Thursday, March 01, 2012


Everyone knows that to get to California, a Midwesterner has to fly over flatlands, badlands, highlands – all of it. It may be half the distance (and half the flying time) to Europe, but to me, California always seemed remote.

And it shouldn’t. You’d probably be surprised to know that most of my first cousins live in California. (My mother’s brother moved there.) I never see them. My extended family, too, feels remote. We grew out of different worlds, on different continents, overlapping not in any way, except with a shared bloodline. I don’t even quite know what my cousins do in life, though I have to say, I did truly like their father – my uncle. He was a very happy soul and I think I share some of those problem-avoidance genes.

My mother moved to California first to care for her mother, who, in turn, had moved to California (from Poland) to care for her son, who probably didn’t need care, but he was her golden boy and letting her do this made both of them feel better.

When my grandma died (and soon after, my uncle died), my mom trudged back to Wisconsin to keep tabs on my growing girls, but when they grew up and were ready to move on, she went right back to California, choosing to settle in the same retirement place where her own mother lived her last years of life.

My mom will turn 89 this year. She is as sharp as ever – well, arguably sharper, because her nose is stuck nearly full time in the world of books, newspapers and magazines. She’s a political hound, too and I have to think that she is disappointed that I never want to engage her on those topics (to my credit, I think I’m an okay listener). People might describe her as radically to the left of things. I think the picture is a tad more complicated.

After classes, I catch that flight – out of a tired Wisconsin, over the snow-covered flatlands, badlands, etc etc


... to arrive by early evening at San Francisco International.


It says a lot about my mother that she made the tremendous effort of coming by BART to the airport to greet me upon arrival.

We take that same BART back and I leave my bag at the adorable Garden Cottage B&B (actually, it’s just a home with two rental units) in Berkeley, just a few blocks from her own residence. I admire the fact that there are things blooming right now and I don’t mean just a shrub or two.

We eat a very fresh and honest supper at a local Thai place. Called Your Place.


I think about how my parents arranged their retirement years (in his case – from a diplomatic career, in her case – from care-giving and taking on odd jobs just to keep the income flowing). They seem to like where they are. The fit is good. He is 100% Polish, she has a lot of America in her. He survived World War II in Warsaw, she survived the slums of Detroit, New York and later, of a destroyed Warsaw. Berkeley suits her. Warsaw suits him.

Me, I choose a restored farmhouse south of Madison. Even as I am awfully envious of this Berkeley garden outside, lush as anything now, on the first day of March.