We woke before dawn and headed for Bakersfield and Ken's brother, Kevin, planning a stop in "The Valley" on the way. About 40 miles NE of Los Angeles, the San Fernando valley is a sprawling bowl of many small cities crammed together. Sylmar, Pacoima, Mission Hills, Granada Hills, Van Nuys, Panorama City, Pasadena, Canoga Park, Northridge--and the list goes on. When we lived there no one much cared, or could find, boundaries between the cities. It was just, "The Valley." We drove around looking for familiar places, calling out street names as we went, trying to get our bearings. Their Spanish syllables rolled off our tongues like water over rocks. El Dorado, Terra Bella, San Fernado, El Camino Real, Buena Vista, Playa del Mar. We recognized the streets as if they were old friends. We didn't recognize much else.
The Valley has changed from mostly Anglo with pockets of Mexicans, Cubans, Asians and African Americans. It is now almost completely Hispanic with pockets of Asians, Pakistanis and Middle Eastern folks. Anglos are few. We heard almost no English spoken. Spanish signs, Mexican music, and brick fences with wrought iron predominated.
We found my old church, First Baptist of Pacoima. It looked the same, and those drops of memory came...baptism...Sunday School...Pastor Stanley Polk...Vacation Bible School...youth camp...Ken finding faith in Christ and leaving the LDS church behind. The brick building with the white cross looked the same. I remembered the day we broke ground to build our beautiful new church. Now it had one of those fences added, and the name on the sign read, " Iglesia Bautista Hispanica del Valle." I was happy to see that what had been a dwindling church when I left it now seemed to be thriving. Down the street, Valley Christian Church was now Templo Calvario. I remembered a hot dog stand on the corner where the teens from the two churches sometimes chatted and flirted with one another. The corner stand was still there, much worse for wear, but now a yellow and red sign advertised TACOS!
We found my old house. It looked neat and cared for. The rail fence I used to sit on, watching cars go by and comtemplating life, was replaced by one of those brick and iron ones. It was much more attractive, I had to admit, even though it looked sharp. The big walnut tree still spread over the front sidewalk, and even though a wheelchair ramp changed the look of the house, I could see the front porch a bit. I was kissed for the first time on that porch. I hugged many visiting Texas relatives there. I cried there, and once I stood there screaming in frustration at my mother who was leaving, not to be seen again for several years. Drops of memory...good and bad...my dad working in the garage and listening to the Saturday Night Polka Parade...sunning on the patio roof...planting Azaleas...listening to the Beatles on the "hi fi."
We didn't stay long. We headed up the highway towards California's "high desert."