Thomas Wolfe was wrong. We CAN go home again. These past few weeks have been full in every sense of the word. Wonder-full. Meaning-full. Grateful. Spent Thanksgiving with my sister Cheri and her family in Los Osos, CA. It was wonderful just hanging out, watching football, getting in my morning "walk to the Rock", being inspired by an 81 year old woman swimming in the 52 degree bay, and eating Joe's bar-b-que.
Los Osos is where my folks lived the last years of their life, in a home overlooking the ocean, estuary and Morro Rock. Fond memories of a special Thanksgiving more than 20 years ago when Dad rented a ten person canoe and took all of us – Cheri, Joe and Christy, my sons Tom, Andrew and me – paddling around the bay amidst otters, seals and sea lions and pelican fly-bys. He also rented horses that weekend and we re-enacted a SoCa version of Lawrence of Arabia and galloped over the sand dunes.
Memories too of when Cheri was elected President of the local Chamber of Commerce, and Dad had the gratifying opportunity to know his legacy of community leadership was being passed along.
While there, I decided I was only 90 minutes away from where I grew up in New Cuyama and thought, "There’s no present like the time” to make like ET and "go home." Part of my Year by the Water has been intentionally visiting the places that have inspired or shaped me and my years here from 1st-9th grade certainly did that.
You know how you always hear how SMALL everything looks in your hometown? True dat.
The C & H store – which loyally bought our 4-H and FFA animals at the Santa Maria Fair every year – seemed so far away, yet it was less than a mile from our house. I remember tearing there in our hoopy (a golf cart we used to go to the barn and corrals to feed our horses, steers, sheep and hogs) to splurge and buy a can of chicken noodle soup, a Babe Ruth bar, a small packet of Fritos and a soda for under a dollar (our food allowance for a summer day.)
Here’s the high school (104 students on its busiest year) where I learned to play tennis by hitting thousands of balls against the backboard, and where Mr. Adams shaped some talent-shy kids into a decent jazz band. Memories of Cheri playing Pete Fountain’s Stranger on the Shore on her clarinet, Fascination on her saxophone, and us rockin it on String of Pearls, Glenn Miller's In The Mood and A-Train.
Here’s the shop where Dad, the ag teacher in town, spent long hours teaching 3 welding classes a day and building a 4-horse stock trailer from scratch. And the football field where we had our small-town version of "Friday Nigh Lights' with 6 man football. And the rec center where our small community gathered for roller skate nights, cake walks and
Aahh, the elementary school where I ran for student body president against Don Cox and lost by 1 vote because he handed out bubble gum at the polls ... couldn't be anything else, right? Ha.
And there’s the school auditorium where I gave my first public speech as 8th-grade valedictorian, (which may not seem like a big deal, but in our small town it was to me.) The night of graduation, our librarian Mr. Bowers pulled me aside and gifted me with a pen and ink drawing he’d done of a mustang standing on a bluff overlooking a herd of horses on a plateau below. He said, “Sam, you’re a mustang. Mustangs join the herd at will, but leave when the herd tries to take them where they don’t want to go.”
Thank you Mr. Bowers for seeing me and for reaching out at an influential age to give me a supportive identity. His gracious outreach was a stepping stone in my path to SerenDestiny - a life where the light is on in my eyes. As Henry Adams said, “Teachers affect eternity. Who knows where their influence will end?”
Who could forget the library? I used to ride my horse Joe - a palomino who had two speeds, a trot and an all-out run, he never, ever walked – here and tie him to a tree while I went in with the hopes of finding a book I hadn’t already read.
I devoured everything (even the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain that was far beyond my pay grade, so to speak) but the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley were my favorite. They gave me an all-important window into a fascinating world just waiting to be explored outside the confines of our isolated mountain valley.
The Buckhorn was the only “fancy” place and restaurant in town. We would save our money, sit at the counter and splurge on a grilled cheese and root beer float from the soda fountain. Cheri celebrated her 14th birthday at a pool party here by wearing a daring (and forbidden) two piece bathing suit brought in Catalina.
Our home on Cebrian Street is holding up pretty well for being 70+ years old. I couldn't help but laugh as a tumbleweed blew across the road as I drove by. Brought back images of the tumbleweed forts we built by the side of the house to play with our Barbies (really!).
Some of the memories that came flooding back as I gazed at my childhood home included the chickens in our back yard that would fly-run squawking around the corner as soon as we opened the back door, no matter how quietly we tried to turn the knob. My rabbits in their hutches and me asking Mom and Dad on a freezing winter night if I HAD to feed them that night, asking “Cant it wait until tomorrow morning?” and my folks saying what they always said, “Do the right thing.”
The Christmas we gathered in a circle (including cousins Dan, Jim, Uncle Brick and Aunt Carol) to open presents. My brother Dave tore open his gift, unfolded the white tissue and promptly threw the box in the air, dumping its contents all over Mom who was wearing her best “dress-up” outfit, a red wood suit. Unfortunately for mom, the contents were horse manure, our parents’ clever way of saying Dave was getting what he wanted for Christmas - his own horse.
Now I'm in Honolulu under the historic “Hawaii Call’s” banyan tree. On the drive in from the airport, we drove by Tripler, the pink hospital on the hill overlooking Pearl Harbor, where Andrew was born. There’s Queen Medical Center where Tom entered the world on Labor Day (quite a sense of humor.). I remember watching the finals of the U.S. Open, thinking "This doesn't hurt that much. I can handle it," and that's when the doc gave me the Petocin.
I walked over to the Rainbow Tower of the Hilton Hawaiian Village which reminded me of the last time my sons and I visited here - to compete in the Waikiki Rough Water Swim. Tom served as crew and Andrew beat me (by a lot) to the finish line - the noogie.
To top off my trip down Memory Row, the musician here just started playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The boys grew up in Maui listening to Hawaiian music ... Brothers Cazimero, Hapa, Keilii Reichel. Tom surprised me by having Brother Iz's version of this song played at his and Patty’s wedding. As he walked me to the center of the floor for the “Mom’s Dance,” he smiled and said “Thought you’d like this.”
Tom was right. I did like it. And I like that its lyrics are poignantly relevant as I reflect on the 25 years spent in these two homes of New Cuyama and Hawaii – first where I grew up as a child, second where my two children grew up.
“Somewhere over the rainbow, Blue birds fly,
And the dreams that you dreamed of,
Dreams really do come true.
I see trees of green and red roses too
I'll watch them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.”
It is indeed a wonderful world, and I am so grateful for the many dreams which have bloomed and come true.
How about you?
Have you been back to where you grew up? What memories did it bring back? If you haven't "gone home," there's no present like the time - and no time like the present.
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Sam Horn, Founder/CEO of the Intrigue Agency, is on a mission to help people create respectful, collaborative, one-of-a-kind communications that add value for all involved. Her work - including her TEDx talk and books POP!, Tongue Fu! and Washington Post Bestseller Got Your Attention? - has been featured in New York Times and presented to clients such as Boeing and Intel.