Attics of My Life

Sometimes you have to step back into the past to find a way to move forward. Actually I just made that up; I don’t know if it’s true. But doesn’t it sound good? I went back to my old home for a week. What did I find? Sustenance, encouragement, joy, beauty, camaraderie. Oh and warmth. A jumping off place. I don’t know what’s next, but I feel good since coming back; the tank is full. That’s good, because I’m writing this in record snowfall.

My week in Santa Barbara wore me out in the best possible way. “How’s your trip so far?” people asked along the way, and I could barely answer, so overwhelmed by the non-stop delightful activity and rich conversations. It’s been 3 ½ years since our last visit, but we picked up where we left off, basking in the warmth of mutual affection, more than I could ever find the words for.

I let go of covid; just a touch of caution with a background noise of alarm. I was committed as soon as our Lyft took us to the airport, though I did bring the latest additions to my packing list – masks and test kits. Traveling friends cheered me on: Go! It’s a wonderful world out there! Those more cautious were quiet, perhaps waiting to see what would happen. One friend pointed out that you can get it anywhere; she’d been out of the country six times but got covid in her living room.Being fully vaxxed, I’m not afraid of covid, I just don’t want the long kind. But, onward.

I watched myself giving up, embracing this new hybrid reality. We were in close proximity with friends (and friends of theirs), in small rooms, unmasked, hugging, kissing, over and over. I adjusted, and left my mask in my pocket. It was time to live and love and hope, like we used to. Except at the grocery store. And the airport.

On Our Way

My travel skills are rusty. The flight was delayed and I fought off an impending sense of doom. Are they lying? Will it be longer? So few masks! Then a quick repack when my suitcase was too bulky, and someone took my overhead bin. I was sweating by the time I settled. Behind us a woman volubly told her partner she’s going to “talk his ear off” about a purse she wants to buy and then proceeded to do so, comparing it to all her other purses. I think she was trying to help his anxiety but it kind of raised mine.

We lifted off from Portland’s deep green forests and dark blue rivers, and 90 minutes later descended in a wide arc over the Santa Ynez mountains and a flat grey-blue ocean. The Channel Islands lined up buttressed by clouds, and I was surprised and pleased to see them; I’d forgotten! It won’t be the first surprise-not-surprise of the trip. Over and over the beauty overwhelmed me, as does the memory of taking it for granted in the decades I lived there.

Our first view from the tarmac was the palm trees. How weary I was of them when we lived here. Dry, dusty, messy in the wind, useless, no shade, and not much green. The one in our yard housed rats unless we were diligent about cutting the browning fronds that drooped around the trunk. My visits to the Pacific Northwest back then were magical – dense, moist, shady, lung-filling. Now the palms are the first old friend to greet me, a comforting reminder of what my life once was, what I had, and who I was.

Old friends… and blue sky

Though we’d visited several times since leaving almost nine years ago, this time we stayed with friends – two nights each in three homes, down the hall from their bedrooms, waking up to shared coffee, retreating in the evening when our words were spent. Moving from place to place was a whirlwind, but a sublime way to reconnect. Conversations shifted and deepened, and we picked up later where we left off. My social skills came back. Our talk ranged from past to present to future, words tumbling over words, with plenty of catching up to do. Here we raised our children, worked long hours accomplishing much and resenting constraints, made lots of music, argued and made up, and shared joy and heartbreak.

We hit the ground running, trying to visit everyone, play music with many, eat our favorite foods (as much avocado as possible!), and see every vista, shoreline, and mountain. One week to embrace each bit of history. I counted 35 different people (and we missed a few)! That’s a wide swath of life to cover in a week. It felt like we were returning wanderers who survived the wilds, and welcomed into a warm tub of longtime connection. My introvert self got a thorough workout, but I was storing it all up for solitary times ahead.

Day 1

We began the trip with our oldest Santa Barbara friends. We’d shared pregnancies, births, and childcare, and discovered homeschooling together. Another friend joined us and we talked into the evening, the house full of reminders of our 38 years of history, memories of talent shows and literary clubs. Now, grandchildren dotted the conversations. How widely and deeply we know one another! I don’t take it for granted.

Day 2

My beloved Farmer’s Market was rich with California delights, a more abundant array compared to Portland’s winter offerings of greens and winter squashes. And they had so many avocados.

The town of course was changed and not changed, like everywhere three years later. The walk down State Street (the main drag) was bizarrely empty on a Saturday late morning. The street has been closed off to cars (something I’d always hoped for) so restaurants can have outdoor seating, but few people strolled or window shopped the way I remembered, and some stores were still boarded up. All week friends told us that downtown had become a bit of a ghost town. While some pieces of the trip felt fully post-covid, others were stuttering to a start.

When I bought plane tickets last November, the darkness already felt unending, and the cold gathered itself around me. I poked my head up long enough to make reservations and held it out as a guiding light while winter fell like a stone. Now, the wind had a chill but the brilliant blue sky was a balm. It was 10-15 degrees warmer than Portland, daylight lingered longer, and the sun’s arc was noticeably higher. Relief.

We joined our hosts for lunch outside at the restaurant at Hendry’s Beach, where we’d played with our small children, met with fellow homeschoolers, took countless long walks alone or with friends; a beach as familiar as my own backyard. This time though the tide was at its highest and the wind howled, and the winter beach was strewn with rocks and boulders; only my memory took a long walk. But the proximity of water, the far horizon, the islands, and the salt air buoyed me up. The seafood platter (with avocado) was a sumptuous taste of the sea.

We spent the evening with dear friends – so smart and interesting and vivid, I was breathless. It was inspiring and so pleasurable in the moment that I longed to stay forever. Too bad about reality, like money, age, convenience, gardens. I wanted to do everything and be everywhere all the time. Our hosts treated us to a Super Rica #16 with guacamole, we played a few songs, and I was back in the old groove.

Day 3

I was gobsmacked by the beauty on the drive to Ojai, again surprised at how much I’d forgotten. Highway 150 winds up through citrus and avocado orchards and into mountains with layers of greens, sage, moss, mauve, olive. The tiny town snuggles up to the base of mountains that rise straight up thousands of feet. Layers of geologic time stared me down each time I stepped outside, making me feel inconsequential.

For lunch we wrangled together five of the couples that made up the core of our homeschooling group that had its start over 30 years ago. This was as rare for them as it was for me, and we were all thrilled to be together in one place. The home cooking sparked another round of nostalgia for the many potluck meals we’d shared over the decades.

Some of the old homeschooler crew

I jokingly credit these women as the ones who have forgiven me over and over, but that’s what happens when you parent and grow and learn together over a long stretch. The thick and thin of our lives is part of me. After our kids grew up we turned in different directions, but the warmth runs in our veins.

Later we wound down 150 the other way (toward Santa Paula) to Ventura for our first musical jam fest.

The afternoon was hosted by Alan’s brother and wife. Some of Alan’s oldest friends from childhood and high school were there (we missed a few who couldn’t make it), and even one from his old band, who we hadn’t seen since the mid-90s. We scrabbled around remembering songs played way back when, and muscle memory won the day, drawing out snippets from our collective memory. We often ended a song at the same time. I recalled being so nervous playing with these folks that my hands shook. Then they became my friends too, and also my musical mentors, inspiration, and supporters.

Longtime friends and family

Are you tired yet? Stay tuned for Part II: more talk, more walk, more music, more beauty, and more avocados….

21 thoughts on “Attics of My Life

  1. Lovely, Nancy. It reminds me of when I used to return to New Jersey (when my parents still lived there) and connect with all my old friends. I should try to figure out how to do that without a base there. Glad you indulged in avocados–a wonderful time of year for it! Loved the title of this piece!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Sometimes you have to step back into the past to find a way to move forward” What a great first line. It’s a big idea that deserves some exploration for sure. I love that you two are getting out. I think the cautious years of Covid helped us better appreciate both, the losses we felt, and the losses we avoided. A complicated time, but I think we’ve at least turned a page. When you wrote “I watched myself giving up, embracing this new hybrid reality”, I couldn’t help but think maybe you actually gave in. There is always something kind of magical about being overwhelmed by things: beauty, places, love of friends. The buzz of your connections is almost a visceral thing. And not only am I not tired of hearing your stories (the love for your life-the width, the depth, the shifting sands), I can’t wait for Part 2💓

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Bonnie Rae. Giving up and giving in, there’s something to consider. Overwhelm is wonderful within limits – thankfully, I can come home and store up the quiet for the next round. Thanks for continuing to come back for more! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The title IS perfection. As is the whole thing. I have long-time-friends envy. I wish I could have raised my children in one place, instead of three states. I a little bit wish I had lived for a while in California—or maybe instead of the southeast. Seems like all the best people have lived there! And avocados! Thank you for the trip through the attic of your soul. All the best stuff is in the attic!

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  4. 35 people in one week!! Amazing. Now with my weekend return visits to Philly, I must be satisfied with 3 or 4. The connections have definitely shifted since I moved to the mountains

    Liked by 1 person

  5. can’t wait for what else you find in your attic!! Blog on…and sooo glad you jumped into the travel adventures again. You know I found Cupid in Covid times so could stop traveling!!


  6. I am finally getting around to responding to this very thought provoking post. The night after I read it I was kept awake by the attic in my brain where visions of items left behind, paraphernalia stored, things lost, and favorite pieces sat that becoming vintage as they gathered dust.

    For some reason attics have become a recurring theme of my musings since you wrote this. Like most of us who are older and/or have moved many times I have accumulated lots of attic and basement memories. I remember visiting
    the attic in the home in Finland where I lived as a high school exchange student. There were stacks and stacks of newspapers, used wrappings of every kind and a collection of many years worth of string. My hosts were both dentists who lived resourcefully; growing their own potatoes and berries, catching rainwater from gutters to water the garden, etc. They never threw anything away that could be useful in the future. The attic was their only storage space and it was neatly organized – not a hoarding situation. They were making such a small carbon footprint on this planet and I have only recently come to appreciate their way of life.
    When my teenage daughter did a long overdue organization of her living space she insisted on keeping every popular/teen magazine she ever owned. Magazines are heavy. I remember helping her heft numerous boxes (as well as my grandmother’s trunk) up the ladder to the attic. I believe those magazines are still there (25 years later) 🙂
    My Great Uncle Ben lived in a tiny town in Minnesota. He had a workbench and kept a bin or worms in his basement. It smelled of damp earth and the soap my Great Aunt Idina used in her ringer washer machine. I was warned many times of the danger of getting my fingers in the ringer. The worms we took fishing and and I still squirm at the memory of threading them on hooks.
    A few years ago I was asked to review the contents of my ex-husband’s attic. I had shared a home with him for 22 years and had never removed all my belongings from the family attic. He was hosting a yard sale and had pulled down my English bone china tea set, my daughter’s collection of Muffy and Hoppy with all their various outfits, and reels of home movies from my childhood in very dusty tins.
    Boy – writing is TIME CONSUMING! I have chores to finish.

    ATTICS – thank you Nancy for taking the time to share your words!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love this Sonja! That attic – both literal and not – gets mighty crowded as time goes by, whether it’s newspapers or magazines, bone china or dolls and outfits. Writing is indeed time consuming, but I have to say, it’s put much of my memory attic in better order, so that when I pull things out I’m not quite as blindsided. Write on!! And thanks so much for reading and writing.


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