Tom and Maureen spent the month of September 2009 in California, and for much of the time stayed with us in Santa Cruz. That felt just fine.
This was his first trip back to California since abruptly leaving us in Santa Cruz after Christmas in 2007. That’s 21 months when we did not see him at all. Way too long. Maybe Nick saw him during that period while on a visit to his mother, but not me, not the rest of us.
How would he feel once he was back in Santa Cruz? His abrupt and unannounced departure from our midst (he had told us that he was taking a three-week vacation in Paris, and then never came back!) revealed something about how he must have been feeling back then. Would time away have healed those feelings, or would they resurface as soon as he returned? Having felt responsible for not addressing adequately whatever problems in the family had driven him away, I was hoping that he would feel better this time around.
And he did! For one thing, he brought Maureen, whom he had been dating in Paris for some time. That made a lot of sense to me. With a girlfriend staying with him, he couldn’t possibly feel as lonely as he had apparently felt before he left Santa Cruz. We were happy to put the two of them up and I was delighted to show them the sights. More on that later.
Mostly, we were happy to see them and host them as Tom reconnected with his brothers and his friends from High School. Before he had left for Paris, I think that he had begun to doubt the feelings of many of those around him in Santa Cruz. This was his chance to check those doubts out against the light of day.
One of his friends, Daniel, accompanied our tourists on several of their trips exploring the Bay Area. He was a classmate of Tom’s from Harbor High School, and had been considering photography as a career option and taking advantage of opportunities to test his developing skills. Maureen and Tom were willing models, and did well out of the occasions when Daniel followed the local tourist tracks with them: some great pics!
While Daniel was able to host them locally, I stepped in for the longer trips. Unlike his older brothers and sister, Tom had never learned to drive when he lived with us. Learning to drive in Paris is very expensive, and so he hadn’t learned there either. California has many assets, but public transport is generally (unless you’re in San Francisco or some of its suburbs) not one of them! In order to see a few of the natural wonders which make up the State, he needed a driver.
Now that is a job I like! Especially in this case, because I drove Cookie, my much-maligned and misunderstood RV, with Tom and Maureen in it. This was the only camping trip I ever made in that fine RV with any of my children. I took them down the coast to Santa Barbara and across the Central Valley to Yosemite.
We walked around the Mission in Santa Barbara, and slept maybe 15 miles up the coast on a side road leading to a local ranch. I slept on the downstairs bed, made up each night from the rear bench seat, and Tom and Maureen slept up top, on the permanent bed under the skylight. This 19 foot RV slept four comfortably. Before I dropped off to sleep, I heard them whispering about the stars that they were watching through the open skylight: high spot!
There was a railroad down an embankment from the lay-by where we pulled over and slept, part of the Union Pacific’s route from San Jose to Los Angeles, and we definitely noticed the train that thundered by in the middle of the night! Most of the time, all we heard was the lullaby of Pacific rollers below us. I woke up first, and wandered around outside while they slept on, exploring the local beaches and listening to the calming sounds of those waves: another high spot!
That’s how travelling around the State is for me, every time I do it, a collection of high spots. We continued this trip in the northern reaches of Yosemite National Park, sleeping in a campground a few miles from Hetch Hetchy reservoir, the source of much of San Francisco’s drinking water, and the first in a collection of hydro-electric plants cascading down the Sierra Nevada to the Central Valley.
Because Cookie was only wide as a regular van, we were able to drive up to the reservoir (most RVs are wider than their chassis, and not allowed along that road), where we parked and explored. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful area, with a delicate flavor of tragedy.
Before it was dammed to create the reservoir and the hydroelectric plant, Hetch Hetchy was a glacial valley not dissimilar to the Yosemite Valley itself. Now, you can still see the granite that the rivers of ice carved into those enormous cliffs and domes, but the valley floor is long gone. You can’t help but wonder how it must have looked before they damned the Toulomne river. Very sad.
Our next stop was a swim. Swimming in the reservoir is not allowed, in order to protect the drinking water. So we needed to find another river. Not a problem in the Sierra Nevada, and we found not only a river, but also pools and boulders down the stream. Tom and Maureen duly had a ball jumping in off rocks and splashing around like puppies. I was more reserved, because these rivers are made up of snow melt. They wanted a swim because it was so hot outside, but that did not make the water any warmer. I am not ashamed to admit that I barely got my feet wet! Gingerly trying out the temperature with my toes was more than enough information.
The sad part of our trip together, which only took a few days, was that it revealed that this particular young couple was going through trying times. I wouldn’t necessarily have noticed anything if we had not spent those days together, almost 24 hours a day, but as it was it became clear that things were going downhill. The beautiful places that we were visiting sometimes cheered them up, but they sagged back into annoyance very easily. I felt bad for both of them. Not surprisingly, they ended up breaking up not long after returning to Paris. Hey, at least they had their trip all over California to look back on!
The last segment of their tour around California was a flight down to San Diego for a few days, to visit San Diego Zoo (Maureen is an animal lover, and the San Diego Zoo is special for everyone, especially animal lovers), as well as Tom’s cousins, Antony and Laura, and their families. Because he was living in Paris, Tom had been the only one of our children not to attend Laura’s lovely wedding to Damian earlier in the year. This was a great opportunity to check in with the people he missed, and he duly did.
It was great to see Tom happy again in California.