Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Sentimental Journey to my Past

On our way to Maui with the grandkids, we stopped in Southern California to see our family. I asked my dad to take me to my childhood homes. I have never seen them since I lived in them over 5 decades ago, so we went on a sentimental journey.  

This little blue house is where I lived when I was 2 years old. That was the year Disneyland opened, just a couple miles away, and I remember going there wide-eyed as a very little girl, (which probably explains my continuing delight in  all things Disney). 

It was a basic little starter home, but it seemed very large to me at that time. I have vivid memories of playing cowboys and Indians in that cul-de-sac in front of the house (Roy Rogers was on tv) with all the children on the street. I can still remember the insides of their homes. My dad planted that large tree to the right, so I guess it's the same age as me and Disneyland. I remember bedtime stories, my little play kitchen, and my little phonograph that played "Jimmie Crack Corn" as often as I liked.

This was where I attended kindergarten, in the brick classroom on the right. Mrs. Canelake presided with kindness and patience. The school is on a very busy street now, but at that time it wasn't and I rode to school on my 2nd grade brothers bicycle handle bars
You read that right. It was a different world. Safer and more dangerous at the same time. 
No carpools. No seatbelts.  No helmets. 

After kindergarten, we moved to this house. A hard-won step up for my dad as a young husband and provider for 3 young children. I remember well the long cottage roof lines--a Disney influence I am sure. It was a shiny new neighborhood at the time, and I remember my dad seeding the lawn, my mother's sweet peas and green beans growing on the fence, and my doll collection. 

My dad held poker parties at the dining table near the entryway nook. I would sit on his lap, and get beer kisses from him. I still like the taste of beer kisses. Positive associations with my sweet dad who would allow me to sit there with the guys as they smoked their cigars and played their low stakes game. 


I remembered a nearby park that I had ventured to alone as a 6 year old. I directed my dad, and found it just exactly where I remembered it. I was pleased to see it was still there, though it's on the edge of a freeway now, and it's been enlarged,  modernized and the trees are enormous. It was a neighborhood park with no parking lots when I was a kid. 

After living in this neighborhood for a year, my parents got a divorce and I moved to northern California with my mother. I was a sad kid from then on, missing my father,  living in a string of low budget apartments, scared and lonely. It made my 84 year old dad visibly sad just to revisit this place where his heart broke apart. There are some sorrows that time doesn't erase.  I wish people understood that when they divorce so easily. 

This is the only known picture of my paternal grandmother, Leila Boydston Sisco. She was born c.1910. I love her hair bow, and crisp white dress with ruffles and pleats. Imagine ironing that before electricity.   I never knew her, as she had tuberculosis when my dad was 4 years old,  and was removed to a sanitarium to die. My grandfather was apparently a spoiled only child and an alcoholic, and he simply couldn't handle the responsibility and disappeared. My dad and his siblings were orphaned then, and began living between relatives homes. My dad never felt truly safe again. 

When my dad grew up and finally had his own home, it embodied all the security he'd never had. My dad did all the brickwork on his home, and carved his name into the concrete. Though I have been to his home countless times, this was the first time I noticed this engraving of his name and my maiden name in a corner of the walkway. My dad has lived here for 45 years. 


This is my dad's brother, my Uncle Joe and his wife Lenora in happier days. Like his no-good father, he was also an alcoholic and almost burned down our little blue house when he passed out while smoking on the couch. My parents came home in the nick of time and saw him speed away from the house. I remember them dragging the couch out to the curb with black smoke billowing out of it. He gambled away his money and his health, lost his family and passed away many years ago. I loved his wife and his kids, my cousins. Lenora is the only survivor in that family but I haven't seen her since childhood. Some choices shatter families beyond repair.

My dad's mantle with his grandson, Joey, and his sweet mother's photos in the place of honor. Home in Heaven. It's going to come down to this for every one of us. Do good, be good.

This is my wonderful dad. He's my hero. A good man, generous, diligent, wise and still sharp as ever.  He's a Razorback and PROUD of it! Looking at this picture, the genetic similarities between us are easy to see...our features, our coloring, and even our hands.  

My husband loves him too. Here's the proof. I have been blessed to have both a devoted father and husband. 

I stopped briefly at this house in Malibu where I lived after college with our church youth leader and his wife. I was kind of a part-time nanny for their kids. They were wealthy and lived in this grand Spanish colonial estate on the top of one of the mountains in Malibu. He was a successful developer,  rode in a chauffered Rolls Royce, and this was the grandest year I have ever lived. Unfortunately the gate prevented more photos, but I promise you it was an amazing life living there. They became our role models in life, not because of their money, but because of their marriage, family and faith walk with God. 

This is the view of the Pacific from the driveway. 

Magnificent Malibu from high above, blue as far as the eye can see. 

Once we got to the town where we raised our children, we took our middle school granddaughter to see her mother's middle school. We promised JoAnne we would do that, and I think it was rather eye-opening for Clare to see where her mother grew up. The schools, neighborhood and houses of an imperfect but gentle childhood. 

This was the elementary school all my children attended. It was in a sheltered neighborhood, and some of our friends were their teachers. We loved that. Go Wildwood Tigers!

The secretary was in the office preparing for the opening of the new school year and she let me take this picture. It is exactly the same as it was thirty years ago. It doesn't seem they've changed a thing.

This is where my children lived during elementary school. Out of the city and into the suburbs with good schools and friendly neighborhoods. Our good friends bought it from us, so we were able to go and revisit many sweet memories in this house with Clare. 

This is the house where our kids spent their high school years, before we moved to Hawaii. I still love the blue trim. It is a place where we lived before we knew tragedy. Our dearest friends still live in that neighborhood. 

Finally we arrived at Aunt Viv's and Uncle Don's house. It's a place of deep comfort and warm hospitality. We basically floated in the pool for a couple of days and just caught up with one another. 

Joey's memorial table at Aunty Viv's. His pictures, his book, a lei from his service, a bottle of wine from his collection, an angel at the center of it all. 

Opposite coast cousins meeting for only the second time, and it's been four years since the first time. They hit it off.

Our besties on the way to the Hollywood Bowl to see Norah Jones. We would have been squeezed in there beside them but we had some grandkids to pick up from the airport. (Unfortunately, Tom was riding shotgun and got cut out of the shot.)

My adorable nephew Jeff, Don and Viv's son,  and his beautiful  wife and daughter. I love 'em so.  

Aunty Viv and Clare. 
Viva la Familia!

Our past really shapes us, although we don't realize it at the time. It's the backward journey that reveals all those lessons, associations and influences--some good, some painful.  I am blessed that "going home" is a place of comfort and love for us, and that we were able to give the same to our children. What a joy to give Clare a "window in". 


Beckypdj said...

Love your trip down memory lane. Thanks for taking us along. It is so cool your dad is a Razorback! I live approximately 45 min south of the University of Arkansas. WoooooPigSooie, RAZORBACKS!

karen gerstenberger said...

Thank you for inviting us on this trip "down memory lane" with you. I loved seeing your childhood homes, "meeting" your dear dad, & seeing where your children lived in their early years. What a beautiful environment; I can see why California was like paradise to many people in those days. And then you got to experience the "paradise" of Hawaii - no wonder you can imagine heaven so well!

Was it you who recommended the book "To Heaven and Back" by Mary Neal to me? I just read it, and it was fascinating. Love to you, dear Karen.

Rich and Carolyn Dewey said...

What a wonderful journey. Especially loved seeing the Pacific Ocean and Thousand Oaks! My sisters are coming to visit me in a few weeks and we are going to travel to Iowa for our walk-down-memory-lane trip. One husband has never been there, so it should be fun. Blessings!

Anonymous said...

Is nice to see you bloging again. I love reading your post. You share so kindly and write so beautifully. I am glad your trip gave you comeback memories. xoxo

Mackenzie said...

really enjoyed reading this post, karen. i can sense just from reading what a warm and big heart your dad has. now i understand a little better where you get it from ;)

Leslie said...

Karen, thank you for sharing your upbringing so candidly. That's wonderful you got to share it with your children and grandchildren. I don't know anyone who had anywhere close to a perfect childhood and adult life. What a treasure to have the pictures to share. Yes! You are right, you look just like your sweet dad. Thank you for sharing!