I have joined the UU Church of the Monterey Peninsula and am back singing in the choir and loving it all. I’m alone most of the week so going to church to be with people boosts my spirits. The church is located in the hills below Jacks Peak, the highest point on the peninsula in the woods where I grew up. Only there was no church then. I have delighted to see the names of so many of my friends growing up on the roster of members. The first Sunday I attended this summer, I sat in front of a woman who, after the service, complimented me on my singing (I have a very loud voice). I turned around and it was an old high school friend. “You should remember me from the high school choir! But the last time we met was our tenth high school reunion.” We have renewed our acquaintance since then, especially at the church’s annual fall campout in Big Sur.
It was several weeks later that I went to the church rummage sale and had a blast from the past, a foreign meeting. The rummage sale was in several areas of the church and they encouraged you to go downstairs too. After I had perused the upper level, I went downstairs, which was really outside in an area destined someday to be the new sanctuary, but now serving as a sort of large patio area. There were not many things there, but I saw some art work and that was one of the main things I was looking for. I was waylaid by a box of pillows and saw several I liked and the woman who I took to be in charge announced to her companion, a young man, “Look she’s got a matching set!”
I was immediately drawn to three photographs of the Salinas valley. And the woman said they were by a well-known woman photographer from the area. I estimated they were taken in the 1950’s. Black and white images, the one in the worst shape with mildew on the matte, was of migrant workers in the Salinas Valley lettuce fields. The one I liked the best was of the sea and the hills, but I noticed it had moisture beaded up inside the frame directly over the photograph. When I mentioned it, the woman quickly grabbed the photo and moved it to the shade saying it was caused by being in the heat of sun, and that she had feared that would happen as she had kept them in the basement of her house where it was dank. The young man said it would be $75 for the three of them, she said they would take off because of the damage and I noted that the sticker price for the three photographs was $30. At that price, the deal was sealed. I said I had to pay for purchases I had made upstairs and then I would swing my car down to pay for and pick up the photographs and pillows.
When I came back to pay, the woman said I should make the checkout, not to the church, but to her, and she gave me her name. She was a member of the adjoining property owners she told me, and the church had allowed them to do this sale at the same time because they always cooperated closely with the church. I remarked that there are so many pine tree stumps in the surrounding hills that it must distress the property owners. To this she remarked that the pines only looked good in a group, individually they were scraggily and not much to look at. I explained it was because they were so stressed and that when I had grown up here they were all much greener and healthier looking like one young one I pointed out to her that was a beautiful soft and shiny green.
I said that I had been close to families in this area. When I mentioned a name, she and the young man said, “Well that’s us!” Of course the minute it was out of my mouth the quicker side of my brain realized it was the same family name I had written on my check. The slow side that was still talking a tumble of things had completely forgotten to whom I had made the check out. I asked if they were the family of the father whose name I remembered, and the young man said that was his grandfather. And I said the name of the youngest of the four boys in the family, and the woman said that was her husband and the young man’s father. I said his grandmother had probably been the reason I was admitted to Barnard College since she was a graduate of the college herself and had been on the board at the time I applied, and had given me a recommendation (I’m sure I did not deserve). Both of the parents are dead now although the mother had died only recently and now they lived in the house. I assumed these were their photographs I was purchasing.
I told them that I had spent a lot of very fun times in their house because I had been the girlfriend of a boy whose family lived next door in these forests. (Slow brain, why didn’t you say that he had been my boyfriend?) The woman said that he still lived in the same house and was president of the property owners association under whose auspices she was raising money. She asked my name and I said my maiden name, Laura Oberbeck. When her son urged her to write it down she assured him that she would remember the name. (Slow brain, you talk too much!) She said I probably had had good times in the playroom at their house. To which I said that I could remember as if it were yesterday when the parents had both been away and the entire house had been our playroom while Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit blasted over the speakers, and the rest of their quite large compound. “Go ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall…”
I said I was particularly close to one of the older brothers. I recounted for them the time we had all gone together with my younger brother and hundreds of other people to Limekiln Creek for a Vernal Equinox Festival. I will never forget driving down Highway 1 in his little vintage MG with the top down and the sun shining. I don’t recall wearing a scarf, but these were definitely my Isadora Duncan days. “And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom and your mind is moving slow…”
We arrived at the Creek to find people camped up the gorge in the redwoods, and down at the rocky beach, under a Bixby Creek-style bridge. They were doing a most favorite Big Sur activity, slow roasting a pig on a spit over an open fire. I never actually ate one of these pigs but invariably there was one being roasted and then, you would smoke some dope, and shit would happen and you would never actually get any of the pig meat. In this case things were going along really well and we were dancing around the fire (I think my brother misremembers that I had my bra off at this point, although I will confess to the dope and perhaps my memory is not crystal clear on this point). But I do remember a large group of us circling around the fire and singing when the Hells Angels arrived. They must have been constantly traversing the state looking for towns or small encampments to ride herd on, a la Marlon Brando, all the while singing “Born to Be Wild.” They stopped at the bridge above us and decided that they would pick up a car and hoist it over the bridge on us. We just stared, slack jawed not imagining it would be possible until at once we all espied the little VW bug which they set to rocking. I cannot honestly remember if they dropped the car or I only imagined it, but I know I never did have any roast pig.
My reverie over back on the patio, suddenly the conversation was over and I suspect we were both embarrassed at having said too much. I felt good about the fact that she had not asked me very many questions and therefore would have little to tell others about me. As if I hadn’t said enough. I quickly looked at my check book when I got home and was reassured that my cell number is not printed there, just the Houston address. But the rest of the day I was flooded with memories of those slightly crazy, fun times. I put on my most colorful scarf and took Charlie to Carmel where we sashayed on Mission and Delores and looked at the galleries and rocked out to the blues band and then went to fully celebrate yappy hour at the Forge in the Forest and had a gin and tonic (Charlie had a water) and I contemplated going to the piano bar at the Mission Ranch and bumping into Clint Eastwood, aka Rowdy, while I was there.
But, instead we went home and had a shrimp Louie salad and I dreamt last night of all those boys in love with me. I am resolved to lose weight in case I run into them. Oh, I am probably doomed to run into them one of these days. It’s like being back in high school all over again when I thought I was so over it.
“Feed your head!”