Tag Archives: Santa Rosa

The Town I Loved So Well

Santa Rosa 2

Pic courtesy of visitsantarosa.com

There’s an old Irish dirge, The Town I Loved So Well, sung by a number of Irish singers, but the version I like the most is sung by The Irish Tenors. I first heard this song while listening to an old Mary McGonigle LP. A recording I cannot find now. This song and Only Our Rivers Run Free from her albums took abode in my semi-Irish soul. And in March, I revel in these plaintive tunes. Phil Coulter wrote this song about his hometown of Derry in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland when it was rife with battle, bloodshed and bigotry.

As a life-long Russian River rat, it is understandable why Only Our Rivers Run Free would capture my heart, but I love The Town I Loved So Well because it reminds me of the few years of my childhood spent in Santa Rosa, California. I may have indeed left my heart in San Francisco where I was born, but Santa Rosa is the town I have loved so well because there, my soul was born. All the things I have come to love, I found when living in Santa Rosa. All what I imagine a good childhood to be, Santa Rosa is the backdrop, the canvass, if you will. I don’t remember the bad times, I am sure there were some. I only remember the happy times, the beauty, the simplicity of a time when being was joyful, innocent and safe.

About two weeks ago, the town I loved so well experienced a disaster on a grand scale. A fire – no, a firestorm – ravaged her neighborhoods, terrorized her citizens , destroyed her homes and sadly, took many of her lives. Those lives, of course, are her greatest losses. Today the fires still burn. My heart goes out to the families of the dozens who died. My heart goes out to the hundreds who have lost everything, but their lives. My heart goes out to the folks who have been working NON-STOP since October 9th, even in the midst of their own losses. My heart goes out to the town I loved so well.

On October 1, 1969, at around 10:00 pm, most were tucked into bed, I remember I was. I was just about to fall asleep when what seemed like someone picking up our house on Alvarado Avenue, shaking it like an Etch-It-Sketch and setting it back down caused me to fly out of my bed, terrorized. “It’s an earthquake,” my father shouted as he ran down the hall.  Afterwards, the whole neighborhood gathered into the middle of our little block that was my whole world. We suffered a significant disaster, but we were not alone.

I hope Santa Rosa knows she is not alone during this catastrophe. I hope she knows that anyone who lived there for any amount of time mourns with her, prays for her, worries for her. Pascal Mercier in Night Train to Lisbon wrote: We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” I know I speak for myself, but I hope Santa Rosa knows part of me has always stayed there, and I empathize with her suffering.

Just like after the earthquake, Santa Rosa will rebuild. It will be a long time before any normalcy returns, actually, life will never be like it was on October 8, 2017 in Santa Rosa. It will be different. I pray for Santa Rosa, as well as Napa, Lake County, and the other areas affected by these fires. I pray for my friend’s niece and her family who were airlifted off Atlas Peak leaving behind all her physical possessions. I pray for the families of the dead, their loss is irreplaceable, their grief unimaginable and, all I can say, you are not alone. Unfortunately, no amount of rebuilding will restore what you have lost.

I pray for those who lost everything but their lives. I pray for your children who have lost their precious things, their keepsakes, their comforts, their beds, all the things that made them feel safe. They have lost their worlds. I hope you know, you are not alone.

I pray for those who have been working non-stop trying to stop these monsters. Please know, as hundreds have said, written and shared, that your work is appreciated, your help invaluable, your fortitude comforting and your energy inexhaustible. I pray that you get rest, peace and comfort as well. All of us who do not live there now, but love Santa Rosa and her people, want you to know you are not alone.

Now the music’s gone but they carry on
For their spirit’s been bruised, never broken
They will not forget but their hearts are set
on tomorrow and peace once again
For what’s done is done and what’s won is won
and what’s lost is lost and gone forever
I can only pray for a bright, brand new day
in the town I loved so well.

Lyrics by Phil Coulter

Santa Rosa

 

 

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Sixth Grade

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In the fall of 1970, I started sixth grade at Brook Hill Elementary School in Santa Rosa. The few years we lived in Santa Rosa will forever remain with me as an idyllicism (made up word) of the highest form. Block parties on 4th of July, warm weather, our school across the street and sixth grade.

Sixth grade is where and when I came alive. Everything that excites and moves me was born in the last classroom in that plain school building. Although I was writing at an earlier age, the subjects that would activate that skill were taught to me in sixth grade.

I have learned that school is like a buffet feast. There are so many foods to choose from. In order to appreciate everything, you take a bite from each plate. But the ones you really like, those become your favorites, your comfort foods. So as with education, you taste as many subjects as you can, but the ones you love, the ones that make you come alive, those are the ones you return to, the ones you pursue.

Mr. Caudill, my sixth grade teacher, set a grand table. Of the many things he taught us, these are the subjects I have returned to, the ones I have pursued.

First was poetry. Each week, I believe, we got a new poem. I remember smelling the newly mimeographed paper anticipating a new tale. “Gunga Din” and “The Kid’s Last Fight” were two of my favorites. “You may talk o’ gin an’ beer, when you’re quartered safe out ‘ere…” I would bellow in a bravado-ish brough that would send my sister under the covers. Sadly, all my papers from sixth grade were lost in the move to Daly City. But the spark had been lighted, and still burns.

Second was music. Mr. Caudill handed out sheets with contemporary music lyrics. “Blowing in the Wind”, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” were a few of the many songs we learned about. I still know these lyrics by heart. I have written a few songs myself that remain in the confines of my journals; but because I learned to appreciate the music and lyrics, I can discuss any song with my kids. I help them highlight what their favorite musicians are trying to say. And as a by-product, I have come to love their music as much as my own.

Third was geography. I learned to love maps. I’ve always had a map on the wall. Even now, living in my parents’ house, I have an old ‘80’s Hapag Lloyd map up. I need a new one though; there are so many new countries since the fall of the Wall. In sixth grade, we studied South American geography and cultures. We used to have map contests to see who could find a nation’s capital the quickest. I was good at that game. I loved it. I learned that there were other people around the world with different customs, beliefs and ways of living. I did a report on the Incas in Peru. We sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in Spanish. Here was my first taste of that beautiful language. I am working my way to fluency even now.

I was eleven when I was in Mr. Caudill’s sixth grade class. I was eleven when I learned these subjects. But I didn’t just learn them, I ingested them, they became a part of who I was. They came to fruition in my English degree, my many Spanish classes, my missionary interests and my feeble attempts at creativity. I watched “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” last year. There is a scene where Control and Smiley were leaving Circus Headquarters, and in the background, there were maps all over the walls. I had an “a-ha” moment. I should have been a spy!

http://pacifica.patch.com/articles/sixth-grade

‘Delicious Autumn! My Very Soul is Wedded to It …’

As a writer, one of my most primitive fears is that the well will dry up, that the cistern is indeed broken and there is nothing left. I don’t think I am alone with that fear; I think many artists feel that way. Before I freeze up and abandon all writing projects because I think I am a fraud, I go to my treasure chest of ideas, my childhood memories. There are so many real and imagined memories from growing up, that almost each one in itself is a seed for a column. It is my savings account, if you will.

In the ‘60s, my family lived in Santa Rosa. It was an idyllic five years. We lived on a short street next to the school where passions for poetry, music and geography were born. All the neighborhood kids played together, and I was devastated when we had to move. Apple orchards, sardines in a can and block parties did not accompany us to Daly City.

One morning, I was walking on Hoen Avenue. I don’t know if I was walking home from St. Eugene’s or Sambo’s. It was fall, it had rained that morning or the night before, the quiet road was damp and sprinkled with acorns. The leaves were wet and odiferous. This memory I cherish because I believe this moment is the moment I fell in love with autumn. I clearly remember the crunching of the leaves and gravel under my shoes, the cool air being kept out by my warm jacket, the smell of the wet earth and crushed leaves. The memory is short, just a moment captured in my mind, but this moment has followed me for over 40 years, igniting the passion every year for this glorious season.

I echo George Eliot’s praise, “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

The fact that autumn coincides with a return to school compounds my joy. I loved school growing up, and to go back with this season right around the corner only heightens both experiences. I remember one fall, I think I was in 3rd grade, and I had to write a story for class. I wrote a five page story about Frankenstein, the Wolfman and Dracula. I was so proud of this writing; I wish I had kept it. (By the way, this is why I keep all of my kids’ writings.) That same year, I wrote a book, illustrated and bound it myself.

Perhaps my best fall memory was when I was living in Half Moon Bay in the ‘70s. I was working for a realtor and business was slow, so slow that I was dying with boredom. Luckily, he let me read….sweet. I read the entire trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, some of the Bible and old favorites from high school.

This time of my life was filled with floral skirts, clogs and Neil Young songs. The Pumpkin Festival was coming, and pumpkins were everywhere. The landscape was punctuated with orange in freshly tilled fields, and stocks of corn husks and scarecrows dotted the porches of all the businesses. Slices of pumpkin pie were had at the bakery by Cunha’s Market, and daily I was in heaven with an Original Johnny’s cheeseburger. I lived there for one season, but it was one of the most magical seasons of my life. Half Moon Bay is beautiful in the fall.

Even this fall morning, when I opened the door, the off-shore wind boldly and warmly greeted me. Dancing leaves swirled around me like giddy children and wafts of jasmine intoxicated me. It’s going to be a nice day.

Autumn-Landscape-With-A-Flock-Of-Turkeys