It was old home day yesterday at James' and Anne Grey's. Just as we had for years and years, we got together for a holiday party and fireworks in the evening, a day of eating too much, sitting in the sun, and laughing with old friends. For many years since our arrival in 1980, we have spent the 4th that same way.
When we first arrived in August of 1980, a couple of months before I was to begin the MFA program at UC Irvine, we knew no one here. We had used up all our money getting here, and our car was about to die.
All the way out from VA, it was overheating, and no real surprise either because it was in the middle of a huge heat wave. Our car was laden down with every kind of crazy stuff, including parts of a wire storage unit we had used in our most recent place, which had been short on storage. We felt like the Joads, shlepping across the country in our old white Datsun. On top of everything, we were camping out in a tent. If you know me well, you know I'm not exactly the camping type... ditto for Richard, although he was born and bred in the country and had been a boy scout as a kid. I was so green at camping, I thought I could cook falafal at the campfire. Don't ask! What a disaster. We ended up accidentally packing up in the middle of the night out in the desert because my watch has no numbers. I thought 12:30 AM was 6:00 AM. But it worked out because it helped us escape the heat of the day and to drive in the cool darkness for a few hours.
When we got to CA, we didn't know anything about where we would stay or which neighborhoods it might be a good idea to avoid. We didn't know how to recognize a SoCal hood. Everything was so landscaped and green, it all looked expensive to me. And it was expensive, as far as rents were concerned, compared to places we had lived. We weren't sure how we would manage to pay first month's rent, but after staying on the couch of someone in the English department for a month or so, we finally found a place in Costa Mesa on 19th St., just down from the DMV.
It turned out to be a pretty bad place, with gangs and drug deals going down outside our window. But it took a while to notice that. Meanwhile, I liked the taco joint down the street, and the bus was handy.
Richard had to find a job. We were so desperate, he thought about cleaning out nuclear power plants. To keep him from doing that, I scouted around on campus for jobs, and found one listed at Learning Skills. Helen Romera was the director. I made Richard's vita, and went to the interview myself; he was working a temporary job that day. She hired him sight unseen.
He still works there to this day, though Helen and her sister Betty, who had been the administrator, have long since retired. She and Betty were there yesterday, and we were laughing about other holidays we had spent around the same swimming pool, and the many and varied characters that had passed through the Skills.
People still made their same dishes. Susan brought the wings, as usual, though she had run out of tabasco, so they were a tad sweeter than in the past. The same chips and guac graced the table, and the grill was fired up and turning out Italian smoked sausage. Ann Grey still disappeared into the kitchen to organize and to gather folks from across the way to share in the food and the company. She's the best organizer I know, the only one who manages to resist the temptation to sit down and enjoy with everyone else. Her years in the restaurant business are evident at parties, and her generosity extends to her yoga students and the cats she rescues. There was a new one there yesterday, who had offered himself at her door. He knew a good thing when he saw it.
We decided to get together for R's 6oth birthday, which is this week. He hates parties and gifts, but he agreed to go out for breakfast next weekend, if the old crowd would come too. More on that another day.