Sunday, August 19, 2012

Where East was North

During childhood, my mental map of my home town centered on my family's home, a cul-de-sac residence which I placed squarely in the center of the orange grove suburb, even though I knew that another city was just a few streets away. We had no directional landmarks -- no mountains to the north, no river to the east, no ocean to the west, no desert to the south -- only the Disneyland fireworks, every night at 9:00 p.m. lighting up the sky above. So when I left my house to walk to the school bus stop, I walked up the street. And up, as we all know, is North.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend several days in the same house where I used to "spend the night" with my best friend. Her father still lives there, and he extended his hospitality so that I could visit my dad, affordably. Almost every day, I took a walk in the neighborhoods I had once called home.

Each morning was overcast and almost cool; the sun cast no shadows through the thick grayness, and the air was still. I relied on memory to take me past each of my schools and homes: the Methodist pre-school, three elementary schools -- all still there; two junior high schools, now with different names; and, of course, the public high school, which I was pleased to discover had been named a California Distinguished School. I also located each house and apartment I had lived in, amazed that all were within walking distance of each other. Had my world really been so small?

Much of the foliage I knew as a child -- sticky lantana, oleander, thick dark ivy, dichondra -- has been replaced by pygmy date palms and other plants I cannot yet name. Jesus and Mary front yard figurines are few and far between. More common are stone elephants, buddhas, and even large lions guarding huge homes on small lots. (Although in one yard, I did see an arms-outstretched Jesus statue on one side of the front walkway, and a stone lion fountain on the other.)

The grocery store where all the football players worked as checkers and bag boys is now part of a shopping complex that could be on any Orange County street. A United Nations of culinary options graces the intersection: Korean, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and French cuisine, in addition to the standard American fast food franchises. A few streets down (south? east?) I even found a cafe that served beignets!

On foot, I saw the scenes of my childhood in ways I had not expected. I am looking forward to my next visit.


  1. I'm sure you won't remember me, but I was delighted to stumble across your blog (who knows how)! Somehow, somewhere, long ago, I heard that you were a writer, and I'm so pleased to find you. The little reminiscence about the old hometown delighted me. The place has changed; as you head out of Korea town and head through Little Saigon, you can also encounter a fully enclosed, tiny micro-neighborhood of halal grocery stores and middle-eastern shops, an Italian (well, Italian-American/red-sauce) restaurant that's been there since the dawn of time, and a perfectly satisfactory taco truck. It's become a polyglot jewel, and those of us who've returned or stayed around really love it. Warm regards, Jill Gillen McKenna (your high school, your class)

  2. Jill: of course I remember you! And would love to be in contact. How facilitate offline?