Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The California Native Returns

I made it to Lake Tahoe. Since I landed late at night into SFO, I checked into a hotel before attempting to drive up the mountain. From the airport cop, to the shuttle driver, to the woman who checked me in at the hotel, all of them spoke so quickly, I had to ask multiple times for them to repeat what they said. I couldn’t listen fast enough. All this “talking story” on Oahu the past few months made me an attentive and patient listener. Hawaiians take their time when speaking.

The next morning, I couldn’t wait to drive on Interstate 80 in four lanes and have the speedometer reach something higher than 50 MPH. After picking up my car at the rental center, I meditated while driving 65 on the freeway with other cars and watched open fields and sunflowers and almond trees whiz past me. I was reminded of when I was a kid.

California back then was mostly agricultural. We used to pick apricots in the lot next door to us. We’d drive as a family to a field nearby and pick cherries on land that is now Apple Computer headquarters. My great aunt and uncle lived next to Adobe Creek in Los Altos, where I grew up before we moved to Newport Beach. Many Sunday mornings my mom and dad would ride us on the back of their bicycles (without helmets) to the family house in Los Altos Hills. After riding down the long driveway and passing fruit trees along the way, we’d enter through the kitchen door at the back of the house where my great-aunt’s homemade hot cross buns sat on the counter waiting for us. My sister and I would sit at the table and pick up a bun to find it still warm. Then we’d walk into Adobe Creek and pick blackberries.

THAT is the California I remember.

So when I found myself on I-80 following this Chevy Truck, I really was transported to the California of the 70’s. It has the old black and gold license plate. I can’t believe this truck is still on the road. Hey, it’s for sale too!

Of course, I HAD to stop at Ikeda’s in Auburn. It’s a family owned restaurant/farm/fruit stand. I almost cried when I saw the half flat of organic, fresh picked strawberries for $8.29. A small clamshell of organic strawberries is sometimes $8.99 on Oahu and that’s after sitting on a ship for a week.

I picked up strawberries and peach muffins and continued to Squaw Valley where I was meeting members of the awesome group #9 from the 2007 Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Lake Tahoe has a distinctive smell, it’s of pine, but nowhere else have I smelled the pine trees like I have in Tahoe. When I arrived in the parking lot and stepped out of the car, I inhaled a big lung-full of Tahoe air. Ahhh! I love Tahoe. Have I mentioned I lived there for a few years? It’s a magical place.

And speaking of magic, the people who run the Squaw Valley Community of Writers manage to create magic year after year. Four years after attending the conference, my friends and I found each other in our rented condo. Happy to be together, we laughed and screamed and hugged. We’d come from as far as Vermont and Hawaii to meet up once again. We’ve reunited a few times before and it’s always great, like we’ve never been apart.

This time we came to support two of our own - Sara J, Henry and Jessica O’Dwyer. Both of these ladies read from their published books to the 2011 participants, alumni and local folk who came to hear past participants read.

Sara’s book, LEARNING TO SWIM, came out in February. Sara was first of the alumni readers to address the group. She spoke to the audience about how her confidence was shattered the first time she attended the conference and how she went home and didn’t write for a year. The audience gasped. Sara then shared about her experience in 2007. When she said she’d found her writing family at the magical conference that year, I wasn’t the only one who, for one second, stopped breathing and felt tears in my eyes.

A few readers later and Jessica was reading from her memoir, MAMALITA. I’d heard Jessica share stories that aren't in the book at her book launch last November. Even though I’d heard one of the stories before, it touched me again about how much struggle a mother will go through to adopt the child she loves.

At the end of the alumni speakers event, I turned to another of our 2007 group alumna and said with pride, “Our girls were great.”