Different, but the same

It is a great thing to show kids how people are the same, everywhere.

We don’t see my sister Rachel very often. She and her husband Aaron are on the move for their work on the gas pipeline, traversing the Pacific Northwest and beyond wherever the jobs should take them. While we have lived in the same duplex apartment in Park Slope for nearly a decade, they move constantly, taking up residence in one or another mobile-home park for weeks or sometimes months; they never know for sure.

I hear tales of hot springs, see pictures of beautiful woods and waterfalls but have never been able to coordinate a visit until this past week. Finally, the kids’ break and my sister and brother-in-laws’ coincided and we caught up with them in their latest locale: Parker, Arizona. It is a place, population just over 3,000, that I’d never even heard of growing up in the relative metropolis of Tucson.

“I’m sorry, we came late and are stuck kind of in back, not on the water but over near where they store the other RVs,” my sister apologized in advance of our arrival. I wasn’t concerned. I was just excited to finally see her home, or at least one of them, the smaller of their two trailers that they pulled to Parker last year for much-needed R-and-R in between grueling gigs.

The boys were thrilled by the idea of staying overnight in a mobile-home in the middle of the desert, right off the Colorado River. To get there, we drove three hours from Phoenix through a smattering of small dusty towns where cowboy hats are standard-issue to protect faces from the scorching sun. Even in February, with the bright blue sky ablaze and few trees for shade, high 70s can feel burning hot. We stopped to pick up Old West artifacts in Wickenburg, a piece of “Fool’s Gold” for Eli and a Native American Dream Catcher for Oscar, one he is sure will work to end any bad dreams.

It was like a mirage, the Mighty Colorado, sprouting up after miles and miles of scrubby earth with only the purple haze of rugged mountain formations as distraction. My sister pointed out to the kids that it was California just on the other side of the river and they were amazed. This was nothing at all like home.

Around past the casino/resort, through winding roads cut through hills dotted with vacation homes whose wide porches angled toward the mountains, we finally hit the RV Park. As promised, we passed by the row of water-view homes, decked out for the season with outdoor tables and chairs and gardens. We landed, though, just a stone’s throw away from the breathtaking Land of the Lost view, in front of my sister’s 30-foot home.

The first word out of Oscar’s mouth as he stepped up the metal stairs into the RV was “Awesome!”; Eli’s was “cool!” It was a perfect world with its cozy new futon couch recently installed by my brother-in-law, a swiveling new recliner, a TV with cable, a table and four chairs, a full-working kitchen and an “upstairs” bedroom and bath.

“I’m never leaving,” Oscar announced just after arrival.

I had to agree with him. As hummingbirds darted past our heads and the cactus wrens cawed their desert call, it seemed pretty idyllic. The “snowbirds”— older folk from elsewhere who come to soak in the Arizona sun in winter — were extremely friendly as we took a walk past their waterfront homes. They chatted with the boys and happily shared their dogs. There were docks for boats, though Aaron and Rachel’s was one of the only ones. We took a ride, slowing through the nearby canals where the extravagant homes are built just along the edge, and docked at a nearby RV park’s new pirate-themed outdoor bar and restaurant.

Back at the park later, as Aaron picked up a new awning part he needed from some neighbors getting rid of it, as he waved hello to the nice man who’d watched their cat while they were away, it struck me how seemingly different but very similar small communities are. Just like I pick things up at stoop sales or ask a neighbor to get my mail or water my plants, so too do people in more transient communities like this one rely on each other. It is crucial in any of the places where we live to be able to count on the kindness of strangers.

The boys went off happily in Aaron and Rachel’s truck to find big rocks for the fire-pit Aaron had promised to build for s’mores under the stars. They came back a bit later and unloaded as Aaron dug expertly and placed their findings around in a ring. We ate delicious authentic Mexican take-out at a picnic table as the fire blazed beside us. Even the branches we found to roast marshmallows were beautiful, zig-zagged in a way I’ve never seen.

When it was time to go after a few days, when we’d overstayed our welcome on the plush futon bed we slept in happily three abreast, Oscar was not pleased. I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to pry him off the couch and away from Kitty. Finally, he acquiesced.

Back in Park Slope, the abundance of cafes and restaurants and the buzz of constant activity is a far cry from Parker, and yet, strangely the same.