My parents bought a cabin in the Laguna Mountains in the winter of 1965-66. It’s in the Cleveland National Forest, and you buy the cabin – but lease the land from the government. They are considered summer homes, and won’t allow you to buy with the intent to live year-round. They won’t even let you buy one if you don’t own another home.
Yesterday, July 30 2016, my father, my oldest brother, and I took the pilgrimage back to the place we were all happiest.
The windows are new. The roof is, too. The paint job looks fresh, and they put skytubes into the kitchen to open it up, as well as the sliding glass door on the right which is new. The place looks well-loved and taken care of.
The cement slab, though, was poured by my father and my brothers. You can still see our names in it.
My mom’s writing.
I won’t lie…this was an emotional day. Before we saw the cabin, we went to Major’s Diner, in Pine Valley, for lunch…the best burger I’ve had in a very long time.
I remember sitting at that counter, 45+ years ago,and feeling like a “big girl” because the counter was the perfect height for littler kids.
And Dad…well, he had a quarter of his waffle. I won’t say he’s getting too thin, but…note the cardboard between the back of his watch and his wrist. (He’s an innovator.)
So, we got to the cabin. I have more photos on my big camera, but these were all taken with my phone and are more readily accessible, so.
My brother Greg parked the car, and I was itching to get outside. Dad wanted to, as well, so we helped him out. Walked up a short hill to within the steps to the slab (top photo). He was dizzy, out of breath, and couldn’t go further.
I left them there, Greg hanging onto Dad, because this hill right here was calling to me.
Up there, along the ridge line, in the summer of 1993, we scattered my brother Scott’s ashes. I was, oh…maybe six months pregnant at the time.
The next time I visited the cabin, it was in the late spring of 2007, when we scattered my mother’s ashes. At the time, I thought the next time I would be there would be to scatter my father’s ashes, but luckily that was not true.
I took many, many photos. I stuck my nose in the bark of the Jeffrey Pine trees and smelled the rich vanilla scent. I laughed at the woodpeckers and the blue jays even as I brushed my tears away. And when I hiked to the top of this hill, my feet sank into gopher tunnels that I had once been able to spot and avoid. Dirt got into my shoes. The air was muggy, and sweat rolled between my shoulder blades as I stocked up on photos and memories.
The outhouse had been taken down; there were only a few bricks left in the soil to mark where it once stood. The big oak tree that my dad had shimmied up (about 30 feet) in the summer of 1966 to tie a rope swing on was also gone; not even a stump remained. We used to swing high and try to push off the outhouse…never quite made it…
This side of the mountains, the trees were lush, and green. The rains had done good here. The oaks and pines both looked amazing. All the ground fifty feet surrounding the cabins had been cleared, as by law. The place looked beautiful.
Going back to the car, I saw Greg helping my dad inside. He laid the seat back and closed his eyes, and a part of me hurt for him…Dad had sawn logs, gone arrowhead hunting, taken us for hikes. He cleared land and created a volleyball court. He brought a litter of puppies up in one box, and a month later had to take them home in two boxes. He strode these lands in the prime of his life…everywhere I looked, I saw that young man who, when he wasn’t working with his hands, was writing novels.
Greg Cunningham and Chet Cunningham, July 30, 2016.
I had an incredible, safe, loving childhood filled with remarkable people and this oh, so amazing place in the mountains. I am blessed.
At two separate times, I’ve gone up to Tehachapi to spend time with my brother and both times found something I hadn’t been looking for, but very much needed – a sense of peace.
My brother Greg works as a freelance Computer Technician, because he’s that smart. A couple of guys he knew were wondering about social media, and if they should/HOW they should use it to promote their books. After mentioning my name a gazillion times as an example of how it should be done (my brother is a sweet guy, and doesn’t know any other authors, lol), he suggested – and they agreed – that I should come up and talk with them, and answer their multitudinous questions about social media and writers. (But this post isn’t about that.)
Me and my brother, Greg, at the Cesar Chavez Center, Tehachapi
The only catch? The date was set for Friday, December 14, at 2pm – right in the middle of my workday. But I did manage to get the day off and around 10am that morning, drove on up north.
The Tehachapi Mountains rise out of the San Joaquin Valley on one side and Mojave on the other. The pass is at just under 4000 ft above sea level. Once I drove into the small town, the temperature gauge on my car read 38 degrees. The air was crisp and cold and perfect for December. The house was small and sweet and perfect for Tina, the lady that owns it. We putzed around, went to lunch, drove out to a ranch, and I had a three hour talk on writing and social media with two other writers (one has 4 books out and has been writing magazine articles for twenty years; the other is a screenwriter who has had several scripts produced and has just written a memoir about Hollywood). These guys were sharp, smart, funny as hell, and willing to listen to me, and I had a total blast. I hope to showcase both of them here on the blog in the future.
After we’d talked each other out and darkness had fallen, we said goodbye to new friends and drove to the Souza Family Vineyards, where I bought two bottles of their Primitivo Zinfandel (because I’m a sucker for Zinfandel!). The 2007 won a silver medal, the 2009 won a bronze medal, and the 2010 won a gold medal, all at the San Francisco Chronical Wine Competition. (I’m looking forward to showcasing the winery and the wines on a future Friday blog.) At the winery, we drank wine, looked over the wares at a craft fair there inside the winery, and chatted. Bob and Patty are really cool people.
Bob and Patty Souza, Proprietors of the Souza Family Vineyards
Afterwards, we went back to the cute little house, where Tina made dinner and I drank wine. (Seems like a fair trade!) Greg futzed with the new sound system he’d put in place in the house. We talked and laughed and when I went to sleep, I slept soundly, surrounded in peace.
The Keene Cafe – lots of railroad workers eat here. Terrific food!
In the morning, we went to the Keene Cafe for an enormous breakfast (that’s all I ate until 7pm that night – fanTAStic ham steak!), then went to see some sights. We visited the Cesar Chavez Center and saw his grave and wandered around the peaceful grounds.
The headstone for Cesar Chavez is between the Angel and the Pointsettia.
We drove up the side of a hill so we’d have a good view of the Tehachapi Loop, an engineering marvel by William Hood (“one of the 7 wonders of the railroad world”) built in 1874 – 1876, the train tracks that loop through 18 tunnels and 10 bridges; at one point, if the train is long enough, a train can loop itself three times. This line is part of the last and final link of the first railroad line connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles. The single track line is still in constant use today, 136 years after its completion.
Hopefully you can see three sections of train in this photo. If you google it, you’ll see better photos of the area…
But aside from the Loop, aside from Keene’s Cafe and the Cesar Chavez Center, aside from the flurry of snow that quickly melted and the frost that rimed the grass, the sense of peace was overwhelming. Part of it was the unconditional love that is so much a part of my brother; part of it was the crisp, cold air; part of it was me, without husband, sons, or responsibilities for a few hours.
It was lovely. A peace I desperately needed after hearing about the tragedy in Connecticut on my drive north. (After half an hour, I turned off the radio and kept it off.)
I had been worrying that this Christmas wouldn’t be the “best” Christmas, due to a shortage of funds and a new unwillingness to go into debt just to buy stuff. But after my time in Tehachapi, and after the events in Newtown, I am fine with a simpler Christmas. Blessed that everyone I know and love is well and alive. We aren’t traveling this holiday, and we don’t have guests, so I think perhaps the family will go on a journey of some sort. A photo safari, or local hiking, or a neighborhood we don’t get to very often (there are SO MANY of them in the Los Angeles area). Or maybe we’ll stay home and watch the first season of Game of Thrones.
Whatever we do, I shall do my best not to stress, and hold tightly to the peace I experienced in Tehachapi.
May you have many blessings, peace, and happy days, from my house to yours.
~ Until the next time, cheers – and remember to drink responsibly! ~
Demon Soul, Blood Dreams and Demon Hunt are all available for the Kindle! Have you fallen into the Caine Brothers’ world yet?