On Monday, I stood on a steep hill and stared through a stand of sky-high palm trees down upon the San Gabriel and Sycamore valleys. This is the county of Angels, the smoggy city in which I was born and where I met my father, my mother, my sisters, my brother and my grandparents for the first time.
We’ve come here to bury our dead. It wasn’t planned that way. It just happened. First Davy, not even one-year-old, and then my first loss in 1974: my paternal grandmother who told my father once, “She’s alright, Billy. She’s just hungry.”
She was dying with every lumbered step she took toward the kitchen to fetch me a snack. I so wish I could remember what it was. Even at five, I loved her so much.
In 1992, I stood on the same hill and we buried my grandfather. I imagine the palm trees have grown taller, and now, Bertie Mae rests here. She left with that white dove and flew up to heaven and I said goodbye.
I remember her spirit in my kitchen; her fond recollection of those babies: my mother and my aunts. I remember how sad she seemed during that brief and generous interim between her last breath and her first step into Eternity.
Hacienda Heights | This Is The Way We Were
Was it Freud or Jung or someone else who wrote about the significance of the first five years of our lives? I think it was Freud. He thought the first five years of life, particularly conflicts, shaped the personality. Our early impressions of the world could become self-fulfilling prophecies. All I know is that my past here is all but invisible to me and seems to hold no place card in my memory until I return and find that everything bears a comforting familiarity.
In the shadows of those schools built in the early 1960s I can nearly see shadows of a 5-year-old me. At dawn and dusk, I peek around the corners of the scores of pastel stucco houses and their ivy-covered cinder block fences. They create these towns, and one zip code runs into another.
I played Hide and Go Seek with my brother here. Thirty-five and a few light years have carried me back and forth across the divide of years. I tiptoe around an abyss of doubt. Did I really ever live here? Was that really me who played in that yard, and broke my arm giving that kid a piggy-back ride? The passage of so much time threatens reality, and I ask myself, “Was it all a dream?” Are these my memories or just chemicals mixing potions in my brain?
We come here to bury our dead. The second they die we say to each other that the dead are now angels or saints no matter how human they were. We say their dying is a blessing, for now, their blind eyes can see. We say all this to get through the day, and then the next and the next one after that. But, I’ve never known anyone who wanted to die.