I was disappointed when I didn’t get to go to the writing conference in San Francisco last weekend, but it’s possible that I was even more disappointed that we didn’t drive down Highway 101. We were planning to do that to avoid the snow on the pass. I was so looking forward to visiting the beach towns on the Oregon coast, which I haven’t done in many years.
When I was a child, my family did road trips all over Northern California and Oregon every vacation. Most nights we camped, but if it was raining hard or it got too late and dark to camp, we stayed in a motel. I have many memories of squabbling sleepily with my siblings or dozing in the back seat as we drove and drove along narrow highways in the dark, while my mother desperately pointed out motels we were passing and my father, Pete, drove on down the road. He was looking, he would always explain, for Mrs. Schultz’s Cozy Cottages.
My sister and I grew up using “Mrs. Schultz’s” to mean the Platonic ideal of a thing—what you continue searching for instead of accepting the inferior item more easily found in reality. Mrs. Schultz’s raspberry ice cream. Mrs. Schultz’s fine-point pen. Mrs. Schultz’s boyfriend. Mrs. Schultz’s, which does not exist, yet the idea of which has spoiled you forever.
I had my own ideal-motel memory, my own private Mrs. Schultz’s. I was six or seven, and awoke one summer morning in a small wooden cottage. The rest of the family was still asleep, and I had no memory of our arrival late the night before. I padded out the door of the cottage in my bare feet and found that I was standing on a sea-beach, densely foggy and deserted. As I stood there, the fog lifted, thinned, and vanished. There was the sand, some black rocks farther out, the restless, gray-green Pacific Ocean, and nothing else between me and the horizon. What could be more blissful?
Some 25 or 30 years later, on another road trip up the Oregon coast, my companion and I took a scenic detour to a town called Bandon, and suddenly I recognized that same beach with the black rocks. How could I have known it was the same place? But it was. I made my traveling companion drive up and down the road to Bandon to look for the motel I remembered, but there were no cottages—no structures of any kind right on the beach. I began to doubt.
That night I called Pete and asked him if we had ever stayed in Bandon on one of our family trips. He said, “Oh, you mean Mrs. Schultz’s!” I said no, I meant an actual place, a motel in the town of Bandon, Oregon. “But that was Mrs. Schultz’s,” he said. “Mrs. Schultz’s Cozy Cottages, right on the beach in Bandon, Oregon. They took those out a few years after we stayed there.”