Follow the yellow brick road —

You travelled down a  a pretty tree-lined street to reach Janet’s house – it might as well have been Oz to me, coming as I did from the other end of town where homes were a little more modest.  It had a small front yard and a very big back one, with fruit trees and flowers. It even sported a swimming pool just beyond the lanai, where we girls practiced hilarious water ballets, near drowning ourselves with laughter.

A buzz vibrated around the house because there was always something going on, usually spurred by her mother, Dorothy, who was full of energy and charisma.   Dorothy and her husband, Nylin,  hosted parties for  friends and business associates, and it seemed Dorothy  was always decorating for some themed party or other, for women’s luncheons, or for and with Janet, her sister, and their friends.  One year I remember the lanai  awash in bright fabrics, plastic pink flowers, leis, table cloths, palm trees, and coconuts for some event. That must have been after one of their Hawaaiian cruises.  No imagination was spared in pursuit of a happy atmosphere.

Dorothy always greeted us with a smile and a chuckle, her dimples flashing, and often with a high kick into the air, putting us all to shame. When she was a around, you knew it, her presence bubbled through our lives.  She was always in charge without hovering, leaving a lot to Janet to do for herself, and she never seemed to think anything was too much trouble if it was a party.   She left us space, but was always welcoming.

After we graduated from high school I moved north and lost touch, I heard now and then through Janet that her parents were off cruising somewhere or vacationing in their air stream trailers in convoy with other air-streamers much of the time, enjoying their retirement with the same verve as before.   Then, after Nylin died, Dorothy and a neighbor friend got together to play  cards and travel.  She never seemed to let the tragedies which life holds bring her down for long.  And tragedy indeed touched her life.   She never dwelt on it.

When I saw Dorothy again after several years, she was still living in the house on the tree-lined street.  The house was much smaller than I remembered it, but the same otherwise.   As I pulled into the driveway, she kicked up her leg, as in the old days.  She must have been in her late 80’s or early 90’s by then; she still put me to shame with her flexibility and strength.

Janet, her daughter,  finally persuaded Dorothy it was time to move in with her and Art.    When I visited there a few times, Dorothy stayed discreetly in her own room reading until dinner time, and then joined us for her glass of rose wine before the meal.  After dinner, we sometimes played a word game, called  Quiddler, and she usually won.   In the morning, she was up watching  tennis matches, or  golf, up-to-the minute with the players, their place in the competition,  and the games.

The last time I saw her, I brought my grand daughter Gabriella with me.  There they were, both at the kitchen table, concentrating each one on their iPads, playing Solitaire.   I venture to say Dorothy was winning more games than Gabriella.  Dorothy was a mere 103 at the time, very much compose mentis and spouting her favorite Spanish greeting,  if no longer kicking up her heels.

A few days ago, while Janet and Art were visiting her in the nursing home where they finally had to lodge her,  she had a little dinner, closed her eyes, clicked her ruby red slippers, and was transported home.  She doesn’t leave an empty space, but a space filled with happy memories.



Well, whadayaknow.

I feared that my life experience, which includes living in two countries besides my own for over 20 years, would be  a barrier to making new friends in this southern California community.  I knew that the Latino population would be influential, and indeed, many public signs are now in both English and Spanish.  But I hardly expected much influence from Europe.    Granted, it is a college town, with professors and students from all over the globe, and its inhabitants are hardly the WASP’s who formerly dominated this part of the world.   One of the oldest restaurants in Claremont is owned by an Afghan family who have been here for many years.   There are Italian, Japanese, Peruvian,  and fusion restaurants in addition to the ubiquitous Mexican ones, and the people who own and run them.   Still.  I lived in the UK, and in France, and while I would possibly meet people who have uprooted themselves to come from other countries to settle in the US, not so many from Europe.   I was wrong.

I joined a gym to counteract too many months and years of inactivity.  One of the women there came up to me to introduce herself.   She is English.  She identified me as not from this area because of my “accent”!   I still don’t speak total American anymore!!

I called a handyman from a small ad in the local paper, The Claremont Courier.  He had an accent.  I asked him where he was from.  Guess what.  He is English, and so is his wife, who works in Claremont.  They have been here for 25 years.  When he comes to help me with something, we have a good old natter about how different it is living here as opposed to England.

I looked into a couple of art courses as a way to continue painting and meet people with a common interest. Nothing  gelled. However,  there is a wonderful little shop in the village called “Buddhamouse” where you can buy statues, wall hangings, jewelry, books, tapes, candles, incense, silver singing bowls, and just about anything to do with Buddhism and alternative spirituality.   It is owned and run by a mother and daughter who are warm and welcoming.  The shop also provides space for meditation groups, belly dancing courses,  tea ceremonies, among other things,  and also writing groups.

On Friday mornings a small group meets to trigger their creative writing skills, suggesting topics, writing for 10 minutes and then reading each others work.   As a long time lover of writing, I pep-talked myself into giving it a try.  I found a small group of talented and open men and women who also enjoyed the process of writing.  The woman who runs the group has lived in many places, as her father was a diplomat.    Her mother was from Woking, which is not more than 30 minutes from Shere.

From there, I learned of a larger group in the area,  a writing critique group a stone’s throw from where I live.  The woman who organized that group was born in England.

So I am feeling not unique after all, and not cut off from my experience of living in a multi-cultural world.  I still miss Shere, and Tourrettes, and my friends and family there,  but I don’t feel unique.