|California Poppy, Flickr Photos,
Having packed our 1962 Ford Falcon station wagon to the hilt for the long drive to California, my father, Gilbert Cayetano Huesca, stopped one last time at my grandmother’s home so our family could give her one last goodbye kiss.
She was 68 years old by then and had started to shrink in height, like her mother before her. As we stood eye to eye, each wiping tears from the other’s face, I wondered when we would see her again.
Many of our other relatives had come to my grandmother”s home to say their goodbyes to us, too. She had prepared a big send-off for us, much the same as she had when we had arrived just three years earlier. I remember thinking how lucky we were to have so many people who cared about us.
We set off in the first days of April, just after Easter, and as we made our way north, the world kept turning. Martin Luther King spoke on April 4th at New York’s Riverside Church, denouncing the Vietnam War and exhorting his audience to “break the silence of the night” by speaking out against it. On April 5th, Philadelphia ’76er Wilt Chamberlain set an NBA record for a whopping 41 rebounds in a close game (115-104) against the Boston Celtics. The next day, French Premier Georges Pompidou formed a new government, called the Third Ministry. The biggest news of that week, however, occurred April 7, the day we arrived in Northern California, when Israel shot down six Syrian MiGs over the Golan Heights, prompting a major air battle that would lead to the Arab-Israeli War two months later.
As we crossed the border from Tijuana into San Ysidro, California, we noticed a difference right away as wide, modern freeways replaced narrow, tired, and bumpy highways. Cars were larger. Green freeway signs with raised letters seemed to sparkle in the sunlight. It felt as though we were gliding along, not driving.
My parents decided to take scenic Highway 1, also known as the Coast Highway, so we could have our first look at the Pacific Ocean. My mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, wanted us to never forget the day we arrived in “Sunny California.” The dramatic sight of the gleaming waves against the cerulean sky as we crossed Bixby Bridge high over Big Sur will remain in my memory forever. I fell in love with the sea that day.
|Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, Flickr Photos, courtesy Sequoia Hughes
It was exciting to hear English spoken on the radio again. My mother had to adjust the stations occasionally as we would drive out of range, so we listened to quite a variety.
One of the songs that was popular on the airwaves that day was “Happy Together” by the Turtles, at that time the #1 Billboard Song for the third week in a row. A catchy and upbeat tune, it seemed a fitting background to the excitement we all felt as we marveled at the wonders of our new home state.
It did not take long for my father to find a job working for a sign company in South San Francisco, and he and he and my mother found a small ranch style house to rent on San Bruno Mountain, up a hilly street at Morningside Drive in a neighborhood bearing the cheery name of Sunshine Gardens. Our side of the street was the last row of houses on what was called Sign Hill, just below large concrete letters that spelled out to the world that this was “South San Francisco – the Industrial City.”
How exciting, we thought, to be in San Francisco at last. But where were all the cable cars and skyscrapers? Only after a couple of weeks did we learn that South San Francisco, also known as “South City,” was not really part of the grand City by the Bay, but was in fact separated from it by San Bruno Mountain.
One day in May, my father took my sisters and me downtown to the hardware and the five-and-dime store. We saw a sign advertising the city’s annual Mother’s Day celebration. We entered our mother in a contest that was part of the celebration and were surprised a few days later when she won Mother of the Year.
She was, of course, thrilled. We all went downtown for the parade and cheered loudly as she got to ride down the street in an open air car. We wanted everyone in town to know she was our mother. When the parade ended she was awarded her special prizes from the sponsoring shops: a rubber spatula, a can opener, a ladle, and a mixing bowl! Definitely the signs of a time that was about to come to an end. It did not matter that day, though. My mother was very proud of her honor and grateful to her family for nominating her. She baked us a chocolate cake that night to celebrate.
There was something else we had not expected. Being right between the ocean and the San Francisco Bay meant that the marine layer of fog came in every morning, putting a chill in the air that sometimes dropped close to freezing, even in the summer. We could actually watch as it shrouded our street and slowly crept down Forest View Avenue on its way to the downtown area at the bottom of the hill. When that happened, the sun disappeared and you could not see a thing. Some mornings the fog would burn off by midday, but other days it just lingered there, gray and taunting, as we wondered what had happened to the Sunny California everyone had talked about.
My mother simply could not understand this. So much for “California Dreamin’,” the song made so popular a couple of years earlier by the Mamas and the Papas. No one had told her about the fog. She began to wonder if we had fallen for a myth. She and my father began looking into sunnier places to live.
Copyright © 2013 Linda Huesca Tully