Some words just go together. "Ice" and "cream." "Peace" and "quiet." But especially "road" and "trip." Last weekend brought an abbreviated escape from the unusually muggy heat of Phoenix and I headed up the mountain for home. The drive to Prescott wasn't spontaneous, since grown up summer schedules don't often allow for unscheduled weekend hours often enough - but the journey brought the kind of glee normally reserved for spur-of-the-moment flights from responsibility.
As I've written before, there's nothing quite like playing tourist in the town where you spent the first twenty-one years of your life. The last time I visited, the town had pulled together to rebuild after a fire burned some of the cherished historic buildings downtown; this time, another fire had caused a much deeper wound. Nineteen fire fighters' shocking deaths had united not only Prescott residents but many around the world. Everywhere I looked there were messages of love and support, from the row of 19 candles from the San Francisco Fire Department in the hotel lobby to the t-shirts from other states left at the pop-up memorial outside the fire house. Over the last months many reporters thought they'd grasped the core of what life in Prescott was like (news flash: they didn't) but they did get one thing right - this town knows how to be emotionally supportive.
Even after heartbreak life in Prescott goes on, but it doesn't necessarily reflect reality. The streets of the courthouse square, the center of town where the tipsy, tourists, teens and toddlers gather to enjoy a nice day, were filled with ruffled dresses and Wild West attire. I had unknowingly arrived just in time for the shootout downtown. Lovely. I'm proud to say that while I'll never adjust to reports of shootings in the big city (road rage deaths? REALLY?!), this girl can still ignore fake gunpowder with the best of them.
The years since I moved away from Prescott have brought many changes. Some negative, like the wrought iron fence and increased admission prices to "my" rose garden in Sharlot Hall Museum, are unwelcome. Most, like the much-improved restaurant selection in town, are delightful. I checked on the landmarks that mark the memories of my time in Prescott - the bakery that served not only perfect bread but also the chance to see my first real college friend Autumn, the thrift store where I learned to perfectly steam a dress shirt, the sidewalk where a small crowd gathered to help my heroic mother remove the string that was cutting off circulation to a pigeon's leg. Even my actual home looks great - I drove by to check, though it long ago became someone else's home. Since I still can't listen to Miranda Lambert's "House That Built Me" without weeping, I opted out of knocking on the door.
There were even options for entertainment, something I learned not to expect from my beloved Prescott. The work week awaited, however, so I lived without the play at the Elks Theatre or the film festival at the community college. There were two memorials to see on the way back to Phoenix - one, a happy place that is a rare bright side to the recent recession. Mortimer's Family Farm continues the tradition of real farming that I truly loved throughout my childhood. Corn fields, hay rides, pumpkin fields as far as the eye can see - Arizona almost lost a treasure when developers bought the land years ago. They could never make their fortune on cookie cutter condos (I have no sympathy for them since they proved their ability to make millions cutting down other mountains and beautiful places around town) so now other Prescott children can have the joy of allergic reactions to hay rides and get lost in corn mazes.
The other tribute was less permanent but just as important. When I saw the news coverage of flags and posters left on the fence outside the Granite Mountain Hotshots' headquarters, it was touching both because of the sentiment and because of the location - I used to roller skate every week at the roller rink across the street from the fire house. But the news reports couldn't adequately show how the quiet street had transformed into a full block of tributes to the firemen. The variety of items was stunning, like a museum of sentiment. The major items were nice, like those t-shirts from fire crews around the country. Some things made no sense to me but I'm sure were meaningful to those who left them there. Small things impacted me most, like the toy fire truck hidden in one corner and the family photo tucked behind an American flag.
This is a rather somber end to a blog post about a day filled with laughter and spontaneity, but isn't that just like life? Finding the joy in the pain and using bad times as a reminder of the experiences and places that always can make you smile. Even when there's a Wild West shootout going on only a few blocks away.