I was born in Seattle, at Swedish First Hill, but my family moved away when I was a baby. My parents had grown up in Queen Anne and Ballard, attended Seattle Pacific University, and pastored their first church in Renton. So every summer, my family made the long drive from our home in San Diego to Seattle, to spend a few weeks with the extended family who still called the Pacific Northwest home.
The drive was brutal. We didn’t take a leisurely pace up the coast. We drove two twelve-hour days up I-5 with no air conditioning, listening to sermon tapes and classical music. My father only allowed us to stop the car for meals, so our liquid intake was strictly monitored. We stayed in a cheap motel at the halfway point—Redding, if you’re planning such a trip—and if we were very, very lucky, the magic fingers on the hotel bed worked.
But this terrible annual pilgrimage was worth it, because every single year, as the dusty brown of southern and central California gave way to the explosion of green in Oregon and Washington, I felt a weight lift off my young shoulders.
I didn’t fit in California. I never had. I didn’t like the sun, or the beach. I had friends, but always an unease that these weren’t truly my people. This wasn’t my place. I’d only lived in Seattle as a baby, but whenever the skyline came into view, I knew I was home.
My San Diego neighborhood wasn’t walkable, so Queen Anne Hill was a wonder to me. My mom’s parents lived in the same house she grew up in, which they bought in the 1940s for $4,000. My sister and I could walk to a drugstore a block away, or up to the Ave. There was a neighborhood park in walking distance, too.
My dad’s parents moved around—Ballard, Edmonds, Whidbey Island. No matter where they were living, we always trekked to University Bookstore and spent hours wandering the aisles. We fed ducks on Lake Union. We paddle boated on Green Lake and ate fish and chips at Spud.
They were living in Edmonds when my father, whose first book was soon to be published, received his box of finished copies. His publisher had routed them to him there, knowing we were on vacation and a first-time author must never be expected to wait for their finished copies.
When I was in seventh grade, my dad was a serious contender to be the new senior pastor at University Presbyterian Church. Finally, I thought, I would live in Seattle. I would fit. I would be home. To be honest, it was junior high, and I probably wouldn’t have fit no matter where we moved. When he didn’t get the job, I was devastated. Seattle would remain the fairy-tale dream of a few blackberry-filled weeks each summer.
But just as the dreary brown of California gives way to crisp green northern foliage, childhood blooms into adulthood, and soon enough I didn’t have to rely on my parents to drive me from San Diego to Seattle, to get the job, to make the move, to fit.
Just married and in our young twenties, my husband and I moved to Seattle with no jobs, but a certainty that this was where we’d build our lives. My Guatemalan husband had never been here; he came on faith in my love for this place. But the trees, the lakes, the rain all felt more like home to him than either of us anticipated.
I could have been setting myself up for major disappointment, moving to the place of hazy childhood fantasies, expecting to drop into it like a final puzzle piece. But I wasn’t wrong. This is home; I do fit.
I’ve spent most of my sixteen years in Seattle as a struggling writer. Struggling to get plays produced, to find a literary agent, to get a book deal. It’s been a struggle, yes, but it’s also been sustained by this place so rich in color and life and literature. Would I have kept writing in another place, a place where I could never settle and find my story?
I am so honored to receive a book award specific to the Pacific Northwest because of the honor to my book, certainly, but also to me as a Pacific Northwesterner. I am so grateful to call this place my home and to be a part of a literary community as rich and inspiring as the views outside our windows.
The plaque for the 2019 PNBA Book Award for Blood Water Paint will be presented to Joy McCullough at a local, independent bookstore, location and time TBD. nwbooklovers is posting original essays from this year’s award winners as featured posts in January and February. You can enjoy essays from past winners of the PNBA Book Award in our archive.