For me, though, it was surreal to drive by our little white cottage on Greenleaf. There was a "For Rent" sign stuck in the lawn, and our old neighbors Mark and Sandy were out front, as they always had been on a sunny day. Mark had the same bird dogs that he'd spent most of his time yelling at and whistling for, and his perpetual girlfriend Sandy (they maintained separate residences but were always together) appeared to be wearing the exact same black velour warm-up suit that was her uniform eight years ago.
We wondered if we should stop; we decided to. But they were talking to the driver of a delivery truck who had stopped in the street, blocking the parking at the curb. When the truck moved on, so did they. Chasing them down would have been too weird, so we drove on. It made me a little sad, which was of a piece with how I felt about the whole afternoon.
We continued down Greenleaf, which looked more vital than it had on our last visit. I wish we had stopped and walked and taken a chance on a place to eat, but the boys were beyond exhausted by that point, and I was feeling a little shell-shocked myself. It was strange to pass through a place that had been such an important part of our lives.
Shaun leaned across me and took a picture out the window of what had been such an important part of his life:
We pointed out the landmarks to our impassive sightseers. Look, mommy used to live there. -There's daddy's old apartment. Well, you can't really see it from here, but it's back there. -That's where mommy used to be in plays. -Do you remember Eric? Dietrich's daddy? He used to work there.
Even the El Pollo Loco on Whittier Boulevard, where we finally stopped for lunch, was not spared: I used to stop here a lot on my way home from work and pick us up some dinner, Shaun told the kids. But memories, schmemories. Two weeks later, it's the churros that the boys are still talking about.
After lunch we drove the surface streets from Whittier to Placentia. Everything was familiar. But because I lived in six different places during my time in LA/Orange County, and because it's been eight years now since I lived there, I wasn't able to put everything into context. I remember this drive. But where would I have been going? Of course I remembered the big destinations, but the mundane details of day-to-day life were lost to time. It was very unsettling. As a person with a natural tendency to see things as black and white (as unrealistic and misguided as that may be), I feel very uncomfortable when confronted with the erosion of my memory.
I felt a sense of loss, but with it a sense of gratitude. I realized that I've lived in a lot of places, all completely different from each other, and I've enjoyed every one. All in all, it was a bittersweet afternoon.
The evening, however, was nothing but sweet. Auntie Nancy and Great Grandma Martin joined us for dinner at the Macks', and we finally enjoyed the In 'N Out burgers I'd been looking forward to since we bought our plane tickets.
Nancy brought late Christmas presents: leather-covered shields with a version of the Clan Ross crest and Sir Nels and Sir Willem embossed on the front. Brass nameplates mark the shields as belonging to Nels the Valiant and Willem the Lionhearted, which I think are very apt monikers indeed. Accompanying the shields were some excellent coloring books on swords and jousts and tournaments. They came in handy on the trip home.
Can you tell that all the kids were a little fried by the end of our visit?
Here's cousin Henry in normal mode. His drawings of any manner of conveyance (train, monster truck) are all particularly good. Sweet cousin Heidi is in the background.
Early to bed and not so early to rise, and before we knew it it was Monday afternoon and we were headed home.
It's a proven fact that drinks taste better when sipped through dual cocktail straws. Ask any kid.
Goodbye, California. Let's not be strangers.