January 25, 2006
I moved from Pennsylvania to California in 1980, meaning that I've lived nearly 3,000 miles away from my immediate family for almost exactly one half of my life. In that time, I've returned to my home state only once, upon the death of my father, and then only for a matter of days. One might speculate that I do not like my family or that something came between us that has perhaps made it painful for me to spend time with them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who has come to know me in anything more than the most casual sense over the last 26 years will tell you that I speak of my family proudly and often. Siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, I tell fond stories about all of them, frequently. From family vacations to apple-butter making picnics of my childhood. Sometimes, when I listen to people tell stories of their own families, I worry self-consciously that I sound like I'm bragging about mine. I hear such horror stories of dysfunctional parent/child relationships and petty jealousies or outright hatred between siblings, that it makes me wonder how those people manage to find any sort of meaning to their existence. How can someone exposed to such things while growing up ever achieve a functional, loving relationship with anyone? And that's just considering dysfunctional family units. It's even more common, in California at least, that the family unit dissolves into divorce during early childhood, leaving two bitter parents, each trying to impress their own hatred toward an alienated spouse on the children. Some childhoods may involve two or more step-parents. Remember how the wicked ones in children's fairy-tales were always step-parents? There seems to have some basis in reality for that.
My first thought about my parents is to remember that when my father came home, within moments of the same time everyday, the first thing that he would do is find and kiss my mother. That happened daily from my earliest memories and continued until my mother died 20+ years later. Yet with role models like that, or perhaps because of them, I seem to be unable to surrender enough of myself to a relationship to maintain one for more than a few years. Be that as it may, I never had any excuse to feel unloved throughout my formative years.
There were natural frictions between my father and me as I passed through my teenage rebel stage. I remember [my] Uncle and Aunt [who lived next door] getting in their car and going for a long drive at the first sight of Dad and me heading for the garage to work on a car together. They just didn't want to listen to the bickering and arguing, so they'd simply leave. Dad and I had not come to terms with all of our disagreements before I left for California, but over the next few years both of us 'got a lot smarter'. Eventually I came to thank him for all that he had taught me and all the love he had shown for me, even when I was being an asshole. Over the last few years, we never ended one of our infrequent phone conversations without each of us saying "I love you". I don't now how I would be able to look at myself in the mirror now if that had not been the case. Even though I had not been in his presence for almost 15 years at the time of his death, it made me feel like an orphan. The thing that pulled me through that overwhelming sense of loss was my relationship with my siblings. When the time came to empty and sell our family home, the love and unity we shared, the concern for each other more than for ourselves, could not have been more removed from the tales of greed and jealousy I had become used to hearing about from others. And it makes me wonder how some people are ever able to achieve a sense of inner peace or happiness, and wonder if they ever feel as if they are traveling through life alone.
So, you might wonder, given the way I feel about my siblings, and indeed about all of my extended family, why did I choose to spend my life on the other side of the continent? In a word, climate. I never got used to the harsh Pennsylvania winters and got tired of shivering, and driving hunched-backed, with chattering teeth for several months each year. So when the opportunity presented itself, in the form of an offer from an old Boy Scout friend to provide me with a temporary place to stay in exchange for driving his 1952 GMC 1-ton panel truck to Sacramento, I jumped on it. [The truck] had a few problems, he told me, and he needed someone who could coax it across the country and over the mountains. A few "problems" was somewhat of an understatement as I discovered on the trip. But I immediately, accepted the offer, gave all my winter coats to the Salvation Army, loaded my Honda [350 cc 4 cyl] motorcycle, record albums and books into that wallowing, worn out former fire-truck and headed for California where I would never be cold again. . . . . . . . . I thought. California has a mild climate when compared to PA, but when the winter fog sets in for weeks at a time, it will chill you to the bone, just the same. My only transportation being the little Honda, I quickly found myself in need of something warm, so I bought a snow-mobile suit including a pair of gloves and rode it through the first winter. By spring time, I mean like April, not June as in PA, I was basking in the California sunshine and wondering how I'd ever survived on the right-hand coast.
Over the years I have been adopted by a second family, Dave and Sandy Cooper, and have gathered many wonderful friends whom I love dearly. It been a second life for me, nearly as rich in good memories as the first. California is an unbelievably large, beautiful and varied state, with every type of landscape imaginable. But still . . . . . . . I'm too cold for too much of the year. In addition, the population of California in general, and Sacramento in particular, has grown exponentially, bringing crime and over-crowding with it. I feel that I've gotten all that I can from California.
In the early '80s, I made a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii to see the newly erupting volcano. I though it was pretty nice and all, but after returning I found that I couldn't get it out of my head. I returned a few years later and spent 3 months living on the beach as an experiment. What I discovered was that I love Hawaii for the weather and the people and the pace of life, but living as a beach bum sucks. After a few weeks I found a job as a mechanic for a man who had run a repair business in one corner of a parking lot for 20-odd years. It's hard to find trained help in Hawaii and he was only too happy to pay me $100 a day under the table and allow me to take several days at a time off work to wander around the island. It was a wonderful experience and cemented my resolve to one day live there.
About 10 years ago, Gary and I made a trip to the Big Island for a property tax sale and I bought two parcels outright, or "fee simple" as they call it. For $4000 I was able to buy one primitive acre (no access to electricity or phone and catchment water only) at about 4000 ft. elevation and a second small building lot, less than a mile from the ocean by 4WD trail. I've held unto the dream of living on the lower property for all of the years since, but I've never been able to quite work out the details of how to make enough money to build a shack and stay alive.
With this new complication in my life, and the new perspective it's given me, I plan to make it my top priority to realize my dream just as soon as I've completed the necessary medical procedures. It will be the driving force for me to endure and survive the coming months.