Wednesday, December 31, 2008
California Dreamin' on a Winter's Day
As the year 2009 opens its arms to welcome us all, I'm heading out to my California home town to look for a place to live. I know, I know, I was going to Israel and what with a new war looming there a tempting place it is. But family and my conscience have convinced me to at least make a try at California. And anyway, if you want to huddle in the corner of your house, weeping, while rockets rain on your roof, you can do that just as well by living near your mother.
Los Altos, California is still a really pretty little town. In the hills, lot sizes cannot be smaller than an acre. And though I grew up in what I like to call "Baja Los Altos" (not the hills, that is, which I call "Alta Los Altos") the whole place has become pretty posh since I left. Little ranch style houses sell for $1.7 million and are immediately torn down. I suspect there will be a little less of that during these economically challenging times.
Los Altos was one of several beautiful little towns on the San Francisco peninsula founded by the Southern Pacific Railway. They had built a track between San Jose and San Francisco and they wanted people to ride on their train, so they founded a couple of cities and subdivided the lots for sale. In spite of their efforts, most of the Santa Clara Valley (now nicknamed Silicon Valley because of all the computer companies, but I like the old name better) continued to be largely agricultural until well into the 1970s. Apricots, cherries, and almonds all thrived in the mild Mediterranian climate.
The train, which we called the Daylight, actually still had a steam-powered engine when I was a child. It ran once in the morning from San Jose to San Francisco, and once in the evening back the other direction. If you got up high enough on our backyard swing, you could see the smoke from the engine against the foothills of the Coast Range as the train chugged down from downtown Los Altos to the next stop at Rancho, and then on to the stop at Loyola Corners. You can't see it anymore. They pulled up the tracks in the 1960s and built the Foothill Expressway, not nearly as nice.
If I could choose anywhere in the world to live, it would be at the very top of the Coast Range along Skyline Drive just above Los Altos. On a good day you can look down and see the whole of San Francisco Bay ranged below you on one side, and if visibility is really good (what my Dad and his pilot friends used to call a CAVU day--Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited), the Pacific Ocean way off in the distance down the other side of the range. It is just a few miles up Moody Road from Los Altos to the top of Skyline, though I used to think it was a long, long way. Of course that's because it wasn't somewhere I could ride on my bicycle: way too steep a grade. I say that, but the last time I was home I drove up to Skyline and all those people in those cycling uniforms on their expensive bicycles were going as fast as I was up the hill in the old family car. Everybody is very bloody healthy in California.
It will be a challenging time: living near challenging parents during a difficult time in their lives. Since I'm reading more now about Boderline Personality Disorder, it is helping me gain some insight into what triggers some of the angry behavior and how I can best deal with it.
But yesterday I got a letter from my Dad and that reminded me of why I want to go. It is so incredible to me that my father goes to the trouble he does to write these letters. First, he sits at the kitchen table and writes a rough draft on a yellow legal pad. Then, he hobbles into the back room with his walker to get his special lined letter paper. Then, he has my Mom proof his draft, and then he carefully copies it out on his letter paper before he sends it to me. It makes every letter so precious.
The letter I got yesterday is about a family clock that belonged to my Dad's father, Roy Chapman, whose initials are the same as mine. He writes:
"What I am really writing you about is the R.C. clock. It was Dad's hobby and he kept it going himself for many years and we have just had it serviced. As you know it is not a thing of beauty, but serves as a constant reminder of who we are." Dementia is a strange disease. It has damaged some of Dad's brain, but not all of it. Some things are not clear in his mind, and others, like the symbolism of his family clock, are very clear indeed. And he can still write about them.
He continues: "You know so well what it looks like. I would like for you to have it, but it is up to you. We would love to see you as soon as possible whatever you think about the clock. Love, Dad"
I will take temporary possession of the R.C. clock with pleasure, Dad, and I'll make sure it is secured to the table it sits on in my new Los Altos home--in case of earthquake, as all fine objects must be in California. (The R.C. clock flew across the room in the Loma Prieta 'quake in 1989, landing on its back and cracking the case. Fortunately, the glass door on the front and its folk art painting were undamaged.)
But more than that I want to be near you, Dad. You are much more valuable to me than an old Seth Thomas clock, and nowadays, much more fragile. Yes Dad, I'll be pleased to accept your gift of the family clock and I can't wait to see you and the R.C. clock again soon in sunny California.
The old R.C. clock, a Seth Thomas daily wind, with the folk art painting it acquired somewhere along the way.