Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for California

My parents hopped around Oklahoma and Texas, with brief stays in Guatemala and Malta, from the first 7 years of my life. My father was in the oilfield, and when he was working overseas it allowed us to live wherever we wanted. When we visited friends in North Carolina during the Christmas of 1978, my parents looked at each other and said, "This looks nice."

So we moved. I was in third grade, and many of my real memories begin here. As a result of tragedy (the oil bust) and necessity, we changed houses every couple of years, but I continued to go to school with primarily the same kids. This became, in effect, my hometown.

A few months before the end of my sophomore year in high school, my parents sat me down and delivered the worst news a parent can give an almost 16 year old girl - we're moving.

Across the country.

I was, typically, completely devastated. I begged and pleaded and made threats and deals, but nothing worked. With promises and bribes my parents loaded up and moved to Contra Costa County, just east of the San Francisco Bay.

I was, typically, completely wrong. California was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was a novelty, with my funny accent and ignorance about such awesome things as Siouxsie and the Banshees and Blondie's Pizza. The accent I learned to lose, until it was needed, and the rest I gobbled up, having until that moment not known how hungry I was.

I had never met an Asian person. I had never met an Indian person. I had never met an openly gay person. I had never met so many people with such beautiful teeth. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with things I'd never been exposed to. I looked around at the mohawks and the piercings and the colors and cultures and thought - these are my people. This is my tribe!

I have always longed to be something - Irish or Mexican or Jewish or Californian. I had no idea what my cultural identity was, I just knew I wanted one. Preferably one with great food and extended holidays. But in the Bay Area, I found things were so diverse, they became homogenized. You no longer had to try to be something, you just were. There were so many other people, that you ceased to be what color you were or what language you spoke. I don't know if it's the romantic memory of a 16 year old, but I do know that it was the first time in my life that I felt like I was home.

 I spent every weekend I could in Berkeley. I went to concerts all over the City and saw Nelson Mandela speak and watched them blow up a skyscraper in the middle of San Francisco, standing next to my Father one early, foggy morning.

I saw a skyscraper.

I graduated high school.
I loafed.
I met The Boyfriend, with whom I slowly made my way northeast, and then abruptly, South.

Back to North Carolina, where things had changed so drastically that I hardly knew where I was. I found new friends and married The Boyfriend and had some babies and grew up. I learned to love the South as an adult, which is an entirely different experience than as a kid. I see how far the South has come, and how far we have to go. I feel like I've found out who I am, and what is home.

Sometimes The Husband and I talk about moving back. Never seriously, always wistfully.
"If we won the lottery? And we could live anywhere? What about then?" he asks.
I hesitate, because the thought of spending every day on the beach in Carmel makes me want to cry with happiness. Finally, I shake my head.

"No," I say, "I'm just a Southern girl."

(But that doesn't mean that if won the lottery we wouldn't have a totally rad beach house in California.)


  1. One of my best memories of highschool was the spring break trip we took to Cali. I was old enough that my folks let me wander without them but still took in the sites with them. I remember thinking I was SO cool not just wearing OP but being ON the OP. It was my first experience seeing porn newspapers just in the news racks. For free. I met the most righteous dude who was also on spring break from New Orleans and we stayed friends for years.

    Thanks for the memories, Kelly :)

    1. There really is a reason people keep going there, despite it's problems! I'm glad it made you think haopy thoughts!

  2. I grew up in Marin County, Kelly. I am still getting over the shock of having moved from the the birthplace of Metallica to a place where they celebrate March 14 as Pi Day and even teenagers sing opera, not rock.

    1. I love Metallica. (and I love Metallica opera, too)

  3. Hubby and I talk about the whole where we'd live if we could live anywhere thing all the time. He did all his growing up in one place and I did mine all over the place. The place we live now is where both sets of my grandparents lived throughout my childhood, but I don't have contact with any extended family even those living closest (except my own siblings) so it's not as if I want to stay because I'm connected to specific people. I am somehow connected to the geography, though. That and terrified about the prospect of moving ANYWHERE. (Although house on the ocean is the key splurge item on my lottery list.)

    1. I feel that way about NC. Not as connected to people as I am to the place. It is kind of amazing, the effect a certain geography has on us.

  4. I love how beautifully you captured the wonder of new experiences! I want to visit you at your beach house.

    1. Thanks, Stephanie! I'll put you on the guest list!

  5. Oh my gosh, what a breath of fresh air! I love...I mean LOVE Northern California. I grew up in the town that Tara mentioned where we celebrate PI day being March 14. (3.14) I received an excellent education here and think it is an awesome place to have a family, but I miss California.

    That is the state where I found out who I am and what I care about. It is where I grew up, where I quit drinking and learned to care for other people, where I learned to stand for what is important.

    I moved there on a whim...literally a moment's decision. I rode an unregistered motorcycle from New Mexico to California with nothing more than $200, a bag of potatoes and a backpack full of clothes. I stayed there for sixteen years.

    Kelly, I think that you have inspired me to write my moving to California story as a blog. Wow, what great memories!

    Thanks Kelly!
    --Mike Adams

    1. That's sounds like the beginning of a really great story, Mike. I can't wait to read it!

  6. great post, kelly. Me being from California, I can totally relate.


  7. I loved California! My family and I moved there for about 4 years because of my husband's job. We had to move back South when he father became ill to take care of him. If I could move back I would!

  8. I can relate. My dad moved us around a few times when I was growing up. San Diego was one of our stops. We ended up in East Tennessee when I was in high school and I loved it there. That's still what I call home even though I've ended back up in California having lived in L.A. for the past 20 years.

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