I received the news with some resignation – my grandfather had passed at age 94, after a combination of cancer and inevitable march of time had signaled to us that the end was near. Still, he was my grandfather, the last of my grandparents to pass, and though I hadn’t seen my family as often in the years since moving to Portland, the weight of loss dragged my steps to the hot asphalt as I walked up the hill towards the home we’d made.
I had come to a decision – it was time to head to the home I’d left years ago.
So, for the second time since moving to Singapore, I found myself boarding a plane at Changi with “San Francisco” printed on my boarding pass. For the second time, I would be headed back to the city of my birth alone. Last year, Bev had already been in the States, we had planned our trip around her work trip and Thanksgiving. This time, however, coincidence threw us a bit of a raw deal – Beverly landed at Changi 8 hours before I was due to depart. Given just mere hours in the deepest part of the night, neither of us could sleep. Her jet lag and my excitement of taking in as much Beverly time as I could kept us from nodding off for most of the night, and so it was that I began my second journey home exhausted and sorely lacking sleep.
If you’re thinking that I found that sleep on the long leg from Hong Kong to SFO, hah. That’s hilarious. Not when I got stuffed back in coach. The girl next to me, a twenty-something from Nepal who was leaving home for school in the Bay – her first time out of Nepal – she got plenty of sleep, using me as a pillow. I’m often glad to be of service to fellow man.
Before this unplanned flight back to California, I had begun the weekly process of cataloging what words and events I would write about come Monday morning. The second longest week was one of a bit less than the previous – no late night karaoke or poetry open mic at Blu Jaz. B and Billi did come over Saturday night for a night of drinks and games but somehow we left out the games and just told stories the whole night as lightning pounded the little red dot in a show worthy of a Saturday night. The previous entry of What Works had prompted me to start working on a new site, transferring over entries from this site into a more personal site with broader topics than just being this stranger in a strange land.
Instead, Monday morning found me at Changi, writing, but not on this site, but notes for a eulogy for my grandfather. Let me first set the stage – for all my personae dramatic, I am not a good speaker. I get nervous, uncomfortable, and while my writing I suppose gets the point across, these words I write are better read in your voice than mine, let me assure you. So I was struggling a little trying to write some words about a beloved family member that I could read in front of other beloved family members without making a total horse’s ass of myself. I think I managed somewhat.
Monday afternoon1time travel, yo found me in the city of my birth, getting lunch with my father as we ran errands. We drove through where he used to work, the notorious neighborhood of Bayview2Bayside?!? The hell was I thinking?, going through a curious phase of gentrification. Lunch was food cart panini in a beer garden on 3rd Street3jet lag, I swear, watching police cruisers fly by and the sound of Bay Area traffic snarled behind us. Leaving the City north, over that famous bridge you’ve likely seen a picture or two of, we headed north towards my childhood home – Petaluma.
A quick aside about the Golden Gate. As we descended over Half Moon Bay, we were given a glorious view of the tip of the peninsula, Mount Tamalpais and the East Bay. San Francisco was, of course, shrouded in clouds. My sleepy neighbor leaned over me to look out the window in wonder, begging me to show her where the bridge was.
“Bridge? Bridge?” I can’t fault her a second for her fascination.
I pointed towards a thick grouping of clouds and fog that the Marin Headlands bled into. “Somewhere in there.”
“Oh,” she said, her disappointment a bit heartbreaking.
So, Petaluma, California. Queen of the American small towns and the city of my childhood. Petaluma is an odd place, a mix of California’s past with victorian buildings that survived the 1906 earthquake4Santa Rosa, the city to the north, was flattened by that earthquake, in fact, it suffered worse than San Francisco did. Petaluma was spared. and in doing so, give the town almost an East Coast sort of feel. The “Egg Basket of the World” has been used in numerous movies, its distinct look giving Hollywood filmmakers access to small-town New England without having to leave California. Like most American small towns, it’s arranged around a central district, our downtown, but has grown to a size now where the east side of the town now begins to sprawl out into former dairy land. For a city of sixty-thousand people, it boasts an insane number of restaurants and bars, many of them quality establishments that would be a star attraction of a small city. It’s a commuter city, a suburb of San Francisco, but hosts tech companies that have come and gone, earning the name “Telecom Alley”.
The city has seen national tragedy – the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Polly Klaas made headlines for several terrible months in the early 90’s. It’s played host to notable events of music and arts – Sublime’s last show was famously at the Phoenix Theater, where Metallica, Green Day and Primus first started to gather a following, and where local bands call home. Charles Schultz used to reference the town often in Peanuts, with Snoopy wishing to compete in the arm wrestling competition we used to host5he was disqualified because he has no thumbs.
It’s odd to me, sitting here in the city of my childhood, writing here, in a coffee shop that has a number of similarities to my “office” in Singapore. The lack of multiple languages and the uniform skin tone set a very different image to look upon, however. There is a significant chance of seeing someone from my childhood walk in here, which in all honesty, might be even more enjoyable than running into someone in Singapore as we stumble on the key of being an expat. Here, its just home, just the same old small town, where the travels of South-east Asia would simply be slipped into a conversation along with someone’s kids having won their baseball tournament.
What a wonder that is. What a remarkable place this has become.
Yesterday was the service – an emotional time, which really goes without comment. My voice rose and fell in small amounts and probably broke as I deviated from the words I wrote and stumbled and mumbled over my thoughts of family and my grandfather. I am never better than when I’m writing, so I’ll say it here.
My grandfather was an amazing man. He was a storyteller, a photographer, an avid reader. He gave to his children that gift of words and my mother in turn has given that gift to me. He would tell stories based on any small observation, and I am going to miss hearing him spin up another tale, with the craft and care that a natural storyteller has. He was not an emotional person in that he rarely let his emotions show, but he didn’t need to. You knew his care and his love by the way he spoke, the way he offered candy and sweets to us as kids, and to the younger generation of nephew, niece and cousins. He was a rock, the rock, the constant that we all felt in our lives, and nothing will ever replace that. That loss will be felt for the rest of my life, and I don’t think I’m off the mark in saying that I won’t be alone in that regard.
Nonno, you’ll be missed more than I can put into words.