A Love Letter Of Sorts
by Nicole Freire
I was born in Sacramento, the State Capitol of our gorgeous (and now just as broke as me!) state of California.
Here's what I remember about Sacramento from the 12 years I spent there. Trees. Big trees. Trees lining every street. Leaf piles big enough to jump into.
You know what else I remember? How freezing cold it was in the winter. Cold enough that even with the wall heater on, our little house was cold. I'd yell for my Dad in the middle of the night and he'd bring me his big black wool coat, the one he wore during the year he spent in Georgia doing Army officer training. Even with the coat over me I was cold.
You know what else I remember? The heat. Oh my god, the HEAT. Summers in Sacramento are not known for much else. Unrelenting, mind stultifying, way up into the high 100's, heat. Heat that didn't break at night. Nothing like lying on your bed at 1:00am sweating because it's 106 degrees and trying to find a cool spot on your pillow because there is none.
My parents drove a dark blue Volvo sedan. No air conditioning. A dark blue Volvo in the summer heat of Sacramento feels like an oven. My sister and I would sit in the back seat, trying not to touch the metal seatbelt buckles. The windows in the front would be rolled down, of course, so that the hot dry wind could blow around the car.
And the mosquitos! I almost forgot about them. I'd get bitten so much during the summer because I was a tasty small child and the welts on my legs looked awful. Please, bring on the calamine lotion! Mosquitos, ugh. Also, lots of black flies.
Also, I had to walk to school. In the snow. Ok, no snow, but I did walk.
When I was 12, we moved to Santa Maria. This is what I remember. No trees. And lots of wind. There wasn't much else. It was cold in the winter, lots of rain (which I hate), but not freezing. It was warm in the summer. Not the soul-sucking heat of Sacramento, but warm. It always broke at night because of the wind. Oh my god, the WIND. Always windy. Windy windy windy. Why? I have no idea. Something to do with a valley and God cursing the land.
Sometimes I think the City of Santa Maria should just start advertising that fact. Instead of trying to capitalize on the fact that there are vineyards and ranches and strawberries around, they should just put up signs that say, "Welcome to Santa Maria! We have wind!"
When I was 20, I lit out for the big city. No, not Los Angeles, the other big city in our golden state. The one with really good food. San Francisco. Stayed there for almost ten years. I graduated from college, got married, got divorced, got married, had a baby and ate unseemly amounts of dim sum. Lived in tiny cute apartments, rode the bus, rode the train, went out for brunch, went out for just about everything. I lived in the lower Haight before it was cool and worked in China Basin before the words dot com had even been invented.
I do fondly remember the fog, the hills, the little theaters that would only show French movies, dim sum, and working in the financial district.
Ok, not working in the financial district. Working in the financial district was one of the worst jobs I ever had. I had to wear a suit every day, heels, and pantyhose. It wasn't the outfit that I disliked - although it is my firm belief that pantyhose were invented by the devil. It was that I have never felt more like a fish out of water. Luckily, the financial district felt the same way and I only lasted 90 days, long enough to know that I am not a financial district type of woman.
In San Francisco I got to indulge my penchant for scarves and jackets. I had a great hairdresser downtown and could go have afternoon tea at one of the fancy hotels. I could go to Japantown and buy pink pens with Hello Kitty charms dangling from the ends. I could go and have dim sum way out in the Sunset. I could parallel park with the best of them.
There was an entire year I spent hanging around in pool halls, playing darts and playing pool and smoking cigarettes. Inside! Heck, you could smoke at the bar and the bartenders didn't even blink. I would go to the tea gardens in Golden Gate Park and eat spicy rice crackers. I could have dim sum. God, do I love dim sum.
But no city or town ever felt like home. Santa Barbara does. Santa Barbara, I love you. I really love you. I love your almost perfect weather. When I leave work in the afternoon and drive towards the mountains, each time I think to myself, god, those are beautiful. How lucky I am to see them.
And the ocean is there too, just over that a way. There are beaches and there are oak trees, a tree I've developed a long and deep love affair with. I love the red tile roofs, the ficus trees that rip up the sidewalks, I love that Santa Barbara is a small town. That my shrink, my doctor, and my therapist are all within two blocks of each other. I know I'm bound to see someone I know at Trader Joe's, no matter which one I choose to shop at. I like wearing flip flops for most of the year. I like that when it's hot it doesn't last all night. I love the sundowner winds because they don't last all year long.
I love that even though Santa Barbara is a small town, there are a few ballet companies, some lovely theaters, a few world-class universities, and some really good Indian food.
I love the Mission, I love the roses that bloom all over town, and I enjoy cackling over the real estate sections. Hoo boy, the other day a friend and I went to an open house because it was right next door to the house where she rents a little studio apartment. We strolled right in, although we might have just had t-shirts that said "Looky Loos!" It was the cutest little 1930's era San Roque dollhouse. Little living room, two tiny bedrooms, a tiny little kitchen, a tiny dining room and a huge backyard, which my friend insisted on ripping out half of so she could put in a pool. I briefly spoke with the realtor, asked her the price, got her card and luckily for my friend and I, real people came in with their own realtor and we ran for the door.
As we reached the sidewalk, a woman walking her dog stopped us to ask how it was. We all talked real estate for while, two bedrooms versus three bedrooms, how the garage in the back of the darling dollhouse would have to be ripped out because of water damage. We must have chatted for 20 minutes about Santa Barbara real estate - this despite the fact that my friend lives in a converted garage and my husband is unemployed and we're skating the financial edge.
Nowhere else in the world can you look at the world's cutest little house and not be surprised that it will set you back 1.15 million dollars. Hah! Now THAT'S funny.
I love the boats in the harbor. I love that I see people walking their dogs everywhere, although I wonder, where do these people live? Because I have yet to run into a landlord that will let you have a dog or even a cat.
I love the rolling hills dotted with oaks. I love that I can get from my house to Anna's donuts way out by Kmart in ten minutes or less. I love that I can take my daughters to school and myself to work and still get there in time to park in the good parking lot.
I like the fact that my freckled arms are a dead giveaway that I live in Southern California and drive a lot. I'm even ok with the bigger freckles on the left side of my face because that's my driving side.
I can still parallel park but almost never need to.
I love to live here. I never want to leave and live somewhere else. Despite the insanely hilarious real estate prices I have faith that I'll be able to live here for a long long time. I plan, many years from now, to have my ashes buried under an oak tree.
Speaking of ashes and burying them and roses, my father said that one day in the far future when he dies, he too would like to have his ashes buried in the dirt. Then he said that maybe I could take a little and spread them over the rose bushes at the Mission. I replied that I was pretty sure it's illegal and then he said, well, you could carry little bits in your shoes, bend down as if the laces had come untied and surreptiously shove some of his ashes under a rose bush. I think that there is no way I could get away with it without looking like I was up to no good and I'd probably get arrested. But then we talked about how I could probably get off with just a warning because, you know, I'd be in mourning, and the judge would feel bad for me.
Anyway. Santa Barbara, I love you. I love living in Southern California, even though it means my daughters use the term "Dude" all too frequently. I love your sunshine, I love your oak trees and I kind of like the palm trees. I love your beautiful mountains. I love being able to see the ocean. I love you and get ready for me as an old woman, because here is where I'm staying.
Love, your biggest fan,
P.S. Photo credit goes to eldest daughter, who took this lovely picture at the Mission. I love it because the moss covering the fountain is beautiful and disgusting. In fact, I would be hard pressed not to offer you five dollars if you licked the moss, just for a second.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.