There are no coincidences. It wasn’t coincidence that my youngest child and her husband received orders to San Diego where I grew up and raised my children. It wasn’t a coincidence that after three years of not traveling, I got to spend ten weeks in California, five in Northern California where my eldest daughter and only son live with their families, and five in Southern California where I had not been back to in twenty years.
Nor was it a coincidence that when I transitioned to Southern California, my eldest and her children went with me to spend a few days and help organize a “sprinkle” for her sister who was was expecting her second child. When my eldest child seem to lose layers of years of heart heaviness being back in a place she was been as a child and young adult, I knew that this reality we were all in had been waiting for us all along.
The last week of my time in California, my eldest granddaughter, Raina, joined me in San Diego and I was able to show her the neighborhoods where I was raised. I drove by the Chili’s restaurant in Clairemont that used to be a Hamburger House where I worked as a hostess and where I met her grandfather. I had been a senior in high school. She never knew her great-aunt and great uncle lived in San Diego and her grandfather lived with them for a time while he went to trade school in San Diego, in Barrio Logan.
I drove by the duplexes that were still there where I had lived as a grade schooler and the first house my parents bought after my dad retired from he Navy. I introduced her to cousins I had been raised with, both seniors now, like me, who had never met any of my grandchildren until this visit. I took her to Old Town Mexican Café, a favorite brunch place for our family when we met my eldest cousin. We sat in a booth my parents frequented when they ate there.
After our brunch, my cousin returned home and she and I walked the streets of Old Town San Diego. She was fascinated by the clay and adobe that was everywhere, the combination of history, culture, and folklore that seemingly tugged at something in her. I know because I felt it. Our people are from Mexico, Spain, Italy and from those of the First Nation that were in Texas and California before these territories were claimed and settled by countries who sought only to expand their realms. Three generations of our family lived and walked these very streets where my granddaughter, the fourth generation, was now walking.
She and I sat at an old wood table that rocked on the uneven patio pavement that buckled under the roots of the age old oak and palm trees that were shading us. We took time to cool down from our walk, sipping strawberry lemonade for her and a cappuccino for for me. She commented on how she could not get over how this place made her “feel”. I knew what she meant.
I had moved away and settled in North Carolina after living most of my childhood and adult life in California. I moved before she was born. I had been a long distance grandmother, flying in to Sacramento every year for twenty-four years. When my parents moved to Florida after almost losing their home to a horrific fire in 2002, I never had a reason to go to San Diego, since two of my three children lived in rural Colusa County, four additional grandchildren arrived over time and my youngest child was with us in North Carolina until she graduated high school and joined the Navy.
Arriving in San Diego after twenty years was not only nostalgic, it was a traumatic, an in-your-face reminder of the father I lost in January of this year. Between the joy of seeing friends and family at the baby “sprinkle”, the joy of having my two daughters together for a few days, the surprise of my daughter and her husband living in Navy housing in Pacific Beach, the bittersweet reminders of my parents, and my father in particular, were everywhere.
I felt him most poignantly at NAS Point Loma where Jett, my grandson, went to daycare and where Matteo, the newest gran will most likely go. My son-in-law took me up to Cabrillo Monument, passing the National Cemetery there. The cemetery, even the view from the daycare center and the historic landmark of Cabrillo Monument all overlook the bay, the city of San Diego, NAS North Island where Dad used to arrive on the aircraft carrier Bonn Homme Richard, C-31 back in the 1960’s. That carrier was one of the first to be present in the Tonkin Bay in the early days of the Vietnam conflict. Dad was a catapult and an arresting gear crewman. Picture the Top Gun movie scenes on the air craft carrier out to sea. That was my dad, that guy signaling to send the jets off the carrier and part of the crew that secured these same jets when they landed.
Nostalgia is from the Greek word “Nostos” or “return home”. On our way to meet my cousin in Old Town, my granddaughter remarked how strangely familiar it all seemed to her.
“Grams,” she said as I drove onto Interstate 5, “Did I mention how much I love San Diego? It feels so good here.”
I told her that it should. There were three generations of her family that lived here most of their adult or adolescent lives, her grandparents, me, her mom, uncle, and aunt. “Generational familiarity” was the phrase we agreed described her connection to the city.