I have been having trouble sleeping. Slowly, but surely, I have started to peek my head out of the hole in the sand. It’s mostly just to take a peek at the change of the seasons. It feels like only yesterday it was blazing triple digit degrees and my eyes saw the waves dancing above the asphalt. All of a sudden it took an unexpected turn and the radiators in our building came on to their own hearts content. When did it become autumn? I changed my bedding from lightweight cotton to flannel, sheets to quilts and dug out the Halloween and autumn decorations from our walk-in closet. It’s hard getting back into the “swing of things.” When I look around at the amount of people who have experienced similar events recently, they seem to be doing much better than myself. But, like I said…slowly and surely.
When the leaves start to turn and expose their 70s palette, it always makes me think of my nina’s (godmother) house in San Joaquin County, an unincorporated part of Stockton, California. The city of Stockton is slowly embarking on the area, once again extending its tentacles blindly, seeking unsuspecting fish to intimidate and inevitably devour in the name of nature. My mother has known my nina for some 40-years, so long that the details are foggy when I asked how and where they met. Nina is in her 60s, but she doesn’t look a day over 40; the tight and smooth skin on her face advertisement that the Oil of Olay company actually does deliver their promise of eternal youth in the form of bottled collagen, it shows no wrinkles. She lives in a wooden house built in the 1930s, passed down from her mother, that resembles the houses of sardine factory workers in Steinbeck’s Monterey. With a white milk paint and seafoam green trim exterior, the interior contains its original cast iron sinks, a cast iron tub, wooden floors, poor insulation and various bric-a-brac. The street has no sidewalks, only ditches. A leafy and gnarly Camperdown Elm, the same age as the house, towers over and shades the covered porch, where the TNR’d cross-eyed cat sits. Her yard is strewn with black walnuts, pomegranates and grapes fallen from the vines that interlock with the fence. I spent so many childhood seasons wandering her acreage foraging for things that I couldn’t shove into my mouth quickly enough.
We didn’t even call before we showed up, and when we arrived, she didn’t ask us why we hadn’t called, she just opened her arms and gave me a hug and I immediately cried. That kind of intimacy (not having to call someone before you showed up to their house) doesn’t even exist in families anymore, let alone friendships. It’s something that I long for in my dreams and in my reality. Nina is the last remaining relic from my past; unconditionally loving, nurturing, shit talking and hopscotches between Spanish and English during a conversation. The kind of person that people see in films and fall in love with, but when met with in their real life deem them negative/judgmental/insensitive. We walked into her house and time stood still, nothing has changed. It felt as if you’d been engorged by an enormous quilt within a blanket fort with thousands of books and ephemera as walls with a built-in fireplace. You could smell her beans cooking on her ancient gas range. Nina lives a simple and Buddhist-esque life, apologetic for what little she had to feed us with, but made a lot of something from nothing.
We ate tostadas with beans, cheese, stacked with crunchy iceberg lettuce and guacamole made in a molcajete. Caldo de arroz [Spanish rice] and freshly made tortillas that didn’t even need to be topped with butter to be delicious; charred black bubbles crunched under my teeth. I sat down in her living room next to the woood burning stove, a monster that demands an entire corner of the living room, amongst her antique Yellow ware and Coca Cola collection…and I fell asleep.