Sunday, August 14, 2005

Paradise Lost

Just back from visiting my family in Southern California for two weeks, David proclaims how good it is to be home, back in Houston, TX. I wonder: What is it about Houston that would cause a person to prefer Houston to COASTAL Southern California?

Point: This is Houston, Texas, and Texans prefer ALL THINGS TEXAS over ALL else. Hailing from California, I understand, because Californians prefer California over all else, although they are more open minded and tolerant of the benefits of other states. Blue State v. Red State type of thing.

David has a point, though. I, too -- a Californian -- prefer Houston over Southern California, specifically Orange County, where I grew up -- breeding ground of Nixon, Mary Kay LeTourneau, Gwen Stefani and Walt Disney. And a bunch of other people. Like my Dad's family.

My dad's family is old, old California -- known as Californios, the "o" ending signifying people who were native to the region before the Americans took over. My dad's ancestry includes Don Juan Forster. Forster was a Brit who became a Mexican citizen in 1832 when he married Ysidora Pico, the sister of Pio and Andres Pico, the last Mexican Governors of Alta California, before the state entered the Union in 1848. The Picos, being in charge of the area at that time, "owned" a lot of land. Forster began buying land in Southern California in the late 1830s and early 1840s, including the San Juan Capistrano Mission for $710, where he and his family lived for 20 years before Lincoln gave all the California Missions back to the church in the early 1860s.

And blah, blah, blah. I'm supposed to be working on this story -- the novel, the screenplay -- but there's always something that gets in the way. Or else, the story's so big it gets in my way. Something like that.

Here's one thing I know: as I drive the freeways in Southern California, specifically the 5 and the 405, I regard the surroundings from LA to Oceanside as a sort of mythic landscape -- California Pastoral -- even cities like Westminster, even Compton. Once much of the land along those freeways was my family's land. From Saddleback to the Pacific, they owned -- Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores. I don't know how to characterize the kind of psychic regret a child feels when, while riding in the car on freeways, she comprehends the reality of the paradise her ancestors lost.

Is it any wonder that I feel at home in this intimate inferno?


Robin said...

Welcome back! How are you feeling now?

Powergirl said...

missed your blogging xta!

April Cobb said...

Such a beautiful story and serious reality. I grew up in San Juan too. I feel the same attachment/sense of loss that you describe. Seeing the acres of land on Ortega Highway that were once my Grandfather's orange groves gone like they never existed and the homes covering the hills that always brought so much beauty to the area. It was a best kept secret for so long and is now so congested that it is almost a different place. But I guess that the time came when there were just more people and with them more "progress." Though I live in another state now too, the smells of eucalyptus and honeysuckle after rain and the hint of salty air in the breeze are still in SJC. When I visit and it rains, it takes me back to my youth and love of SJC every time. Thank you for sharing your lovely imagery and familiar story.

April Cobb said...

BTW, your Miss San Juan Story totally made me laugh. Did you ever write the second part to that story? --April Giddings Cobb