Saturday, November 22, 2008

Surf and Sand: The Intro

Ventura County side of Malibu. 1969

When I was eleven my whole world changed. That was the summer we talked my Dad into moving full time to the mobile home park in Malibu where we had our summer and weekend home. A good twenty miles from the glamorous homes of the rich and the stars it was nestled all by itself on a curve of the Pacific Coast Highway. And it saved me the more generic fate of being a girl from the Valley.

At first I couldn’t believe that our plan, hatched in the hazy afternoons of late 60s beachdom, had worked. Driving from Granada Hills to Hollywood, where my dad was a film editor, hadn’t been a short jaunt, but it was mostly freeway. However, from Big Sycamore he would have to take PCH south, traffic lights and all, and then travel through Santa Monica and up to work for a total of 40 miles - back in the day when that kind of commuting was pretty rare. My mom, my two sisters, and I thought we would have a bigger task of convincing him, but he went along right away.

The single wide weekend trailer was traded in for a double wide mobile home and we became full time Surf and Sand residents. Moving to the beach full time was an adventurer’s dream for me at eleven. Most of the residents were part timers and only came down on weekends during the school year. During the school week the park was a deserted ghost land, with only a handful of children and preteens to lay claim to the territory. Every path, every hang out, every trail and every tree was ours for the taking. We let ourselves into the unlocked trailers for tea parties. We felt like we OWNED it all.

I remember my mom registering me in my new school. The Surf and Sand was on the Ventura County side of Malibu, so our school district was Oxnard. My 6th grade teacher’s name was Miss Cearasolo. Seeing her name on my registration slip sent me into anxiety attacks that I kept buried deep. I was a shy child, and the week before school started I lived in mortal fear of saying her name aloud in class and getting it wrong. I was sure the kids would laugh at me and I would never recover.

The best part of my new school was traveling there and back. We would stand on the mountain side of PCH in the early morning fog and a rickety old yellow school bus, the kind with a long hood and short body, would come clunking along and pick us up off the road like miniature hitchhikers. The bus ride would wind up the rest of the Pacific Coast Highway and then through vast agricultural fields. Sometimes the fog was so thick in the mornings it was like a twilight zone ride through the clouds. Most of the other kids on the bus were Mexicans, sons and daughter of immigrant farm workers. My first boyfriend was Daniel. I wore his Saint Christopher and held hands with him on the back of the bus. My mother, the daughter of a mid-west dentist, and the product of private prep schools, found out that Daniel was Mexican and made me give him back his necklace. I never told him the things that she said about him and his family.

Fall is the best season to live at the beach. The elements seem to jump out at you. Riding home from school I would sit on the right hand side of the bus where if I was to leap from the window I might have cleared the rocks and landed with a splash into the ocean. Watching the sunlight dance on the ocean’s surface like a swarm of dazzling sea fairies hypnotized me and encouraged my habit of daydreaming. One day a young classmate sat down beside me and with a mirror attached to the top of his shoe, gazed up at my panties for a bit of time. Until my friend Sarah saw him and punched his arm. I might never have noticed myself.

The school bus let us off in front of a bait store, where every day we stopped for bubble gum and candy bars. Candy bars cost a dime back then, and with my quarter I would buy two Reece’s Peanut Butter cups and a Big Mouth bubblegum. The bait store was owned by two sisters, each weighing at least 300 pounds. A recurring intellectual debate among my friends and I, was a discussion on how the two sisters could fit at the same time in the small space behind the counter. One of the sisters was married to a quiet, skinny man and they had a little baby boy. He slept in a wicker laundry basket under the candy counter. I remember they would put a drop of beer in his bottle to keep him sleeping soundly while they ran their business. My mom said that he was born an alcoholic, that he’d inherited it while in the womb.

Outside the bait store were salt water tanks the size of big jacuzzis, with clear plastic walls you could look through. They were filled with live fish, lobsters, crabs, even baby sand sharks. Also outside and next to the the mini sea pools was a big gas grill. Perched on the grill were two giant vats of boiling salted water. On Sunday afternoons my dad would buy crabs or lobsters for dinner. I remember the sound the lobsters made when thrown into the giant vats. A high pitched whine that would totally freak me out. My dad and the skinny bait store owner laughed at me and said it wasn’t the lobsters screaming, just the sound of their shells. I wasn’t convinced; I conjured a vision of my future karma. A clear picture of being boiled to death while laughing-eyed lobsters looked on.

Across the highway was Big Sycamore State Park. Not just a campground, but miles upon miles of trails through the Santa Monica Mountains. On weekends my friends and I would spend all day in the hills and the canyons. Some days we’d play pioneer in the old abandoned ranch about half a mile into the canyon. Right past the ranch was a rusty old gate, which we considered the turning point. A mile further down the canyon narrowed, and the area was appropriately called Dracula’s Forest. Dark and spooky, I took the name seriously. My preference was to hike the mountains’ crests and peaks, which lifted me into the sky and gave me a heavenly view of my world.

On weekdays, when there was only Sarah and I, and Sarah (being two years older and more inclined to just hang out and listen to records) didn’t want to go adventuring, I went by myself. Hiking around a deserted campground. Eleven. Times were different. I remember my mom making me take our poodle, Waldo, when I went by myself, as though he’d protect me from weirdos and rapists. It is from my mom that I got my smidgen of Native blood. I think she understood that Indians should be accompanied by wolves and not poodles. But my father said that one dog was enough.

When I was eleven my whole world changed. That was the year my father started coming home late from work. He grew out his crew cut, grew a beard, bought a silver Camero, and sped out like a bullet each day down to Hollyweird. My mother’s best friends became Coors and Crown Russe. Bitter and angry and taking it out on her daughters, we learned to stay away from home as much as possible. My sisters came of age in open rebellion.

But I spent my time by the sand and the sea; I climbed the peaks and attempted to lift myself into the stars.

When I was eleven, I made a world on my own.

88 comments:

only a movie said...

Gorgeous. I can picture it. (I lived in Lompoc for a couple of years).
The writing is really amazing. Sparkly.
It's late - I'll come back tomorrow and read again and properly comment.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Thank-you movie. Isn't it weird. It is only 6:20 here and my husband is on his way home from work for dinner.

Kristan said...

Wow. What a story. Live reactions:

"I never told him the things that she said about him and his family."

My mother was born in Taiwan, a small, homogeneous island off the coast of China. When I dated a black guy, she blew a gasket, despite the fact that he was a longtime friend in my social circle. I admire your ability to say what you did about Daniel and your mom, because I am always so afraid of portraying my mom (whom I love dearly) in a bad light. I feel like I can say something here, now, because you will understand. So thank you for that.

Also, strangely, I love the bit about the boy looking at your panties, and how calmly you discuss it. I guess it's hard to get indignant so many years later.

And the lobsters! My mom once brought home a live lobster and put him in the sink. I laughed as he slid around the stainless steel sink and named him Snappy. my dad said, I don't think you should name it, sweetheart. That night we had Snappy for dinner.

Hmm, that took an unexpected, and unfortunate, turn. But you know what? (And I'm sure you DO know this now.) Everything that we live through makes us who we are. So we could change it, but then we'd change ourselves.

I look forward to reading the rest. (And I'm wondering if you should consider editing this into a non fiction essay and submitting it. It's really very powerful and well-written.)

Thank you for sharing.

Tiffany said...

I grew up in Agoura and know all the places you mentioned... Love the last line.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

kristan- my mom is 81 and computer illiterate. Age and disatnce has enabled me to reflect on my youth without worry. I was watching a documentary today of the 60's (Weather Underground) and it reminded me of my child's 60's.

Tiffany -welcome! Agoura was just getting started back then. I heard it's grown enormously - like the Conejo Valley used to be.

Kate Lord Brown said...

'I climbed the peaks and attempted to lift myself into the stars.'

Lovely post Pseudo - you and me both. Amazing the resilience and appreciation for everyday miracles that comes out of tough times eh?

Brigit said...

You left a comment on a post on my blog recently that included the following: "I started a blog to see if I still like to write." This post clearly says 'you still like to write.' It's lovely, well written and moving. Thank you.

starrlife said...

I'm there! What a great post! I grew up in Vt and LI but I remember well that feeling of creating your own inner world while in nature and it was marvelous. I hope kids today get to do things like this-run free in the woods and on a beach!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Kate - working with my students on their personal essays and their poems this month tuned me in a bit to my own youth.

Brigit - thank-you very much for the compliment and also for reminding me of my comment. Don't yo think that the comments we leave are sometimes like planting seeds around the internet?

starrlife - I am glad I was young in an age where we were still allowed to run free and develop are imagination.

Amber said...

wow, how beautifully sad

Kathy said...

I am hooked.

And isn't it sad that the world has changed so much that our kids aren't able to run free like we were?

thistle said...

This is a fabulous post, i could picture every scene you wrote about, and it made me start thinking and trying to remember my own chidhood. What a different time it was back then. We also used to bomb around the neighbourhood, unsupervised...getting miles away from home...and never thought twice about it. How i fret now when i see small children on their own riding their bikes, or even just playing alone in their front yards 'too close' to the road. We really had it great back then.

and the kid with the mirror on his shoes...wonder where he ended up? LOL

Thanks for sharing such persoanl memories and looking forward to more installments...

ps i saw you had a new post last night, but i'm so glad i waited until this am to read and absorb it...and i agree with Kristan...perhaps this is something that should be expanded on and shared more publicly... it really is well-crafted technically as well as emotionally.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

thistle - how can things change so much in one generation? yet, it does for each and every generation i imagine. This is an experiment of writing some essays based on memoir. I'm not really sure where to go publicly, other than here.... so many next steps.

Rhea said...

Some of those memories are wonderful! Some are sad. I'm sorry about your parents. 11 is young to make your own world...but it sounds like you had a lovely place to do it with sand and sea. :o)

goodfather said...

Wow, I could smell the sand and surf all the way from here. I too mourn the passing of 10 cent candy bars. Incredible post.

Robin said...

What a fantastic story, you are a wonderful storyteller.

Kristina P. said...

Your details are so amazing in your writing! You should be a teacher or something! ;)

And I have never been to Hawaii. It makes me sad. My husband lived on a military base there, with his family, when he was younger.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Even with the deterrent of my love for Brad and Angie.

I will be back!

Anna See said...

Wow! This was beautiful, and clear, and haunting.

Vodka Mom said...

I absolutely loved this post. I was right there with you, eleven. right there.

Braja said...

I'm over here in a village in India but I felt the beach, the sand, smelled the fresh air, saw the bait shop...the works. I grew up in Australia, near the beach...this was like coming home..well done. Great first visit :)

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Weekends are so cool. I'm going to head over to India now and meet Braja.

Braja said...

Hey Pseudo :) I just read your post again, more slowly...I loved it. You're a visualist. I could see it all. The sad little tugs at the heart were perfect in placement and size: the poor lobsters, your sad and angry mother, and your Dad's barely-mentioned midlife crisis. I loved this...thanks for dropping into India for the weekend :)

Smart Mouth Broad said...

I felt like I was right there with you. The picture you painted was so vivid. You took me back to a different time and place. I'm glad you made a world for yourself and came thru on the other side to be the incredible woman that you are today.

Debbie said...

What a gorgeous post. I can see that working with your students has inspired you!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Braja - You're blog is way cool and thanks for giing this a second read.

SMB - Working with my students on their stuff got me to thinking about my own stuff. My sisters and I all survived my parents and the disintegration of their marriage.

debbie - you nailed it. student inspired to dip into my past.

Just B said...

You have the beginning of something here--this is so, so, good. Good is not even a good word for it!

The place you describe is so real through your writing I am there with you. But at the same time it is a place that is hard to imagine ever existed. Eleven then and eleven now seem so different. I hope today there is an eleven year old girl out there losing herself in the landscape and not in the pop culture. At least if you lose yourself in the rocky hillsides you always have a chance of finding her again.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

B - how wonderfully put, you always have a chance of finding her again.............

Mama Dawg said...

I love reading about other people's childhood. This sounds like a book.

TL said...

Found you through SITS.
What a good post.
Off to read more.

Jack said...

Thank you for sharing this with us.. I've just put on a pot of tea and I'm ready to continue.

Chapter deux...
:)

smiles4u said...

What a beautiful heart touching post! You shared so honestly and openly and said all of it so beautifully. As I read, it felt like I was there. Many good memories but some that must be painful. Thank you for sharing...it helped me know you just a little bit more.

hillgrandmom said...

A beautiful, vivid, poignant post!

Michele Martin said...

Love it...looking forward to more..

deconstructing jen said...

That was beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes at the end. I'm so sorry.

You tell a vivid story.

Donnetta said...

I'm hooked. I'm following you.

You are gifted, insightful an inspirational.

Happy SITS!

cat said...

What a stunning piece of writing work. You are a true artist. Love and light from South Africa.

Carebear said...

Beautifully written - a wonderfully enjoyable and engaging read. Your images are so vivid! And, though I'm sorry for your real-life hardship, the unexpected finish makes for a good story. Geez, that sounds callous. I didn't mean it to. I am saddened that your life at the beach earned you scars. I feel for that poor eleven year old girl. I only meant to compliment the storyteller in you. She is absolutely mesmerizing. I can't wait to read more!

Mrs. Jelly Belly said...

Beautiful.

Jamie said...

Have an AWESOME SITS day! :)

Anne said...

Stopping in from SITS. This is so beautiful - I love your writing style. I feel like I was right there with you at the beach. Thank you for sharing this.

Tanielle said...

Amazing... again! You are so talented, and I am envious of life by the gorgeous ocean! Congrats on your SITS Day!

Bethany said...

Again, wow! You have a gift. Keep using it!

sandy said...

What a great post! Such a vivid discription.
Happy SITSday:0)

Kimm at Reinvented said...

What a great story teller you are. Thanks for sharing your memories of the beach, I'm sorry that your time there wasn't all happy memories.

Craftymoose Crafts said...

You have a wonderful way of bringing a reader right into the story with you!

Beth said...

Beautiful. I wasn't expecting the ending... my dad's best friend was Jim Beam. He's been sober for 11 years & he reads my blog so I don't write about it. Life changing.

Amy said...

I felt like I was reading a great book and wanted more. Have you ever written a book? I really enjoyed this. Have a great day. Again Happy SITS Day.

mommytoalot said...

Wow, you are indeed a great writer.
Very vivid story. xo

Ryan and Katie said...

What a beautiful post!

Melissa Papaj Photography said...

Wow! This is absolutely beautiful!

Melissa Papaj Photography said...

Wow! This was absolutely beautiful!

DawnS said...

I think this is the first time that reading a blog post has left me at a loss for words... You are a beautiful writer!

Brandy said...

I could picture it all....

You're a wonderful writer.

Porters said...

You are a GREAT writer! Wish I could have lived at the beach!!

Mimi said...

Lovely. Enjoy your SITS day!

My New 30 said...

Very nice - thanks for sharing!

Wifey said...

Great post! You're such a talented writer. Looking forward to reading more...

Winks & Smiles,
Wifey

Anti-Supermom said...

The entire post just captured me.

You are an amazing storyteller.

wenderful said...

I loved this! It kind of reminds me of the book A Girl Named Zippy, although more sincere. It makes me want to sit down and write about my childhood. Maybe I will.
Happy SITs Day!

Marrdy said...

This makes me remember my own childhood...about the same time. Your writing is wonderful!

Amy said...

Such eloquence. I love how you talked about the ocean. I have only been there once, but it sounds exactly as magical as I have pictured it. I wish I could have roamed the hills and trails with you, daring each other to go deeper and deeper into Dracula's Forest... what fun! I think every child should have such wonderful memories like yours. Thank you for your talent and for sharing it with the rest of us.

mommy4life said...

You should be an author. Your story was riveting....

Kristin said...

you are an excellent story teller. thank you for sharing your stories. Kristin

Tori C. (The Sweet Jelly Bean) said...

You need to take some time this summer to write a book! :)

Mom Taxi Julie said...

Beautiful!

Willo said...

I love fall. It's nice to know it's the best on the beach too!

BeebaBottoms said...

beautiful post.

Sturgmom said...

Thank you for sharing that. It's beautiful. It took me back to more innocent days and made me wish my children could experience those adventures themselves.

I hope there is a part 2 to this. :)

The BLAH BLAH BLAHger said...

I love the transition from wide-eyed optimism to the knowledge that all was not well in your world... I hope you continued to explore, adventure, and love every minute of the Surf and Sand!

Jamie said...

That was a great story...with a bit of a sad ending...but happy too, with you making your own little world. You are a great writer...ditto what another commenter said, you should try to publish it. I didn't want to stop reading...as if I were reading a really good book. It sounds beautiful where you grew up! I've never been to California, and must visit soon. I've enjoyed your blog, will be back SITSta!

Jamie :-)

misty said...

Absolutely gorgeous writing! Beautiful pictures danced through my mind as I read.

I grew up a California girl wanna-be. Unfortunately, I had to settle for being a Georgia peach. Not bad, but not Cali. For years I dreamed of when I could finally frolic on my surfboard in the cold pacific waters and meet gorgeous, tanned lifeguards. One of my all time favorite movies as a kid was Zuma Beach with Suzanne Summers. I fantasized about my California dream every time I watched it.

It only took me 36 years to realize my dream of being a California girl, if only for a week. My family made the trip out last summer and as I walked the shores of the Pacific collecting smooth rocks I envisioned myself catching a wave on my board. I was quickly brought back to reality by the squeals of laughter from my three children.

Maybe not the way I'd always dreamed, but in the end it was even better.

Lea Ann said...

What an enthralling storyteller you are, such mesmerizing description. Just charming.

Orah said...

I feel like I am there.

Nydia said...

Veeeery good post! It ended on such a somber note, but great story-telling ...

Hope you had a great SITS day ... I fully intend on following your blog ...

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{Katie Lane} said...

I was like that as a child. In head at least.

mrsbear said...

That was beautiful, it's amazing that during such a turbulent time you can pluck out those beautiful vivid memories to share. You painted such a lovely picture, and the few words of sadness made it that much more powerful. It was a pleasure stopping by today. Thanks.

Chandy said...

Wow, what a story!

Reluctant Housewife said...

Beautiful post.

Joy said...

Wow. I think you have a memoir in the making.

AP said...

wow, amazing story, love your blog!! so glad you are the FB on SITS

Michelle said...

Gorgeous and moving. It's amazing when we look back at what made us ... us.

greedygrace said...

Ack! But what happens next? I feel sadness coming in that 11- year old's life... I'm afraid to read about it!

Happy SITS day!

Xazmin said...

Wow...very beautifully written. You made it all come alive for me.

Rachel said...

Incredible!! You are such an awesome writer...I got so entranced in your words!!!

Debbie said...

I loved rereading this one. It was one of your best.

Blue Castle said...

Beautiful post. Writing that is not only beautiful, but it lingers.

PlaygroundforParents said...

You make me wish I surfed.

jubilee said...

What a hauntingly beautiful story. I think there is a book in there somewhere.