by Max Ehrenfreund
When my grandma bought the condo, Lincoln City wasn’t a casino town. Like other little towns on the Oregon coast, it was just a Safeway, a McDonald’s and a strip of sodden storefronts along U.S. 101. The condos were at the north end of town in the woods, a short walk from the beach at a state park called Road’s End. Number 47 was a second-floor unit. I slept on the floor of the living room and woke to the creaking of the baseboard radiators. There were only a few yards of mossy lawn between the condos and the woods, and some mornings a doe and two or three fawns tiptoed across them.
I didn’t like going to the beach with my family. At home I was usually on the computer. But in Lincoln City, I could only daydream of the extraterrestrial campaigns I’d lead from the cockpit of a humanoid war machine 11 meters tall. Bored, I tried to read the tide charts my grandma kept in the basket on the kitchen island among agate pebbles and limpets. I ran my finger along the edges of the knobby, uncomfortable Mission-style furniture, invented mazes in the geometric designs of the Indian bedspread and counted the grains in the sand painting above the coffee machine. I poked through the games in the octagonal cabinet under the living room window. Whenever I opened one of the cabinet doors, I smelled pine resin and salty, wet sand.
There aren’t many cloudless evenings at Road’s End. When the weather is especially bad, beachgoers splash through rainwater on the sand or feel the quartz grains whipped up by the wind stinging their shins. All the same, my family and I spent most of our days down on the beach. ‘Layers,’ my mom would say, and before leaving the car we would put on fleeces and vests and windbreakers. My brother and I would kick around a soccer ball or jump over incoming breakers in shallow water until our ankle bones ached from the cold. My mom and my dad walked along the beach, my mom filling her pockets with beach rocks until her pockets were full, then giving more to my dad to carry back to the car. She would explain that each rock called out to her from the sand in its own way, or something like that. Yet her obsession seemed absurd to the rest of us, since the rocks were all one shade of grey and identically smooth.
Once, I brought a discovery of my own from the beach back to the condo. In the old days, the fishermen along the coast used spherical glass floats to buoy their nets. Lincoln City commissioned several glassblowing studios to produce a few hundred ornamental floats to celebrate the new millennium, and volunteers hid them up and down the beach. Months later, I found one tucked in the roots of a tree that had washed ashore. The float swirled with color, like a planet.
After the casino was built, my grandparents would go for breakfast at the buffet there on rainy mornings—but they rarely gambled. I’d like to imagine that my grandma ordered a mimosa. If it was springtime, they’d then drive down 101 to Spanish Head, a bluff that jutted into the Pacific, and watch for the silent splash and spume of a distant whale. If the weather cleared after dinner, they’d watch the sun sink into the ocean at Road’s End. And after my grandma became ill with bone cancer, when she could no longer walk the steep, muddy path to the beach from the parking lot, she and my grandpa would sit in the car with two glasses of cheap red wine instead.
Lincoln City started to sprawl out from the casino. Developers cleared the vacant land between 101 and the condo and built about 30 one-story vacation homes with garages. Their front walls had false stone façades on the bottom half and yellow or cream vinyl sidings on top. Even brand-new, they looked ugly and sad.
The Grand Ronde, who own the casino, are now building a shopping complex and a golf course in a development that will loop around where the condos stand in the way of the town’s northward expansion. Several acres of forest behind the condos were already clear-cut and the ground leveled to prepare for construction when my mom, my brother and I walked up a logging road to the check out the site. It was surreal to step out of a leafy alder forest into sudden sunlight and soft earth that took footprints an inch deep. We were trespassing—the only time my mom has condoned or shared in her sons’ lawbreaking. She went to the city to get plans for the Indian development, trying to figure out how far into the woods the condo association’s land extended. We walked out under the firs, looking for spray-painted bark or fluorescent plastic flags planted in the ground, anything that might mark the property line.
When my grandma passed away and left my mom and my aunt joint ownership of the condo, my mom refused to sell it, buying out my aunt’s share for around $80,000. Had the condo been his, my grandpa might have sold it. Soon after my grandma’s death, my mom told him he was welcome to stay there whenever he wished. ‘I can’t, sweetie,’ he answered. ‘That place is just too full of memories.’ Her straw hats in the closet, her handwritten instructions on the refrigerator for turning on the water heater. The score from a rubber she played several years ago, the winning couple’s total neatly circled.
We didn’t talk about my grandma’s death much. I never heard anyone in my family cry when my grandma was dying, except for my brother. He was much closer to my grandma than I was. I was probably playing a computer game when I heard a howl in the next room. It lasted for less than a second, and at first I did not think it was someone’s voice. I ran to see what had happened and saw my brother and my mother embracing by the front door. It took me a moment to remember that my family was grieving.
Recently, my grandpa has driven down to stay in Lincoln City a few times. When my family goes back to the condo now, I stay in the smaller bedroom, where the float I found sits in a blue dish on top of the dresser. At night, after a day at Road’s End, I still hear the surf in my ears, and its roar lulls me to sleep.