Wednesday, July 20, 2016

the dream of the 1890s

Laterblog, from a July 18 journal entry.

As I write this, I'm watching mist filter through pines and redwoods and trees I have no name for. I'm staying with my aunt and cousin and their respective husbands on the outskirts of Loleta, which is on the outskirts of Eureka. "Behind the Redwood Curtain" is a thing people say up here when they're talking about how there are no good jobs or doctors.

Dash just woke up from his nap for a minute. I soothed him by taking him to the window and pointing out the trees, the mist, the propane tank, the cars on the highway, the billboard for Cheech and Chong's appearance at the local casino.

Maria and Al's little house in the big woods.
Aunt Vanessa has lived here since the seventies, when she moved here to be with Richard, her second husband. My grandmother joined her when her house was taken by eminent domain to make room for the Santa Ana City College parking lot.

I learned all these details from my cousin Maria a couple of days ago. She's been doing a ton of research on our family's history, for which I'm hugely grateful. She and her husband Al joined Vanessa and Linus up here a couple of years ago when Maria got a job at Humboldt State.

Country life seems to have been good for Maria and Al, who were the kind of people who maybe needed their lives to be a little less interesting. The first time AK met them, we were on our second or third date, and we ran into them at a Hollywood bus stop. They were wearing matching camo pants and bright yellow T-shirts. The family narrative has always been that Vanessa and Maria are fun, and Valerie (my mom), Cheryl and Cathy (my sister) are responsible. I hope that by now we're meeting somewhere in the middle.

Al and Maria at Centerville Beach.
There's nothing like spending time with family to remind you who you are, for better and worse. We are chronic apologizers, too self-aware for our own good, funny, nutty, creative. My aunt says things like "Whoever invented the term 'golden years' should be shot. It's more like pot metal--you know the stuff they make carnival prizes out of?" Linus has a green-and-yellow parrot named Baby, who eats at the dinner table and only has eyes for Linus. Vanessa said, "If I ever find an egg around here, and it hatches, and the baby bird looks like Linus...."

Family breakfast at Poppa Joe's in Ferndale. Baby couldn't make it.
Maria's agenda for us included dressing up in an old family prairie dress and taking photos at the cemetery down the road.

The dress fit both Cathy and me extraordinarily well. Tailored for Taylors! (Okay, wrong side of the family, but I couldn't resist.)
We drove some of the back roads through Ferndale. I felt jumpy because people are not used to seeing strange cars, perhaps especially ones being driven by black men. One guy pointed a shovel at us in a way I interpreted to mean "Stay off my land or I'll shoot," but soon he, Al and Maria were reminiscing about mutual friends and old times. I am so much better at urban anonymity than country friendliness.

We bummed around Ferndale, which is still the preserved-in-amber 1890s logging town that it was in the 1980s. It still has the same musty smell and some of the same stores, including Golden Gait Mercantile, whose second floor is a collection of creepy mannequins in old-timey clothing. But now there's a WiFi network called Ferndale Free Cozy WiFi.


Upstairs at the Mercantile. You know at night they come alive.
Linus comes from one of the early Danish families that founded the town. All the elders seem to be millionaire hoarders, like a West Coast Grey Gardens. There was talk of stopping by Cousin Willie's; he'd recently been arrested for dumping hazardous materials on his own land. We haven't done that yet and I feel okay about that.

Cowboy Dash. Seriously, I feel so lucky to have such a sweet family, who welcomed him with open arms, slices of watermelon and free-ranging cows.

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