birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Fresno

I don’t go to Fresno often now. I moved away in 1972, to Berkeley to train as a Public Health Microbiologist at the state Health Department. But, when I do go back, I am compelled to drive around town—to see what has changed, and what is still the same.

I did this last summer with my friend EZ and his wife Francie. I did it last New Years Day, with my husband, daughter and her beloved in the car—as we made our way home from a three-day tour of the coast and central valley between Los Angeles and San Jose.

“So, here in my Aunt and Uncle’s first house-rehab project.” I pointed out as we drove through Christmas Tree Lane, gawking at the large-lot, two-story homes where rich people used to live. I’m guessing the folks who live there now are well off, but the rich have moved northeast and northwest now. Farmland has become residential “estates”.

“Next, this is where I went to college. There’s the fire station—I dated the whole department of student firemen my junior-senior year.”

I settled on one, and we got engaged. It lasted almost three years. My moving to Berkeley was the beginning of the end—our love couldn’t keep up with our diverging goals once I began to become “urbane”. Besides, he was too good for me; I had to go through my “bad boy” phase. And I needed to live in San Francisco, and LA. I needed to apply [and get rejected by] medical school, so that I could go live in Cambodia during a war. I needed to go to seminary so that I could learn that women do, in fact, get to preach. I needed to give up the 50s fantasy of “the family that prays together stays together” way, so that I could meet a man who really (truly, actually) wanted a “life partner” and not just a “wife”—but, well that took several years away from Fresno, and a lot of becoming “urbane”.

And, this, this is the house where I grew up. Those damn tears threaten again. Yes, this is the house that, from my fifth year to my twenty-second, I called home.

This was the house from which I learned to walk the ½-mile to school all by myself—until I met Sharon, and Becky, and Donna, and more. Now there’s a freeway between home and school.

This was the house from which I learned to take the bus all by myself to the BIG central library downtown four miles away—this I almost always did by myself. That library was probably my own first real church—it was sacred and awe-full to me. It was on the bottom shelf of a case in the children’s room that I discovered, quite by accident, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. I re-read this book every year now—seems kind of odd when I write it down. I was so surprised and thrilled, I recall, when, in 1975, I found it again on a bottom shelf—this time in a store—and claimed a copy for my very own.

And, yes, my passengers had to endure a drive by that holy shrine. “This is my library,” I said as we cruised by on our way passed the “first mall in America” and onto Highway 99 to continue on toward home. I don’t know if it really was the “first”—an outdoor mall they made in 1964 from closing to car traffic about six blocks of Fulton Street. (I just looked it up. Lo and behold—this outdoor mall just became a car street again! The October 20, 1917 Fresno Bee reported it. I’m glad there is still a Fresno Bee.)

I made them glance at many more things.

There was my school; well, three of my schools, because the fourth (my kindergarten) doesn’t exist anymore. It had been a barracks for flyers during the war. And I made them look at how the freeway cut off our neighborhood from the elementary school, and several of my friends’ houses from each other.

There was the empty lot that used to hold my favorite ice cream store—Starr’s that had a weird, exotic thing called pumpkin ice cream from October through December each year. “Pumpkin Spice” eons before it became a “thang”.

And, there was my first chosen-by-me church (well, sort of)—First Methodist—where I got baptized when I was thirteen. My parents didn’t come—they didn’t approve of church. They thought churchgoers were hypocrites. It took me a long time to learn that all people are hypocrites—such a great gap between our realities and our aspirations. I’ve always been struck by how lucky and safe it was to have church-going become my “adolescent rebellion.” I had to wait til my twenties for the more dangerous pushes away from family and societal expectations, but even those were mitigated, allayed and eased by the cushion of church. Thank God!

Well, the tour is far from over. I am sure I will take it again next year when I go HOME for my fifty-year high school reunion. I’ve been to all but one of these outdated [seriously NOT urbane] official social functions. I love them. I love that I am still in sort of ordinary contact with folks I have known for so very long. I’ve known Glenda and Sandy and Sharon for over 60 years. And, Ernie and John and Harvey. There are many who don’t show up, who were in classes above or below the Class of ‘68, that I wonder about and haven’t found on Facebook.

Fresno is not home now; and Fresno will always be home. The tears peek again at the corners of my eyes. Nostalgia? Sure. Why not? Can’t I be sentimental and urbane?

Coziness and Warmth

Odine