history and of family and of opportunity and the ever-progressing generations of dreamers. And then my dad and I riffed about the afterlife being a parallel universe where we just couldn’t see that this entire cemetery was actually having a totally rockin’ party as we stood there. I was happy to think that grandma was finally getting to cut loose.

And then it was back in the car. Back on the road. It was the final leg of the journey. The Chevy would be resting that night in the driveway that had started it all.

~to be continued~

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