In the 1950’s and 60’s, the eastern side of the California Central Valley was magical. At least for us kids. Clear skies, clean water, a local hospital with doctors and nurses we knew and trusted. Walking to school was a normal thing. Riding a bike meant you were grown up (for a kid!)
For me, in my early years, it was an oasis. I didn’t know that then. But looking back, reflecting on what I remember, it was a safe, warm harbor.
Nana, my grandmother, lived in a little town. Very little. Her mother, my great-grandmother, had help to found it. They lived next door to each other. It was only four miles from the little town where I was born and raised.
It was an adventure to go to Nana’s. She owned a little orange orchard just outside of town. I thought it was the largest orange grove in our county. We would go there and pick an orange, maybe a grapefruit, and take it home for breakfast the next day.
I would walk from Nana’s to Cese’s (pronounced Cease-like “stop that”) under the cover of three large fruit bearing elm trees. I really tried to not step on any of the berries that dropped because Cese wouldn’t let me in her house with those “things” on my shoes!
The shared backyard had a fig tree. Nana would eat them off the tree. To this day, I can’t stand figs. (Except in Fig Newton’s!). The lemon tree was right out the back door of Cese’s house. It was an easy climb. Both Nana and Cese discovered me there more than once. They pretended that I was in trouble but Cese would give me a glass of Welch’s Grape Juice every time. She kept it for when the minister came by to give her communion. She made it very clear that we kids were not to drink it. But I got a full glass when I got caught in the lemon tree.
The trash always went to the incinerator. It was a large oil barrel out by the back alley. It had a screen over the top so that the sparks and large detritus were contained. But I would take the trash out and Nana would light the incinerator and I would watch the smaller sparks get through the screen. I was in charge of the water hose. Well, that is what I was told as I held in in my grubby little hands. Nana always helped.
I spent hours in the hot, musty attic at Nana’s. There was an old manual typewriter (the kind that were really big and heavy). It had an ink filled tape that wound from one side of the gargantuan machine to the other. I tried to make pictures with the letters, rolling the paper up and down and shoving the lever from left to right.
Often, while I was up there, Nana would be playing the piano or singing.
Sometimes, she would be sewing in the dining room. I could hear the old Singer machine. The mahogany dining room table that could seat eight people was her sewing table. She made all of my clothes until I went to high school. When I got the leading part in our high school production of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, she made my costumes. I didn’t know it then but she was beginning to forget how to sew.
In 1972 I helped her sew curtains and bassinet bunting for the child I was expecting: My daughter, her great-granddaughter. Those were the last items that she ever made.
Cese passed away at the age of 103. The last two years of her life were spent in the local hospital that had opened an “elderly” wing.
Nana passed in her late 80’s. Her dementia had taken her from us earlier.
As I think about them and reflect on what they taught me, I know that each of them lives in me. Cese was a suffragette, Nana sold insurance. Cese taught me to play cards and count. Nana taught me music and books.
Mostly, they both taught me that it was ok to be me. I had to relearn those lessons but, because of the women in my life, I made it.
I miss them.