Illuminating the Shadows of Memory

This post may not interest most of you, since it is about visiting a real place lodged in my memories from 60+ years ago. If one is fortunate, an opportunity may arise to revisit such places and illuminate the shadows of memory.

I am in California for probably the next several weeks. I started off on October 25th in San Diego to complete some amazing van upgrades at Landed Gear. From there, plan is to wander up the coast, stopping to see sights and visit old friends, new friends, and online friends not met face-to-face yet. This trip is also one of nature immersion, since California is one amazing state when it comes to natural beauty and million-dollar views (and Oregon and Washington coming after California). 

I am still enduring the shock of California’s over-populated everything and over-vehicled roads. It is a place where anything and everything is available, and no doubt the birthplace of many creative and technological wonders. But these days of dealing with the mass of humanity has me yearning to go hide in nature. Fortunately, on November 2nd I will begin such solace by slowly wandering up the Pacific Coast Highway going north. 

Ironically, I am a native Californian, born in Coronado (San Diego) while my father was in the Navy aboard an aircraft carrier. I lived here probably six months after birth, so clearly not writing about those memories! But we returned when I was 5 through 6 years old, and lived in two San Diego area houses. It is fair to say some of my earliest memories are from these places and still live in me all these years later. 

I have vivid memories of the Claremont house especially, playing with my little cars and trucks in the flower bed, and sliding down the hill behind it, overgrown with what we called “pickleweed” (found some this trip and through a plant identification app discovered its name is blue chopsticks). Over the many years since, I have lost track of how often I searched for what that plant was, or to find anyone else who had fun sliding down atop a cardboard ”sled” (when the plant’s pickle- or french-fry-shaped leaves break, the liquid inside is super slick).

Human memory, of course, play tricks over the years regarding the accuracy of remembered events and places. But thanks to my father, who wrote a family history book and included the address of every place we had lived (and to my sister in Florida who looked up the addresses for me while I was in San Diego), I was able to Google Maps my way there. Would I have recognized these two merely by driving by? Probably not, although the Point Loma house looks nearly identical to memories of it, yet the Claremont house was harder to connect, having a more radical makeover and vegetation change than remembered. To add to the verification, I remembered the elementary school was three blocks away. I turned the van around in the direction of that memory, and in three blocks there stood the school.

It was a bittersweet moment revisiting these two house. Remembering fond times of youth in the presence of a real place puts a wry smile on one’s face. But bittersweet realization quickly follows of how long ago those times were. Still odd though, that in this recapture of two places in my life, the memory-painted “picture” is surprisingly faithful to the actual places.