I went back to my little hometown over the weekend – Corning, CA, population 7000. Nothing’s changed and everything’s changed. We drove past my grandparents’ old house. It was a great house with a porch in the front and a well-tended yard. I remember Grandma’s violets and azaleas because I got paid a dollar to water the yard when they went on vacation. It was horrifying to see that wonderful house now – barely any white paint left on it, the yard overgrown and spooky looking. But a woman looked up from the back yard and a child came out from inside. In front, a man was building a huge pile of cut branches where he was pruning. A young family lives there now. The house will be saved and new life brought back to it. It made me happy.
We drove past my old house. As a child it was a huge two-story house with a massive backyard. Something happened to it, something terrible happened to it. It’s been unoccupied and vandalized for so many years, that now it’s fenced off and condemned. That was sad to see, but what made it shrink? How did the huge backyard become such a small backyard? And where are all the wonderful trees? No more apricot, peach, cherry or pear. Only the big walnut trees and the lemon tree survived to force out life, unaware that no one was home to appreciate them any more. No more iris or rose bushes. No more games out back or climbing the fig tree or looking out the window from the bedroom window and dreaming of when we got big.
We drove past the park filled with olive trees where Danette and I would walk and unpack our tiny picnic lunches. Oddly, it looks exactly the way it should look.
When we decided at the last minute to take this trip, Rich asked if I wanted to go to the hakachi. I’d heard the word before when we visit his mother’s site after she was cremated. I said no. Just thinking about it brought tears to my eyes. But after a day of thinking about it, I knew I could do it. I bought artificial flowers and made an arrangement. Ironically, it was Mom who taught me how to do that. We found her grave faster than I expected to. Even after forty years, I stood before her marker and was overwhelmed with emotion. It took three times to get the flowers to sit right and look nice. She would like that. Grandma and Grandpa next to her, watching out after their wayward daughter for eternity, should never have seen her go so young. It was good be there. The things she taught me from such a young age stay with me still and I miss her.
It took a while for emotion to settle down after we left. Then I could look forward to seeing my old friend Vicky again. By quirky coincidence, she was in town visiting family as well. What a joy to see her and try to remember all our old friends. We said hi to the man who delivered my mail when I was young. He remembered me and my Grandfather, but I was sorry to not remember him at all.
Corning goes on as if I’d never lived there. New people move in, young people move out. It’s the heart and soul of my childhood yet nothing remains to tell the tale. Even the boarding house where I lived in college burned down. I miss the small town freedom to walk everywhere and be stopped by people who knew my Mom or Grandfather. I miss the parades and the fireworks. Seems like a “B” movie, but it was real. Even with all the heartache and pain, I still miss it.