A Certain Feeling

In 1990, my parents moved from Camarillo, California to Westminster, Colorado. They both worked for the same company, which relocated to the Denver area, and decided to make the move, although they were in their late 60s and 70s. Not an easy thing at their age, but they were the sort of people who were always open to change and new beginnings...

Not wishing to sell their home in California until they knew if they were going to like Colorado or not, they decided to rent an apartment and asked me if my son and I would like to move into their house for a couple of years. I leapt at the chance because, 1) the house was paid for and I wouldn't have to pay rent, 2) I'd be leaving my current unhappy relationship, and 3) I loved the house and yard. It was the only real home we'd known; we moved constantly throughout my childhood, but when they bought this house in 1968, they stayed.

It wasn't anything special, really. Just a 1960s ranch with three bedrooms and two baths. It was on a corner lot in a tract and the back yard was protected by a 7-foot cinder block wall. You know the kind of house I'm talking about.

After moving in, I began renovating the large back yard by laying out a "Secret Garden" complete with meandering paths that were outlined with large stones that my friends and I gathered at the beach one afternoon. These paths surrounded different kinds of flower beds: one for cut flowers, one for herbs, one for wildflowers, one for old-fashioned flowers and one for roses. There was a huge avocado tree on the north end of the yard under which I put up an arbor. There were fruit trees: apple, orange, grapefruit, plum, peach and date. I trained Night-Blooming Jasmine up the back side of the house and cultivated the huge Bouganvilla over an existing arbor and garden gate that led out to the street. I used the space that was created by the living room and garage walls and the block wall between ours and the neighbor's yards to create a covered tropical garden, complete with waterfall with a pond feature, ferns, orchids. Beside that was a tree-shaded beer garden, which I laid with used brick in an irregular pattern. I covered the patio that led from the sliding glass doors in the living room and filled the space with a mass of potted plants and candles and over which I trained the Jasmine to grow.

But this entry isn't supposed to be about my garden. What I wanted to write about was a certain feeling I created while living there. I got up early in the morning in those days because the sunlight coming in from the yard and patio was worth getting up to experience, and the garden beckoned me. The sliding glass doors faced east and were covered with white sheers; the light was soft and diffused and felt like a dream.

Because it was my parents' house and because they left a lot of their stuff in the garage when they went to Denver, I brought in the more interesting items. There was a 1950s Admiral clock radio, which I placed on the bar in the kitchen and listened to every morning while drinking my coffee and reading the paper at the kitchen table. KNX in L.A. played only music from the 40s and 50s and it just sounded better on that old family radio. Joel and I also listened to the Jim Healy show on KMPC while eating dinner, not because we were into sports, but because he was just plain funny.

I had my grandmother's waffle iron, which still worked, unlike the crap they make these days. I used it on a regular basis and proudly displayed it in the kitchen. I also used my grandmother's old red plastic cannisters and her spice rack from the 30s. One was marked "Roast Beef Seasoning", something I couldn't find at the store, but must have been the reason why her Sunday roasts were so delicious.

My dad, a radio and TV professional, owned a number of wonderful old pieces, like a "dub plate" recording machine from the 40s. Within a large oak case was a turntable upon which (when it was new) he used to record his band, the sound being transfered from the stylus to wax discs. Although he patiently explained it to me, I never really understood how it worked. There were oscilloscopes from decades past, antique cameras, 50s chochke, a pair of silk Chinese shoes that were once worn by a woman whose feet were bound, a set of three suitcases that my dad bought when he went off to boot camp during WWII, and which I used, stacked, as an end table, and my mom's china tea cups and saucers... so many treasures, so many memories. I kept them all in the house, displayed and used proudly. When my parents came to spend Christmas with us that first year my dad was thrilled; my mom had always considered these things "junk" that didn't fit with her Sears & Roebuck Early American furniture.

But back to the point of this post. When I awoke back then, it was to the familiar "Pleasant Valley Sunday" hum of daily life in a tract housing neighborhood. A distant lawnmower, a dog barking, a car going by, the soft, distant roar of a jet leaving Pt. Mugu, children playing in a nearby back yard. The house was always very quiet. The only hum one heard was when the fridge came on. There was no PC whir, no AC fan blowing.

It was sunny most of the time and after drinking my coffee in the kitchen I would shower, dress, and pour a second cup to take outside onto the patio, where I watched the birds fighting over their feeders. My two cats smiled at me from where they lay in puddles of sun on the concrete and Fritz, my Yorkie, found his favorite spot on the small patch of green grass surrounding the brick fire pit. I can still see the way he used to look up, squinting at the sun as if he were the King of Beasts.

Some days, a hot air balloon would float overhead, so close that we could see the smile on the pilot's face. They usually took off in the field that lay on the other side of the railroad tracks not three blocks away. Fritz would dance on his back legs, barking as if he was protecting us from some giant flying monster.

There was a certain feeling I had as I mentally organized my day in an indolent sort of way there at the bistro table on my patio. That flower bed needs weeding, the Cosmos need to be dead-headed, my opera needs another aria.

Like a smell, or a taste, the feeling is impossible to describe in a way that will make you feel it, so all I can do is paint the picture hoping you also feel the air that is distinct to that area and get a faint whiff of the ocean that lay eight miles to the west.

So this morning, after my showered, I poured a second cup of coffee and took it outside. I looked around at the Morning Glories I planted in Spring and which now cover that part of the fence. I looked at my new Jasmine plants that are slowly creeping up their fence. I heard the fountain. I felt a certain feeling. I was transported instantly back in time, the only time in my life (besides now) when I was genuinely happy.

We had an especially traumatic weekend. Thanks for allowing me to take you to the "Happy Place" into which I disappear when I need to get away.