Something Wistful This Way Comes

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Man, it’s a hot one…like seven inches from the midday sun…” Yeah, that’s the Bay Area these past few days. If I was on the coast like I was before I moved, I would bemoaning the heat and anxiously awaiting our lovely natural air conditioner. But I’m not. I’m in Concord. No hope for fog out here. Hang in there, Donna!!

Concord…not where I expected to end up. I knew a move was coming late last year, and I had hoped to move up north where I’ve been trying to relocate for decades, probably deep down since 1971 when my family moved from Santa Rosa. In 1993, my own family and I tried to get situated up by Windsor near a small church we wanted to minister with. But no such luck…no such opportunity, no door opened. Again in 2006, after my divorce, I wanted to take the profits from my East Bay home and buy a place in Santa Rosa. I put an offer on a little home (with lots of rooms), counter-offered even and still none of my offers were accepted. I ended up back on the Peninsula….not where I wanted, but definitely where Providence led. Definitely, Donna!! (See other blog – Positively Providential)

Finally, last winter knowing that my SSF job was ending in the spring, and, coincidentally (providentially if you will), my apartment lease was up at the same time, I became proactive for the first time in my life. I took the reins. All the kids got on board to move up to Santa Rosa. I knew a firm that I was SURE to get a position, a position with comparable pay. I was looking forward to returning to the quaint town I lived in as a young girl, all my fond memories of holidays, seasons, schooling and community are rooted in Santa Rosa. I was pretty happy that I was finally planning and doing things the “right” way. I even had my finances in place for this move.  Go Donna!!

However….it did not happen like I planned. I don’t know now…with three strikes against this desired move…if I will ever get up there. Let me tell you what did happen. I didn’t get the job nor the others I applied to and interviewed for. No job, no move. Only one promising job prospect came my way, and that was in Pittsburg. Pittsburg, really!!? I didn’t want to go to the East East Bay…I wanted to return to a place that had the elements of home to me. I wanted to be near the river, where I would feel close to my dad. But after all the Santa Rosa efforts failed, I just told the Lord, I will go where you lead. Yay, Donna!!

Once I yielded, things fell into place quite quickly and perfectly. The new job was available the day after my limited term position at SSF ended. An apartment was secured with ease. Ellie finished her course work right before our move, so she didn’t have to commute to Baden, and Eloisa was able to get into an independent study program to complete her freshman year at home. And away we went! Bye, Donna!!

We’ve been here for almost two months. I thank the Lord for the cooler weather we had through May, and I am so thankful for the crisp, cool air conditioning at my new job. I feel the Lord has welcomed me over here. My first day at work, I went into the break room only to be greeted with a coffee aroma, an aroma just like the one at my first construction job 40 years ago, a job I worked at with my dad. I’m sure it was just a plain pot of Folger’s, but it smelled like that old brand, Farmer Brothers. One of those deja vu olfactory experiences. Very cool, Donna!!

God knows I love bluebirds, and in Pacifica, I took lots of pictures of our Scrub Jays. Right before I moved, someone posted a pic of a Western Bluebird. I didn’t know there were any bluebirds over in this part of the state. So I looked them up and found that some were nearby in Antioch. One lunch I took a jaunt up to the Black Diamond Mines Regional Park camera in hand, and I wasn’t even in the parking lot, when, lo and behold, there’s a male Western Bluebird perched on a fence post just waiting for me to take his picture. Welcome, Donna, bienvenidos!!

Finally, something wistful this way comes…so, this morning. I’ve been taking public transit to work since we’re in between cars, and this morning I took the local bus from Concord Bart all the way to work, two buses, lots of stops. The AC on the bus was freezing and looking out through the bus’s tinted windows to a slightly overcast sky, I was somehow transported from being in late Spring to feeling like I was in late Fall. It was weird. And, then, all of a sudden, all those lovely, wistful sensations of my most pleasant memories, many of which come from Santa Rosa, splashed over me. As I enjoyed and bemused this very pleasant experience, I thought, maybe, maybe God is bringing me home, bringing me to a place where those feelings and sensations reminiscent of late ’60’s Santa Rosa can be cultivated or experienced over here. Maybe my home is forward not backward, maybe….something wistful this way comes. Maybe, Donna!!

“The belonging you seek is not behind you – it is ahead.” 

Maz to Rey, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

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The Town I Loved So Well

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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

 

 

HOT CHOCOLATE

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A little girl sat perched on a dining room chair peering out the window into a billowing storm. Wiping her breath’s condensation off the window, she began to conceive of harrowing adventures that could occur on a stormy day like this one. It had rained all day; this fact kept all the five Moore children indoors. But it wasn’t going to be long before the enticing storm would capture two little girls for an afternoon of excitement.

She sat there a little longer before she got up and went to the bedroom she shared with her six-year old sister.

“What are you doing, Donna?” her little sister, Linda, asked while Donna changed into overalls. Eight-year old Donna looked at her sister thoughtfully. Linda was a beautiful little girl with long, brown curly hair which her mother kept in braids.

“Where to?”

Donna eyed her sister, thinking what benefit could be had dragging Linda along. Then it occurred to her that Linda kept a substantial amount of change in her piggy bank.

“Well,” Donna said in perfect recitation of lines she had prepared, “do you want to come with me?”

“Oh, yes, where are we going?” Linda gleamed.

“I want to take a walk in the storm and get some hot chocolate at Quik-Stop, and maybe some french fries. Still wanna come?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ll go ask Mommy if we can go.”

“No,” Donna grabbed her arm, “don’t bother Mom, she won’t mind. I already asked her.” She lied so easily.

Linda threw on some clothes, Donna took a whiff of some socks on the floor and decided they were clean enough for another day’s use.

“Oh, by the way,” Donna said cautiously as they put their keds on, “I don’t have any money, do you?” A seasoned snoop, she knew perfectly well the exact contents of Linda’s piggy bank.

“I have money in my piggy bank, we can use that.”

“Sounds good, let’s go.” Linda emptied her bank, and Donna pocketed the change.

They grabbed their identical green rain jackets, wrapped their scarves around their necks and made their way to the front door. Their mother was in the family room watching “General Hospital”, and their brothers were in their room playing “Battleship” and listening to Beatles records. Their baby brother was fast asleep in his room. The coast was clear.

“I want to say goodbye to Mommy,” Linda said sweetly.

“No, don’t, don’t bother her, she watching her show. Come on, let’s go now before the storm passes.” Donna opened the front door and they went out.

The wind whistled and whipped around them as they stood on their small porch, the rain splashed at them, they covered their heads and made their way toward Vallejo Street.

Alvarado Avenue was the small and quaint block they lived on. It was a wonderful community. All the children knew and played with each other. Most attended the elementary school around the corner. It was a block of about ten houses on each side of the street. Every 4th of July, the families would throw a block party. Picnic and ping-pong tables were set up in the middle of the street, there were best-decorated bike contests, egg throwing contests, and watermelon eating contests. Everyone would be outside where all the families would pile lots of food on the picnic tables.

But, summer had passed, and during the winter, everyone stayed inside when it rained. And, on this day, the young Moore girls embarked on a great journey, a journey of about a mile and a half to the Quik-Stop.

“Are we going to walk past Sabin’s house?” Linda asked with a shy hope, blinking through the rain. “He lives by the bridge, and if we go that way and around the corner, maybe I could see him?

“I don’t know, I guess we could.” Donna replied nonchalantly. She had her mind set on hot chocolate and french fries.

As they continued to walk in the pouring rain, Linda began to act nervous. She had a crush on Sabin for over two months since they started school. After walking three blocks on Vallejo, they turned left onto a small muddy trail that led to the bridge that crossed the creek. Sabin’s house was two houses away from the bridge.

“Do you want me to see if he’s home?”

“No, no, I couldn’t see him, I like him too much.”

“But, you said you wanted to go this way. Golly, don’t be so stupid, if you like that boy, don’t you think you would want to see him?”

“I guess so.”

“OK, I’ll go to the door and ask for him. Maybe Matt’s home.” Donna was harboring a little crush on Sabin’s brother herself.

Linda began fidgeting as they approached the door, “Shut up,” Donna said, ringing the doorbell. Sabin answered.

“Hey Donna, what’s going on?”

“Uh, nothing,” Donna replied, “uhm, me and my sister are goin’ to Quik-Stop. Hey, do you know my sister, Linda?” Donna turned around and Linda was gone.

“I think so, she’s a grade below me.” Sabin asked. Linda was hiding behind one of the entry pillars.

“Linda, comeer..!”

“Uh..uh, hi.” Linda stuttered.

“Hey,” Sabin smiled, “can I come with you guys? I’m so bored.”

“Sure,….is Matt home?”

“No, he’s at Gene’s…hold on let me tell my sister.”

“Ewww, he’s coming with us…” Donna teased her sister. Linda waited angelically for her prince. Sabin returned and grabbed his coat and baseball cap.

Together they headed back to the bridge to get to Hoen Avenue. Linda was so enamored with the very presence of Sabin, she couldn’t walk straight.

“Hey, Linda,” Sabin asked, “isn’t Joe Miller in your class?”

“Oh, yes, I do.” she said breathlessly, “he sits right behind me. He gets in trouble all the time when he pulls my braids.”

“Oh, so you’re that girl, I think he likes you.” Sabin smiled.

Repulsed, Linda said, “He’s an ugly boy, I don’t like him at all. I like someone else.” She added with a twinkle in her eye.

As they approached the bridge, the trail became muddier. Linda was trying to step over a big rock when her foot slipped, and she fell down the side of the trail along the bank of the creek. She screamed, and grabbed some plants halfway down the bank.

“Donna, Donna….” she yelled.

“What are you doing, you’re gonna get dirty.” Her sister was annoyed.

“I fell,” she began to cry, “I’m slipping, help me.”

It was too slippery for Donna and Sabin to make their way down the bank, then Donna remembered when her brother was stuck in a sewer drain, her mom called the fire department.

“Sabin, run back to your house and call the fire department, I’ll wait here with Linda.”

“Do you want me to call your mom too?” Sabin offered.

“Nooooo, just the fire department.”

Sabin ran off, and Donna tried to comfort her sister. The fire engine arrived in less than 15 minutes with Sabin running behind. Two tall fireman jumped out of the truck and made their way to Linda. Donna immediately fell in love with both of them. In less than a minute, they pulled Linda up and she forgot all about her romantic pursuits, these guys were her heroes.

“Thank you,” she said to the fireman with blue eyes. She wiped the mud from her face and jacket.

“You’re welcome, little lady; but, what on earth brought you and your friends out on a day like this?

“Well, ” Linda began all flustered because he spoke directly to her.

Donna butted in, “We came out today to get some hot chocolate and french fries, and maybe have a little adventure. She’s my sister, and this is our friend, Sabin.”

“You’re not going to tell our parents, are you?” she added with feigned innocence.

The firemen had daughters of their own and could spot foul play from the beginning.

“I think we should call your parents,” said the other fireman.

“My mom’s not home,” Sabin said without any worry.

“Uhm, uh, couldn’t we go get some hot chocolate and talk about if you need to call our parents,” Donna nervously negotiated. “It’s raining and I’m cold, and I sure could use some hot chocolate, and poor little Linda must be really cold after falling in the mud.”

The firemen laughed out loud, but it was Linda’s tender look that stole their hearts, so they agreed to the older girl’s plans.

“OK, we’ll take you for a ride in the fire truck, get some hot chocolate and then drop you guys off at your homes, how does that sound?

All three jumped up and yelled, “Oh yeah…that would be a blast.”

As they drove to Quik-Stop, Donna was thinking how to avoid getting in trouble when she got home.

After they had hot chocolate, the firemen dropped off Sabin.

“Thanks for a great adventure, Donna. Thank you, Firemen.” Sabin waved as he went into his house.

“You can drop us off here at the corner, OK?” Donna suggested.

“What for? We’ll take you girls home.”

“Please,” Donna begged.

“Only if you promise to tell your mom the truth when you get home. Is that a deal?”

Yea, that’s a deal,” she agreed and they shook on it.

The girls climbed out of the fire truck at the corner of Vallejo and Alvarado, the firemen gave their mother a call from Quik-Stop so she was standing at the porch waiting for her daughters.

She waved at the firemen, saying “Thank you.”

Donna told her mother everything, and to this day, the punishment she got was worth the adventure she had on the day they went for hot chocolate.

Sixth Grade

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January 2013

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 …’

BLUES_OF_FALLING_LEAFS_PALETTE_KNIFE_By_Leonid_Afremov

September 2019

As a writer, my deepest fear is that the well of ideas will dry up, that the cistern is indeed broken and there is nothing left to share or write about. 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’m 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 for 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 the City.

One morning, I was walking on Hoen Avenue. I don’t know if I was walking home from St. Eugene’s or to Sambo’s. It was fall, it had sprinkled that morning or the night before, and the quiet road was still damp and peppered with acorns. This memory I cherish because I believe this is the moment I fell in love with autumn. I clearly remember the crunching of the dry leaves which had been umbrelled by the large trees and the crackling of the gravel under my shoes, the cool air was kept out by my warm jacket. The smell of the wet earth and crushed leaves accentuated this brief memory. For 50 years, this ancient memory continues to ignite this glorious season each September.

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 only 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.

Perhaps my best fall memory was when I was living in Half Moon Bay in the ‘70s. I was working for a realtor during the 18% interest rate times, and business was subsequently  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 and produce 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.

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