Friday, October 9, 2020

Where you were born--your natal home


Jersey Shore, 2013: Dana, sister Barb, me, Mom Flo, SIL Linda

September has always been my favorite month, until I moved to California in 2013. September on the east coast meant a few cooler days, a change in the color of leaves from emerald green to a slightly blackish green cast. In Jersey, it was a time for going back to school that brought an excitement. As a band member, we marched in our first football games at half time. My birthday is in September. It was the start of fall.


In California, September is still in the dry season. Yes, there are leaves on the trees, but the grass has been brown and dry for months. Since I’ve been here September has meant wildfires. The air even today remains smokey from Labor Day’s fires.


My husband—a dyed in the wool Californian--sees things differently. He sees the advent of the fall migration of birds flying south for the winter. He sees Golden Hills.


It’s all about where you were born and where you grew up.


I remain an East Coaster, although I’m proud to live in a progressive state. Don’t get me wrong. California’s beautiful. How can I compare it to New Jersey, a pipsqueak of a state?


Vistas in California are big, broad, and sweeping. Hell, we’ve got Yosemite’s Valley with iconic granite domes. Highway 1 passes through spectacular coasts and redwood trees.


In the east where I lived (NJ and Maryland), we didn’t have vistas. The land is mostly flat. Half the year it’s bright green, another quarter it’s brown and slightly dreary, and the remainder a rapidly changing flux of colors. In Jersey, we have suburban neighborhoods, strip malls, big malls, shopping centers, small farms, fast food joints, and bowling alleys. It’s an old landscape with buildings over a hundred years old mixed with new big box stores. Most of the world makes fun of the Jersey Turnpike, just one of Jersey’s crowded roads.


Probably because of COVID-19 and the fact I can no longer easily travel, I am unable to see my natal (birth) home. I may never again.


Plants and animals are distinct between east and west. Back east, I knew all of the plants, had my garden tuned to the seasons planting my bulbs in fall, pansies and mums in October, peas in March. I trimmed azaleas, raked leaves in fall. Surveyed  tulip trees, red and white oaks, maples, and white pine go through their yearly cycles. I watched blue jays and cardinals. Now, I have a whole new set of plants and gardening challenges—irrigation systems, burn piles of lower branches trimmed for fire safety, and gophers. A different set of warblers, towhees, and goldfinches.


My garden in Maryland

Chris is at home; I am wistful.


Food--I’ve never found a decent hoagie outside of Jersey. Their pizzas—thin crust, tomato sauce with rubbery cheese—simple but perfect for eating cold the next day. Bagels—real crusty bagels, never found in California. Neighborhood food, spaghetti, even fast food, tastes better there. In Maryland, we had great delis, El Salvadorian food, and stately steak houses. Both have diners with eggs served all day, bacon, served on huge platters. Compare this to our finest California fare—Cal-Mex tacos and carnitas, ultra fancy cuisine, tri-tip roasts. It’s not which is better or not, but what you’re used to.


Fogel Family celebration

I miss the rules for wearing clothes—white from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A closet full of suits and business clothes. Even though I worked in an informal lab, we still had to don formal clothes several times a year. In California you can mix plaids and flowers, wear white anytime. Even on a university campus, few wore business clothes favoring flip flops over leather shoes.


While I love coastal California, sea otters, whales, and cliffs, I miss the sandy beaches and Spartina marshes of the Jersey shore. Much of California’s coastal waters are cold, requiring a wet suit. How I loved to swim for hours in the warm, green Atlantic waters in summer. The small, munchy waves taught me how to boogie board and body surf.


Cheerleaders, Fall, 1962

Are the people different? I think so. Jersey people are, well, “Jersey”—open, typically friendly to strangers, strong accents, proud of their home state. In the DC area, people are accomplished, serious, political, driven, international, and work hard. Both love their sports teams, cherish their traditions, and eat whatever’s on the table. Californians are opinionated, diverse, innovative, and can range from “small town” to “big city” often within a small area.


Our natural disasters are distinct. Back east we had hurricanes and blizzards, both of which knocked out the power, closed highways, and created havoc around the holidays. Nothing replaces the excitement of anticipating a snowstorm that could close school! In California, we have earthquakes and wildfires—hazards that are scary. Wildfires have threatened our house in Mariposa; earthquakes have shook us in Riverside and Mariposa.


Back deck, Snowmaggedon, 2009

That traditional fall feel of the east is what I miss right now. Jersey in its simple, plain, slightly shabby nature and Maryland with its government, crowded, serious side may not be thought of as traditional places one would hunger for. Yet, as fall proceeds from September to October, I yearn for my natal home.


I gain comfort, though, recognizing all the good things I have in California—Chris is in his natal home, enjoying old friends, familiar birds, and vast landscapes. I’ve met some wonderful people here, live in beautiful places where I have the luxury to wax on about my special homes where I was born and raised.

Chris at Jug Bay--he did enjoy the east


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