Saturday, October 21, 2017


The Familiar
Back again in my hometown for my yearly visit, I soak up the rich scents of vegetation – elm, bay and sequoia trees – and the familiar birdsong as I stand on the deck overlooking the creek of my adoptive family’s house. They receive me warmly as in the past and inform me that a coyote family has taken up residence by the creek. I’ll hear them howling at night.
I take a walk along the main street, San Anselmo Avenue, past the Coffee Roastery, where I’ll meet with old classmates on Saturday, the firehouse, Hilda’s Coffee Shop and Booksmith, my favorite bookstore. Sadly, I notice many empty storefronts in this town that used to draw antique buffs on weekends. I drive to my old neighborhood, park and walk past the home where I grew up. On my route I notice new 2 million dollar houses – the gentrification of a once modest middle class neighborhood.

I call old friends and set up dates for coffee or lunch. With a college classmate we take a nostalgic stroll across the Berkeley campus. On a glorious sunny day I take the ferry to San Francisco to meet with the editor who’s been guiding me through my manuscript. My oldest friend, Paula, and I share many meals, reminiscing on pets, childhood in the barrio, and names of nuns at St. Anselm’s School. Sister Eulalie Rose, Sister Miriam Josepha, Sister Benigna (a favorite). Nothing can compare with sharing childho0d memories with a dear friend.
St. Anselm's School

 The Unexpected
Raging wildfires to the north mark my final week. Heavy smoke, like thick fog, creeps silently into our world. My adoptive family takes in a family of four Santa Rosa evacuees, their four boxers and a sack of twenty ball pythons. (They have beautiful markings. I actually ask to hold one in my hand.) Mom and Dad python are left behind, but survive. 
A canine evacuee

The kitchen becomes a busy place, people and dogs coming and going, cooking for nine and conveying the latest fire updates. The evacuees stay close to the television, watching the flames consume entire residential neighborhoods, not knowing for days if their house is safe.
The Tragic
Another guest in the house is an Iraqi war veteran who suffered brain damage and PTSD- post traumatic stress disorder. He describes to us how the vehicle he was driving hit an IED. His halting speech and awkward bearing are the outward signs of trauma. He attempts to fit into the household routine and participate in table conversation – to be normal – but in moments of weakness seeks relief in drugs. My heart goes out to that young man. Those in national positions of power would think twice before sending men and women off to war if they could spend time with these young victims.

I mustn’t end on a sad note. Once more I’ve been able to enjoy the richness of this landscape where I grew up and I’ve experienced a diverse sampling of American life: the generous sacrifice of firefighters, the growing presence of Latinos in the work force, a friend’s struggle to make ends meet, another friend recovering from cancer surgery, televised baseball playoffs, the pleasure of old friends and the limitless generosity of my hosts, whom I now refer to as “my adoptive family.”