Friday, July 31, 2015

A Tomb With a View

This installment of my saga is true.

When my big trip is under way, I will have lots of time for reflection and meditative thought while driving. I love the way my mind takes off while the car follows the open road. Wanting to shore up the foundation for my musings, I drove to Oakland yesterday to visit places that loom large in my thoughts and to clarify some cloudy memories of my first twenty years. The grave site of my grandparents was my first stop. 


Ruth H. Anderson was my maternal grandmother. John J. was her husband, but not my blood grandfather. My paternal grandfather, Franklin Howard Hatch and Ruth were divorced in 1920, she became Ruth H. Anderson the next year when my mother, Ruthanne, was around two years old. He was the only father my mother knew and my grandfather in every way but blood.

The grave of my grandparents (Mimi and Bobo to me) sits at the highest point in St. Mary's cemetery in Oakland, California, literally beyond the pale of the adjoining and more beautifully kept Mountain View Cemetery. In fourteenth century Ireland, the pale was a line of fences that separated the part of Ireland that fell under English rule.  In Ireland, it was pickets that followed the contours of the land. Here, in the cemetery, an unattractive cyclone fence ranges up and down the hilly landscape. The ghosts of the Catholics stick to their own kind in Oakland, while the interdenominational, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and atheistic remains lie in integrated society.


On a clear day, you can see San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate through that break in the trees. During the course of their stormy, passionate marriage, Mimi and Bobo lived in a house with a similar view. Their first home was built for them in the '30s and was located on Cochrane Avenue on a steep and sparsely populated hillside. The astounding view from their living room and dining room looked out on the unbridged San Francisco Bay. Later, they watched as construction of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges added a new dimension to the vista.

They sold the house during a tempestuous passage in their marriage and then lived in a series of rental duplexes, a tract home in Concord, and finally in another home they built on Wilding Lane just off Broadway Terrace. And I know they always mourned their Cochrane Avenue home and the beautiful view.

He was an Irish immigrant, one of the middle children in a large brood who had fled poverty to make better lives for themselves. I believe fear of poverty was a driving force throughout his life. She was a flirtatious woman, strongly influenced by the glamour of Hollywood. They were always either passionately in love or on the brink of homicide.

When Mimi died in 1970, he continued to live in their home on Wilding Lane until it was destroyed in the Oakland firestorm, October 19, 1991. He and his girlfriend came to live with me from then until his death February 3, 1993. At the time of his death, he was worth just about a million dollars; thrift and prudent investment had lifted him out of poverty. I was the executor of his estate, most of which he left to various Catholic charities, but there was one very interesting and revealing bequest. He left a sum of money to "Kenneth Nielsen, the son of Kathryn Nielsen, a former secretary at P G & E." To distribute the estate, the attorney located Kenneth Nielsen. Kenneth in turn contacted me and we had an interesting, but not altogether surprising, conversation where Kenneth revealed that he was the illegitimate son of my grandfather. We further agreed to meet for lunch.

Kenneth wanted information about who he was. I brought about twenty photos of Bobo through the years and a copy of a brief biography my brother had written about him.

Kenneth was very pleased with my offerings and with any information I could provide. Then I asked him to tell me his side of the story.

He told me he had experienced "Uncle Jack" being a part of his life from his earliest memories until he was about twelve years old. Then he abruptly vanished and except for one brief conversation, was not heard from again until the will, about twenty eight years later, . When Kenneth was in his early 20's, he and his mother were drinking wine together and truth was revealed. Kenneth was told Uncle Jack was his father. Apparently during Kenneth's younger years, Uncle Jack was a regular in his life: often bringing toys, clothing, taking him to ball games, and just hanging out with him. However, one day Kenneth complained to his mother that he didn't like Uncle Jack's sloppy kisses: they made him feel uncomfortable. I could understand this. All my siblings and I shared a horror of those wet kisses (they weren't salacious, just gross). Kenneth's mother, in turn, reported this to Uncle Jack who apparently got his very tender feelings so deeply wounded that he abruptly ended all contact with the boy.

So, years passed, and when Kenneth learned the truth about the identity of his biological father, he confronted him via telephone, saying, "I understand you're my father." This occurred just about the time my grandmother was hopelessly ill from a heart attack and stoke. My grandfather was consumed by his love for her, fear of losing her, and the burden of her care.

 His response to Kenneth was,"I don't know what you're talking about. That's the craziest thing I ever heard." And he hung up on him.

Kenneth was crushed, but did nothing about it and just lived with his wound for the next 23 years until contacted by the attorney and meeting with me.

When I heard Kenneth's story, I was enraged. It took me a long time to come to terms with the terrible behavior of my grandfather. I could not believe this dimension existed in a man I loved, respected, and grieved: the man I had taken care of in his terminal illness. I too, felt betrayed. And yet, of all the adults in my life, he's the only one I ever heard tell me, "I'm proud of you." He made me feel beautiful and smart. I struggled to balance this out. All I have been able to do is realize we all have a dark side and we can only know the part of a person that is presented to us. I knew a different facet of a smart, loving (to me, anyway) accomplished man. That is still imprinted on me.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Wild West

This bit of family lore is true to the best of my knowledge. I have seen newspaper reports of both events.

I stayed in Coleville a couple of nights ago because of its connection to a grisly part of my family's history. Coleville is situated at the foot of the eastern slope of the Sierra in a narrow valley where the West Walker river drains the eastern slope of the the Sierra into Topaz Lake. The brother and sister of my great grandmother both suffered bloody deaths in that region.

Samuel J. Schooley was the first to go. He lived with his brother Henry just over the state line in the Smith Valley of Nevada. In an almost cliched series of events, he was shot by a man only identified by the name of Smith in a fight over a bottle of whiskey. The bullet hit an artery in his arm and he bled to death on September 6, 1874.

His widowed sister, Adeline Schooley Eggleston, died March 7, 1894 at the age of 65. She lived alone on her ranch near Coleville. Her body was found in her kitchen, with her severely battered face and head under a milk pail. The newspaper reports of the day said it must have been Indians because no white man was capable of such a savage deed. My great grandmother, Amanda Schooley Blair thought otherwise. She was convinced the villain was a neighbor who had been involved in a property dispute with Adeline. Although Amanda hired detectives and lawyers, she was never able to convince the local authorities of the neighbor's guilt and he got away with murder. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Closing the Loop

Planted at the foot of Centennial Bluff, my room at MeadowCliff Lodge faced east. I sat on the porch of my room waiting for the sun to come over Mt. Patterson, signalling time for my departure. I wanted to be able to take my time today driving over Ebbett's pass. Sonora pass has the kind of beauty that makes you gasp, but I can take it in while driving. Ebbett's Pass makes me sigh and I need to wallow in it. Sonora's beauty is soul-searing, Ebbett's is serene.

The road is harrowing, a single-lane asphalt ribbon laid across the landscape with very little grading, turning back on itself like a snake trying to swallow its tail as it climbs the eastern slope. Yet the beauty is reassuring and tranquil. I arrived at the 8,730 foot summit feeling as though my blood pressure was lower than it is at sea level.

I can show you the pictures, but you can't smell the trees. It was the Jeffrey Pines that first made a tree-hugger out of me. If you bury your nose in the bark, it smells like vanilla; some argue it smells like pineapple, but I disagree. Even the dirt, naturally decomposed granite, has a special clean smell.
It's serene, but far from quiet. Jays, Golden ground squirrels, Belden squirrels,and Stellar jays all add their voices to the chorus accompanied by the constant soughing of the trees and the river's murmur.
I sat at the table for nearly two hours until I realized time spent there would be time taken away from my walk through Calaveras Big Trees further down the mountain toward civilization.

No words describe the trees, no way exists to burn them into memory, a photo doesn't do it. You have to be there, to see them yourself, to feel how tiny and young you are. I've seen redwood and sequoia groves many times all over the state of California. Yet, every single time I'm overwhelmed. I walked the mile and a half loop in a little under 2-1/2 hours, a personal best for that distance with my walker. 

I stopped in Angel's Camp for dinner at Crusco's. The town was quiet. This nineteenth century haunt of Mark Twain and Bret Harte is much livelier on the third weekend in May when the annual frog jumping contest occurs. But I'm not crazy about crowds, or frogs either.

Miles: 194
Driving Time: About 4 hours
Total elapsed time; just under 8 hours
Gas price El Dorado Hills: $3.249


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Trial Run

Today and tomorrow, I'm working through some of my anxiety about leaving California. I know I will return, but I still feel I must say good-bye to some of my favorite places before I start my big road trip, And I need to get used to the new car. Today, I drove over Sonora Pass, had dinner in Bridgeport and headed to Coleville for the night.

Knowing I will be heading east most of the day and wanting to have the sun at my back, I didn't leave home till noon. Logan chose to stay home which suits me. He'll be able to take care of the animals.

His new futon arrived yesterday and he and Wes set it up last night, it's really nice looking. His room is much more spacious and I think he likes having it look more like a bachelor pad. Colleen and Andy hauled away the old bed this morning, so my obsessive need to get rid of junk is satisfied.

I started my journey driving south on Latrobe Road to Highway 16.  I picked up Highway 49 and drove to Sonora. Even the Live Oak trees seem to be suffering from the drought, everything looks like tinder waiting to burst into flame. Scorched patches along the roadside show evidence of small fires fortunately contained without much damage. An apparently empty canyon sits beneath the bridge that used to cross New Melones Dam. Four years without sufficient rain is terrifying. Most of the landscape between El Dorado Hills and Sonora is rolling grassy hills with an occasional scattering of cattle. A few new vineyards struggle to survive.

And because it is familiar territory, my mind wanders and I enter the meditative zone of zen driving.
It comes to me that I'm not ready to be homeless. I need to maintain a California base. And a perfect solution presents itself. I will take in Danny as soon as Logan leaves. My lease declares that there will be two occupants of my apartment, I'll just swap out Logan's name for Danny's. I'll split the rent with him and he can take care of the animals. I won't have to find a place for them while I'm gone. I'll have to talk to him about it when I get back.

After leaving Sonora, the road climbs quickly and I remember the early skiing days of Tommy, Billy, and Danny when we took this route through Twain Harte and Mi-Wuk Village to Dodge Ridge. It wasn't long before Dodge Ridge was too tame for the boys and we sought more challenging slopes at Kirkwood, NorthStar, and Sierra-at-Tahoe. I loved those days of being the Granny-on-the-porch keeping track of gloves, goggles, hats, and lunch money.

The road climbs and narrows as we pass Strawberry and the point of winter closure. At still higher elevations we pass favortie summer camping spots, Kennedy Meadows, and some unnamed place very near the summit surrounded by granite boulders with the Tuolomne River crashing through narrow slots in the rocks.

And then, the summit:

The eastern slope of Sonora pass is my favorite Sierra vista. I had to see it one more time before leaving California. The road quickly descends to the mountain wilderness survival camp of the Marine Corps and then joins highway 395.

I head south on 395 to Bridgeport where I have dinner at the Burger Barn. There isn't much happening on this stretch of high desert between Bridgeport and Coleville where I will spend the night at MeadowCliff Lodge.

El Dorado Hills to Sonora: 77.4 miles ( 1 hour 35 min)
Sonora to MeadowCliff Lodge, Coleville (96 miles 2 hours 35 min)
Room Rare: $80 double $95 single
Gas Price in Sonora: $3.249
Temperature in Sonora at 2PM: 90 degrees

Friday, July 24, 2015

Breaking the News

I struggled with how to tell Colleen about my plan. My anxiety was not misplaced. The first thing she said was, "Mom, you're crazy!"
"No, I think I'm quite sane, clearer than I have ever been." I sat rocking back and forth in the desk chair as she slammed dishes around in her kitchen.
"You're an old woman, you can hardly walk." She left the room to move a mound of clean laundry to the couch.
"I don't plan to walk, I'm driving." I pulled a nail file out of my purse and began worrying a fingernail that was torn down to the quick.
"You're 76."
"What does that have to do with it? Uncle Bill was still driving around the country, going to his WWII old farts' reunions well into his 80's. He drove alone, brought his walker, drove as many as 800 miles a day." I put both palms down on the table in front of me and began to stand, just to prove I could. The wheels of the desk chair started sliding backward and I had to grasp at the table's edge to keep from falling to the floor.
"He's a man, it's different."
"He's a 5'5" tall 135 pound man who can't walk without holding on to something. How's that any safer?"
"Just because he's nuts, doesn't mean you have to be, too." She snapped tea towels furiously as she folded them.
"I told you, I'm not nuts. I know what I'm doing and I know how to do it. I did it before when I took that two month trip to the east coast the summer of 2000."
She stomped across the room, put the towels in their drawer and slammed it shut. "That was fifteen years ago, you were 61."
"All the more reason to do it now. I am getting old and before too long, I admit I will be too old. I have to do it now while I still can."
She pulled up a chair next to me and plopped down, deflating like a balloon with a slow leak, "What about us? You can't leave us again, you''ve only been back a year."
     She's right. I ended my nine-year exile just a little over a year ago. I had spent those years living in Ozark, Missouri, raising Ben and Logan. I moved back to California in June, 2014 when Ben was just finishing his freshman year at UC Davis and Logan was just about to enter his senior year at Oak Ridge High School.
     During my years in Missouri, I learned a lot about myself. I discovered I treasure time alone. Reading, writing, and quilting became the activities I found most fulfilling. Yet, the need for connection still thrummed deep in my being during extended hours of solitude. Book clubs and quilting groups provided threads I was able to follow to the hearts and souls of the wonderful friends I met during those years. I also learned my California roots were deep and broad.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mapping it Out

I bought my road atlas yesterday at the local Walgreen's and already began to feel the pull of the road. I asked the young clerk if they had a road atlas and he quickly led me to the magazine display which held two different sizes. I opted for the more familiar large format. He and I opened the book to the page with the US map and pointed to parts of the country we each wanted to see. I let him turn to the Colorado page first.

I often wonder what motivates young people to go to either Colorado or Washington. I sense an increase in migration for recent high school graduates to colleges in those states. Is it the lure of legal weed? I hope parents aren't paying out-of-state tuition just so their kids can get high. I also hope marijuana becomes legal all over the country before too long. I would love to see it decriminalized, and to see states getting some revenue from tax on it rather than have the proceeds fuel the illegal drug industry.

I opened the book to the Florida page. Driving the Overseas highway to Key West has been a goal of mine for as long as I have known it was possible. That, along with driving to the pinnacle of Pike's Peak in Colorado seem to me like the ultimate road trip experiences. I intend to do both this trip.

I looked at possible routes while sitting in the pedicure throne at my local salon. While flipping through pages and trying to decide where to head first, the cover tore lose from the book. This is the fate of every road atlas I have ever owned. I never look at them on flat surfaces where the stapled binding can rest securely, I'm always holding them in my hands, folding back the pages until the outer pages are stripped away one-by-one. I think I'm going to look for a more compact format with a spiral binding for the trip.

Deciding the route for leaving home is going to be difficult. So many magnificent places are near my starting point in El Dorado Hills, California. I must decide among heading east over any one of several high Sierra mountain passes, perhaps making my way through Yosemite and up to Lake Tahoe, or should I head south and drive the Big Sur coast? Alternatively, I could head north through the Napa Valley and on toward Mendocino, or maybe it would be best to leave my heart in San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate and go up the coast highway. I'm a fair weather driver and I refuse to drive into the blinding sun. That means I'm going to have to plan my winter routes carefully and confine my eastbound driving hours to afternoons and head westward in the morning. So, I've decided to make my first leg northbound through the Napa Valley.

I'm going to head for the Canadian border and hope to make it to Thunder Bay, Ontario before winter sets in. Tentatively, I'll then head south for the winter following the course of the Mississippi from its source at Lake Itasca near Bemidji, Minnesota to the mouth at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Today I'm going to shop for a small, lightweight portable sewing machine. I know that sounds silly, not many would understand planning a road trip by deciding what sewing machine to take. For me, it is as vital as a computer or cell phone. I simply cannot go long without yielding to my compulsion to touch and form fabric.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Off Into Fantasy Land

Note: From here on out, this blog is pure fantasy. I have dreamed of a road trip all around the perimeter of the U.S. with an extension into the Canadian Rockies. On my bucket list are trips to Taos, the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Key West, Charleston, South Carolina (the only state of the union I haven't visited), more time in Manhattan, stops in Brooklyn and Staten Island, a week on Martha's Vineyard, a few days on one of the Thousand Islands, Banff, Lake Louise, and the Canadian Rockies. I don't think I'm going to pack all of that into this lifetime, so I decided that with the help of a road atlas, Google maps, and an infinite number of Google searches I can make this trip a virtual reality fantasy. I'm making up the rules as I go along, but for starters, I'm giving up a residence, storing all my stuff, allowing myself to park my car at an airport and fly to special events, but otherwise living in my car and circumnavigating the country. People may join me for parts of the trip. I plan to drive no more than 200 miles in a day and to remain flexible and open to changes in itinerary.Places and names of businesses are real. Some of the people are real, but their part in my odyssey is fictional. 

 Today I bit the bullet and bought this:
And I got rid of the Suzuki. I'll break in this beauty as Logan gets ready to leave for college and I get ready to pack up my apartment and hit the road.
And I know you're wondering, so I'll tell you: just under $42,000, out the door. The most expensive car I've ever bought, but I'm sure it's my last car and it's been my dream car for the last five years.
Next item of business is to figure out what size storage locker I need and locate one. Preparing to be homeless takes a lot of planning.
I keep looking out at my parking place and trying to think of someplace I need to go, but, all I really need to do today is get a pedicure and a road atlas.