“Do you miss it?” A friend asks, casually.
“California? Yes. Yes, I do.”
I miss the palm trees and the rainy winters and the ocean. The ocean is what I miss most of all: The crashing cold waves, the sand dollars, and the sea lions; the fishy air and the squawking sea gulls; the sharp little broken shells and the tangles of seaweed. I miss all of it with an intensity that makes a hard lump rise in my throat.
I ache knowing that my children won’t know what it is like to eat at a real taqueria or grow up around other Mexican Americans. I know they will never fully appreciate their heritage. To them, being Mexican is a like a story of long ago of people far away.
My babies won’t know the landscape of the West either. They will never see a quail bob its silly head among a field of orange poppies. They’ll never see a rose bloom in February. They’ll never see a ghost town in the high mountains or have a cactus grow in their own back yard. They’ll never pick an orange right from a tree or grow avocados or bushes of rosemary so big they rival any eastern boxwood. They’ll never experience the cool, damp sadness of a Spanish mission. They’ll never see a sage bush bloom is the desert. They’ll never try to wrap their tiny arms around a redwood as old as time.
Instead they wrap coats tight around their growing bodies for most of the year while they hunch their shoulders to protect their hearts from the cold. They get their Vitamin D tested and wear heavy snow boots everywhere they go from December to April. They don’t see the sun for most of the year and they sleep in fleece and flannel and use so many blankets and comforters they look like tiny China dolls in toy cradles.
My daughter asks about California often though. “When can we go see Tia? I want to ride a cable car; I want to visit Golden Gate Park. I miss the sea, like you do, mama.”
I look in her eyes and, despite the fact that she has only been west a few times in her young life, she feels the same pull that I do. That tugging that turns you west and drags you toward the Pacific has a hold on her.
My son, though, his blood runs with the ice and snow of Western New York. He builds snow forts and sleds and runs around half-naked in the dead of winter. He loves big, cold Lake Ontario. When my girl and I look west his eyes turn north to the Great Lake, to Canada, to an icy wilderness I have no desire to explore.
So my daughter and I cut out magazine photos of vast California beaches and the Golden Gate Bridge. We dream of the Sierras and the Pacific and a different life; a life of rosemary bushes and salt air and flowers in February.