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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Walking back through time ...

It appears that my son, Bob, also recently engaged in nostalgia for times past. On the occasion of his Del Valle high school reunion -- he took the time to do something I've never had the courage to do. He returned to the home of his childhood and took his camera along. I've only driven past that lovely home twice in all the years since we left it. Both times were accidental in that I was a passenger in Tom's car and tried to pretend I didn't notice as we took the curve at Boulevard Way. He lives within a quarter mile of 2501 Warren Road in Walnut Creek.

I'd forgotten how lovely it was -- and of how much life we lived there ... times both awful and wonderful beyond measure. This lovely view of Mt. Diablo from the property often returns in dreams ... .

The house was on the market when Bob visited so he had a chance to walk around among the trees and let the memories lead him back. I'm not sure that I could do that, even now. But then I've never returned to the house that Bill and I shared on the topmost ridge of Berkeley; high above the university campus during the 80's. For reasons I've not given much thought to; I've never willingly retraced my steps -- not even to the home where I grew up in East Oakland. Wonder what that means?

I've lost track of the architect, Sewell Smith, the courageous Quaker who designed it. He would hardly recognize his masterpiece at this point. Over the years the redwood 4-bedroom home has been painted and the interior completely altered (according to Bob who managed to walk through). The swimming pool has been bulldozed and filled in and many of the fruit trees removed or replaced by ornamentals. No more wisteria nor any sign of the huge English walnut tree that overhung the deck. The Las Trampas creek which borders the back acreage still meanders through though I'm sure its bed has changed many times since we left. And it's no surprise that Bob thoughtfully included snapshots of a place where raccoon families shared the land with us and where tadpoles could be found in spring.

I'm sure that he remembered those hot summer evenings when he and David (and sometimes Rick) would drag their sleeping bags out behind the pool to bed down under the giant oaks. I remember how disconcerting it was for their less than courageous young mother who watched them traipse out for their starlight adventure knowing that I was almost too timid to go out with a flashlight to check on them should there be a call in the night; certainly not without my eyes cast downward and fingers in my ears! The sound of an owl or the sight of a possum could send me into sheer panic!

Looking at these snapshots reminded me how Biz, a neighbor's loving cocker spaniel used to sneak in at night and join the kids as they slept out. I remembered Helsa, our wonderfully protective German shepherd -- then later Barnaby -- the hilarious Old English Sheepdog we loved so much. The puppies, cats, turtles, rabbits; pets galore who shared that home with us for years on end.

Found myself wondering, while dropping off into troubled sleep last night -- just how well did we prepare our children for the world they would grow into? The pain inflicted by racism surely left its scars on their lives; pain we were unable to protect them from. How fair was I in so stubbornly demanding my rights to full equality at the expense of their well-being? I'm not at all sure that our good intentions compensated for the psychological and emotional damage they were exposed to. Yet -- despite all -- I love the people they've grown up to be. We're good friends who enjoy one another -- and being together when time and distance allows; Bob, David, Dorrie, and me. If only we'd been able to save Rick ... and if Mel had lived long enough to have known all of his grandchildren.

I see what are sincerely affectionate feelings being expressed for Sasha and Malia Obama, and great admiration for their parents. It's heartening to see, but for some of us it has come at least a generation too late.

...but one thing was perfectly clear in looking back at these idyllic photos. Mel and I surely did our very best to provide a good life for our children. Our world at that time didn't support us in that effort.

Would I want to do it all again? Only if I could live it this time with the acquired wisdom and courage that came with years and years of growth and change -- both for me and for the country.

Maybe we were just too far ahead of the curve.


Still missing Rick today, but a visit back to our early days as a family through Bob's photos seems to make it all a bit less painful. Maybe this can be considered a part of letting go ... not only of a son, but of memories of the good, the bad, and the ugly -- all essential parts of life, and in Rick's case, death.

Next week it's back to "rangering," with a panel at Santa Rosa Community College.

How wonderful to have meaningful work with which to anchor a life.

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