Last year this time, I had to go back home to help with my dad’s things and to attend his memorial service. This year, in a much different place emotionally, I returned to celebrate my dad’s 92 birthday in heaven.
I also was getting a little homesick and it’s so nice to be able to connect again with family and friends. Lots of visiting and a little sightseeing.
My mom is an avid gardener so she asked if I could drive her around William Land Park, a 200 acre park in Sacramento that features the city zoo, a children’s amusement venue, a golf course and an amphitheater.
One of the free exhibits is the WPA Rock Garden. A one acre sight that is mostly the contribution of a master gardener named Daisy Mah. Wander through the paths as you explore the abundance of plants, bees, butterflies, and even the occasional lizard. I visited in April which seems like it might be peak blooming season.
My mom asked if I could take her to Green Acres, a large, popular nursery in Sacramento. I had fun wandering around while she bought some more vegetables for her garden. In the houseplants section, they have some interesting decorative displays and I couldn’t resist photographing.
The outside area of Green Acres is just as interesting.
Sacramento is known as the city of trees and, even though I don’t like cities, it was healing to walk among the plants. I really enjoy photography also and I got a chance to document some wonderful landscaping in the heart of the city.
I have had to say good-bye in two places the last two months that were a big part of my life. One good-bye was at my son’s residence he’s been at the last 4 years and a cause for celebration as he and his wife move for new jobs and one was for my father’s memorial send-off and the end of a huge light in my life.
If you’re like me, you hate to say good-bye, even if it’s for a short time. From high school on, I lived in Northern California for all but five years. So when I decided to leave California upon retirement, even though I got many well wishes, family and friends were sad and insisted I visit often.
During this time my son and his wife were stationed in Oklahoma so upon retirement, I set out with my motor home for more extended visits to this midwest state. In my travels from 2018 to 2021, I was able to spend quite a bit of time with them even though I hated being in such a large, crowded place as Oklahoma City.
My daughter-in-law got a new post in early 2021 and my son was left alone for several months to pack up and sell the home, take care of their dog (my grand-son), and follow her to their new assignments in Alaska. Well, I knew that it would be a lot harder to visit them in Alaska as I travel with two pets so I spent the last month with him and helped with movers and doggy babysitting. I was so glad to be able to spend this time with him before their move 3,700 miles away from my home base in New Mexico.
I won’t be back to Oklahoma now. There’s no reason for me to be there. I have many fond memories and tons of photos and I have closed that chapter in my life. My son and I said our good-byes and he set off in the car with their dog for Anchorage and I set off in my motor home for Northern California.
I had traveled back to Sacramento in the motorhome and had flown back once to this part of the country but I knew in my heart that this April trip would be my last trip to California. It had been my home base for 45 years and now I was making my final trip. In January 2021, my 90 year old father passed away from cancer. No one knew he was sick and it was very quick. I had planned to fly out a few times in 2020 and kept postponing thinking that the virus situation would get better soon. Of course, it never did.
There were three people that I spent my time with in the three weeks I was there. I spent a lot of time with my stepmom, who was married to my dad for over 30 years. We had to go through stuff and there was a lot of stuff. My dad and I had a lot of mannerisms in common, including over-planning when taking a trip, but keeping things for years and years was not one I shared with him. There were boxes of things I couldn’t say no to because I missed him so much. He had kept papers and photos going back almost his entire 90 years and even further with historical documents tracing ancestry. I’m not sure what I will do with this stuff, packed into the corners of my motor home, when I return to New Mexico but I wasn’t ready to let go yet.
I spent a few partial days with a friend I’ve known for over 15 years when we lived next to each other and worked for the same school district. Now my life has changed a lot and I think we both knew that I wouldn’t be back to that part of the country. I invited her to come and visit but she has a farm with many animals to care for so it’s not really a possibility.
I spent a little time with my sister and visited her art gallery in a neighboring foothill town. My sister and I are close but we keep in touch over Facebook and text messages mostly. I also invited her to come visit and she said she definitely would consider it. As an artist, I know she would enjoy exploring interesting places in New Mexico. She has obligations currently though and might not even be able to travel for many years.
My father had a military internment at the Veteran’s National Cemetery on April 27 and I was so glad I went. I was glad I was able to support my stepmom and her three grown children, who thought of my dad as a surrogate father. I saw and briefly spoke to my brother whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in over 20 years. Might be the last time. I hated that I couldn’t say good-bye to my dad in person but I felt a little closure at the military service.
A week later, I was packing up the motor home. I was very homesick and anxious to leave and yet I knew in my heart that I would be seeing these people for the last time and that was hard. My stepmom was so sad to see me go and she knew that she probably wouldn’t see me in person again. I also invited her to come see me and stay with me for awhile but she’s not able to travel and her three children are in her area and can take care of her.
People say you are starting a new chapter in your life but right now, it doesn’t feel like that. It just feels like a lot of things have been taken away that I won’t get back. I remember the exhilaration and a little trepidation when I crossed the California border into Arizona for the first time after selling my house. In another two days, I will be crossing that border again, probably for the last time. The finality does leave me a little sad.
In the desert, structures and remnants of lives don’t ever go away completely. The skeletons of abodes, fences, abandoned recreational vehicles, old barns can be seen dotting the landscape amongst the tumbleweeds and creosote. I first noticed this when I spent two years driving back and forth across the country in my motor home. I traversed Interstate 40 and Interstate 10, sun-bright yellow land contrasted by blue, blue skies flashing by at sixty or sixty-five miles an hour. I travelled less used byways and county roads at a much more leisurely pace through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, slowing to gawk at derelict motels or restaurants abandoned alongside the road.
Several months ago, I decided to park the motorhome, buy a trailer and settle down in one spot, Lakewood, New Mexico. I was now in the middle of a couple hundred acres of grazing cattle and about two miles from the nearest highway. I can cross over a set of railroad tracks to get to the little post office set up in a trailer but there are no buildings or other businesses to speak of. At least I didn’t think there were. The reasons I picked the spot had nothing to do with the history or the landscape but when I learned about the thriving community that was this place a hundred years ago, I was hooked.
Now the freight trains just blare their horn and pass through during the night. But there was a passenger stop along the route at Lakewood, originally called McMillan, with a saloon, drug store, and post office, in the late 1890s (http://genealogytrails.com/newmex/eddy/dayton.html).
In 1911, The Lakewood Canning Factory was built. The building is still standing although the business closed permanently in 1922. I’ve driven around trying to find the remains of other town buildings but it’s all private property now with secured gates.
If you do a current Google search on Lakewood, NM, you will learn that the population in Lakewood (zip 88254) is 31. There are 1 people per square mile aka population density. I don’t think that takes in to account the mobile home park I live at but otherwise, quite true. I believe there are more abandoned buildings and vehicles than residents in these parts. But it’s alive with history and, if you’re observant, the pieces left behind.
Have you ever signed up for a writing class, either online or in person? I’ve taken a few over the last couple years since I retired and decided to devote more time to my writing projects. I have either not paid anything or paid under $40, although you can find classes online that go upwards of $400 or $500 per session. I’m not there yet as far as wanting to spend that kind of money but sometimes I’m tempted.
I’m tempted because I would love to have some professional feedback on what I’m producing. I sometimes feel like I’m writing in a bubble, especially now with only essential businesses open. I joined a writing group last summer while I was in OKC that met once a month. I only attended one meeting. I felt inspired but wasn’t really sure I was getting the kind of feedback I really needed for my personal projects. The workshop consisted of writing from prompts and then going around the room and reading them out loud.
One of the most beneficial freebies I took and actually produced a sizable amount of content was a free online class called The Disobedient Writer. I’m not sure if the whole course is still available for free online. Here’s the link: https://thedisobedientwriter.com.
I’m currently taking a course from Coursera called Writing A Personal Essay. A portion of this series is free if you don’t submit any assignments. Still beneficial if you go through the videos and the writing exercises on your own.
Writing is a dynamic process, whether you’ve published 20 books or are still working on your first novel. I hope in the near future, we will be able to get together again in groups for feedback and support, but until then, it will all be virtual.