In July we went to California. I knew it was going to be a wonderful trip. I was going home. I didn’t anticipate a challenge I would face, and my personal victory over it.
We met our youngest daughter, her husband and two of their children in Amarillo, traveling along with them until we all stopped for the night in Gallup, New Mexico. Chronicling their trip, they stopped at the border of each state and took a picture by the ‘now entering’ sign. To keep things fun and interesting, my daughter brought along a couple masks, some bunny ears, a sombrero, and googly eyes to wear for the photo ops. My husband and I chose the bunny ears and dog mask and posed with them at the Welcome to New Mexico sign. After breakfast together at the hotel next morning, we went on to California, they took a different route. Later it was fun to see pictures of how the masks changed wearers as they crossed each state border, as well as visiting the Four Corners and Grand Canyon on their way to southern California.
By late afternoon we arrived at our oldest daughter’s home in Monrovia CA. The others came later that evening. Tired from the trip, we all gradually spread out to rest for the night: to the guest house, an upstairs guest bedroom, and our son-in-law’s sound studio.
By the time we’d all settled down for the night, I had the happy feeling of being home.
We rested and just hung out the next day until friends and family came for dinner. After a cookout in the back yard and time came to say good-bye, we followed them to the front of the house, waved them off, then spent the rest of the cool southern California evening gathered on the front porch until it was time for bed.
Mornings are normally chilly in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains where my daughter and family live. Absolutely delightful. Each day, after I’d had my quiet time and Café Mocha in the guest house, I’d go through her house, pour a cup of regular coffee then join whoever was up and hanging out on the large porch of their one hundred year old house.
It’s hard to imagine that in a city next door to Pasadena, of the Rose Parade, deer come down from the hills regularly and munch of flowers in her yard. We were paid a visit by a small brown doe one day, but she nibbled plants across the street before moving to a yard further on. Another day, I came out on the porch in time to join daughter and son-in-law laughing at my granddaughter as she scampered after a peacock sauntering along the sidewalk. Preening before heading around the corner, that peacock gave her plenty of opportunities to get some really great pictures on her phone. Almost every day a flock of wild parrots gathered on utility wires overhead, shattering the quiet morning with their loud squawking and chattering until they finally flew away leaving us in peace.
The beach was the first thing on our agenda for the week. Oldest daughter and husband had to work that day, but the rest of us loaded a small cooler packed with sandwiches, bottled water and fruit, beach chairs and umbrellas, boogie boards, blankets and beach towels into two cars and headed to for Huntington Beach. Like a ‘muscle memory’, the routine of going to the beach came back quickly. I threw in a canvas tote I’d packed with swim suit, towel and hat before I left Oklahoma.
Even though he is native Californian, my husband is not a ‘beach person.’ he goes for his beach-loving wife, children and grandchildren. He sunburns easily so we are all used to him sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella. he still burns. In the past he napped a lot while we played; at least now he had his cell phone so he could play Angry Birds. He is a kind and patient man.
Before we moved from California, while he was at work, the kids and I spent as much time as we could at the beach. I always had a tan. Over the years in Oklahoma I’ve avoided the sun and now sat under the umbrella with my husband.
I didn’t notice my feet weren’t shaded and the tops of my feet burned until it was too late. I’d been too busy watching our Texas daughter with her childhood best friend who was also visiting southern California with her family.
The friend had been with us at the beach many times, with me keeping a watchful eye on all the kids. now they were grown women with children, and grandchildren, laughing and playing just like they had when they were girls. Amazingly, they stayed in the water as long as they had back then, riding the waves on boogie boards along with their husbands and children beside them. Gritty peanut butter and jelly sandwiches never tasted better.
Since I no longer needed to keep a safety watch, I had the luxury of walking along the beach by myself, breathing in salt air, dodging waves as they washed around my ankles and over my sunburned feet. I couldn’t have been happier.
My View from Under the Umbrella
The next day, our son-in-law arranged for us to be part of the audience of a popular TV talk show where he works, and gave us a private tour of the studio. Not a ‘give-away’ day but fun anyway. Afterward, a drive through Hollywood ended up at Santa Monica Pier. We left the kids to the rides and my husband and I sat close together on a bench near the water and watched the sun sink silently into the ocean.
I never get tired of that sight.
Later we all walked across Pacific Coast Highway and crowded around tiny café tables for dinner at a local pizzeria.
Saving the best for last, before we left California we went to one of my favorite places in the world. Corona del mar, near Newport Beach. We’ve gone there with our children since they were small. Now our grandchildren are part of the experience. It is one beach my husband doesn’t mind too much. There is something to do with the kids: climbing over the rocks, exploring the tide pools, watching sea life in the shallow water.
I’ve trekked up and down the steep incline to the beach dozens of times, excited to get down to the sand even though I knew the muscles in my legs would be burning before I reached the top coming back up. In recent years, I’ve had to stop and rest on the way.
This time I stopped as a sobering thought crossed my mind. For the first time – ever, I wondered, “Is this my last time?” I didn’t doubt I could make the trip to the bottom. And, one way or another, if I had to take breaks every few steps, I’d get back up – this time. But, I’m realistic. I am not young anymore, nor as strong as I used to be, and have begun experiencing physical imitations. I let myself indulge in that possibility for one small bittersweet moment, then I set out down the steep slope. I’d make it to the bottom and deal with getting back up later. If this was the last time, then I was going to enjoy every second and have something to remember.
I sat on a rock and put my feet in a shallow pool of cold Pacific water, soothing my burning feet. Totally content, I watched my children and their children climb over the rocks and explore the tide pools where sea urchins, fiddler crabs and sea anemones waited. Brown pelicans skimmed across the surf on their way to their rocky perch I knew so well. Waves surged over rocks sending a salty spray and dampened my skin, the constant rhythm reminding me of God’s eternal heartbeat.
It had been a wonderful day, then it was time to go. I put on my shoes, retrieved my bag and headed toward the trail. I started up the large concrete steps set into the slope knowing a decision that would change my life would be decided by the time I reached the top. Several feet up, we stopped at a short landing with public restrooms and an outdoor shower. So far, so good. I washed the sand from my feet and shoes, and continued up the long steep incline my shoes squishing with each step. With only one short break on the way, I wasn’t even winded when I reached the tip of the bluff!
I thanked God as I looked back at the place I love so much, and I smiled all the way down inside me, thinking, “Yup. I’ll be back.”
As is our tradition, we wrapped up our beach day going to Balboa Island, sitting on benches along Balboa Boulevard eating chocolate-covered ice cream Balboa Bars. Best ever. That night, we viewed the lights of L.A. from Mulholland Drive before we drove back to Monrovia and gathered one last time on the porch for a while.
With everyone now back in place, I’m looking forward to when family will meet at our house for Christmas.
What blessed moments.