Sunday, October 24, 2010
The other day I took all the old boards from the fence to the dump. Those were the same boards that had the old nails my dad had put in. As I tossed the boards onto a pile of wood there, a moment of sentimentality came over me and I was compelled to say 'goodbye' to those boards. They had been part of my parents home for 30 years, and now off they went into oblivion.
On the way back, I passed by the fairgrounds, which acquired more land in the 1970's. Many old neighborhoods were torn down and removed to make way for the expanded fairgrounds. One parcel of land covers a few acres. It's basically an empty field, but it's been used for rodeos, flea markets, and other activities since the 70's. On that very field a vibrant old neighborhood once existed, and as I looked through the chain-link fence, I spotted a certain area in that field. A house once stood there, it was my grandparents house.
As I stood there, a thousand wistful memories washed over me, all of the Thanksgivings, Easters, and a few Christmases, and countless summer visits to their house. There was a huge avocado tree in the back yard that my grandpa nurtured from a seedling. And the house itself, it was an old California Bungalow design, which seemed to have room for everybody. It was like a magical place, full of fun memories, when all of our relatives would gather for fantastic turkey dinners during holidays. We would always drive down from San Jose the night before Thanksgiving and arrive there around 9 or 10 PM, but they would be waiting for us, and my grandma always had something in her 'magic refrigerator' as cousin Mike called it, which had plenty of everything, no matter how many people showed up. Usually my cousins would already be there, or would soon arrive. Us kids would sleep on the living room floor in our sleeping bags, and the next morning we'd watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I still have a memory of my cousin Joanne saying "look you guys!" and seeing a huge parade float on the TV. I was astonished, since I was only about 3 at the time! To this day, the Thanksgiving parade resonates through me as that memory is etched in my mind from all those years ago.
My mom grew up in that house, along with her sister and two brothers. Luckily, they weren't affected by the Great Depression too much, since my grandpa had a good job as the head mechanic at the Ford garage. They were even able to take in relatives for long periods of time. It seems that everyone lived or stayed there at one time or another. My mom's brothers were both older, so they enlisted during the war and moved out, so just she and her sister remained and grew up there in the 40's and into the 50's. And they always returned 'home' for visits after moving to San Jose. In the 60's after my grandpa retired, he still worked on cars for friends and neighbors, I still remember one or two vehicles always parked in the back completely taken apart. When he was done for the day, he'd sit on the back porch and have a beer, with a wink he'd say, "go get grandpa a sodee!"
It was Thanksgiving of 1969 that we all gathered there once again, but my grandpa was feeling ill, with a constant cough. By Christmas he'd been diagnosed with cancer, and sadly he died soon after that. My grandma stayed there in the house by herself for awhile, but came up to live with us in San Jose, and the house stood vacant. It was sad to go there and see it so empty. Soon after, the County Redevelopment Agency began buying up the properties to make way for the expanding fairgrounds, and after some haggling, they settled on a price and the house went to the county, which proceeded to raize the entire neighborhood.
So I stood there and thought back to those days, to that house full of life, and memories...the happy destination for so many family members, for so many years...now just an empty field...but a house once stood here, and the memories remain.
Friday, October 8, 2010
The other day I was helping my mom paint the fence. It's a pretty big yard so there was a lot of fence to paint. When my parent first moved in back in 1986, my dad built an inner fence, complete with a small shed and a work table attached to the fence.
When we were done painting, my mom said, "why don't you take that table apart? the wood is rotting anyway." She went inside and I got a hammer and started prying off the boards. As I was taking the 2x6's off one by one, I realized that it was my dad who had built this, over 20 years ago. He loved to build things, and he was good at it. The nails were cross-hatched, to give the table more strength. When the boards were off, I started pulling out the nails, and remembered my dad and I doing the same thing when I was 8 years old. Back then, I struggled to pull out a nail, and he said, "put a piece of wood under the hammer, it'll come out easier...look.." and he showed me how to do it. I thought of that when I did that same thing, and I felt like my dad was right next to me. Then I looked at those nails and thought of them shiny and new, when he first built that table, and now here they were, old and rusted, but he was the last one to touch them. And in touching them again, I felt his presence...like those heart transplant recipients who eerily take on the memories and mannerisms of their donors, there was a certain energy or spoor that came from just touching them. I get that same feeling whenever I go near his green toolbox. Everything I learned about using tools, working on cars, etc. came from my dad...I still remember him showing me how to do things, and he would constantly go, "look...look...look.." as he was showing me...
This was his house, and I still feel his presence.