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Snow in Paradise

My earliest memories are fragments; old black and white snapshots with scalloped edges where there should be movies.  I remember my  father and his youngest brother throwing a football on the beach at La Jolla while I sat on the sand with a tin bucket as my mother held my baby brother in a towel. I remember putting a playing card into the spokes of my Schwinn to get a sound like an engine, a very feeble engine. And, as a child born in Los Angeles, I remember the first time I saw snowflakes.

I was born only about three months after the end of World War II in Los Angeles and into a full-blown housing crisis as the troops returned and the nation began to adjust to the new normality that soon became the new prosperity. Housing wasn’t part of this prosperity for new families in LA. In fact, I’m told that my first home with my parents was in a roughly converted garage. Then we lived with my grandparents who soon, I was told, went away to Paradise. A couple of years after that, when I must have been at least four but certainly no more than five, we went to visit them for the Christmas holidays. We had not seen our grandparents in over two years.

I remember being in the back seat with my younger brother and falling asleep on the rough almost horsehair upholstery on the two days it must have taken to drive up the spine of old Highway 99. Other than that nothing remains in my memory of what must have been an early epic family expedition. Perhaps some scrim of pines blurring by as the day waned and the car climbed up the two-lane road that even then was known as the Skyway; then I drowsed.

When I woke up I was lying on my back looking up at the rear window of the car. Drifting down from the sky I could see fat white flakes that I didn’t recognize. At some point, my mother’s voice told me it was snow and that we were in Paradise.

I sat up and looked out into a landscape that held a small house by a small lake that was dusted white in all directions. Up the driveway from the small house, two small people were walking to the road. As I watched they became the people whose pictures were on the dresser at home. They were my grandparents. They came up to the car and I remember they looked into the window at my brother and myself wrapped in a couple of car blankets and waved at us. The door opened and my stern Dutch grandfather in his (yes) wooden shoes and my rolly-polly grandmother gathered us both up and carried us down the gravel driveway to my grandfather’s homemade house by his homemade lake with his homemade rowboat that always leaked and was never repaired.

Then I was given a cup of hot chocolate made even more memorable by a large marshmallow melting inside it. Then there was my grandmother’s apple cobbler made from the apples from their own small homemade orchard by their own small homemade lake. I took my hot chocolate and went outside on the porch on what must have been a cold winter evening. The porch rail had white snow on it that I remember touching and tasting. It was cold on my tongue and tasted of distilled water.  Everything around, the house, the apple orchard, the lake, was dusted, softened, with snow “falling softly and softly falling.” Behind me inside the homemade house, there was, in my memory, a shadow of a Christmas tree and my entire family. I’d been a baby and now a young boy who only knew Los Angeles and the sun and smog that were its trademarks in those years. Now I was somewhere in some mountains far to the north and I saw around me what I had only seen in books about Christmas. I saw snow.

This was my first Christmas in Paradise, but not my last. That would come later, by about 68 years, but what remains, in the end, is the memory of my grandparents’ faces framed in the old car’s window and backed by the slow falling flakes of my first snow.

I had a boyhood once in Paradise long ago.

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  • James ONeil November 8, 2021, 9:18 AM

    Tom Wolfe was wrong, you can go home again.

    • ghostsniper November 8, 2021, 10:25 AM

      I tried once, but it was gone.
      Then, so was I, again.
      We’ve been known to have snow this time of year, but not today.
      Gonna be up to 68 this afternoon, last warm day of the year.
      So for supper I’m doing my legendary burgers on the grill.
      Still have another 2 hours of leaf blowin to go.
      Home is where you hang your hat, and lean your shotgun.

  • Dirk November 8, 2021, 10:50 AM

    While I grew up in Rocklin Ca, 2000 ft,,,,,my identified home, was the Cabin on top of the sierra’s 7500 ft. One great adventure after another. Most would have thought them disasters, we saw those moments as opportunities, to experiment, learn how best to travel across deep snow, how to tunnel under in snow caves to find warmth.

    First snows, sometimes turned into forty maybe fifty ft of snow in the “ bad” years. Dinner Party depth. Ten ft taller then the tall mountain power poles.

    Nothing bad about em, a winter playground. Down hill skis at 4, snow shoes soon after, cross country skis, early. A family learns about preparing when snows that deep. You don’t have ten cord of wood, your screwed, you don’t have food, you don’t eat.

    Lots of play days in the snow, and lots of board games. Recall my mom and dad running the stairs for staying in shape. For me was a winter wonder land. I miss it, I don’t miss California.


  • Anonymous White Male November 8, 2021, 11:15 AM

    Call some place Paradise, kiss it good bye.

  • enn ess November 8, 2021, 11:15 AM

    Had a taste of that already, but it was fleeting, as usually happens this time of year at my altitude. But I am looking forward to such scenes for 4-5 months until the sun decides it’s needs a vacation from baking those in the Southern latitudes and once again shows it’s face, begging forgiveness for abandoning us up her in the North. Only to overstay its welcome and bake us with 100 deg temps for 2 months.
    Looking forward to short walks enjoying the stillness of the entire world during a gentle snowfall, then sitting by a warming fire whilst attempting to improve my mind with all sports of books containing all sorts of views and knowledge. Thats what winters are for here in the Northern Lats. For all too soon it will be off to the 7 day a week 12 hr workdays once again.

  • gwbnyc November 8, 2021, 1:00 PM

    Perhaps some scrim of pines blurring by as the day waned and the car climbed…

    …Jesus, man.

    my fifteen minute walk home from elementary school was across a vast open field, playground, ballfields, braced head first, tear-eyed into the Canadian arctic blast coming across Erie, less than a mile north- conditions that put even my innocent seven year old mind to thinking, “a motherfucker has to be CRAZY to live in this shit.”

  • Arty November 8, 2021, 3:05 PM

    Some memories are beautiful

  • steveaz November 8, 2021, 5:10 PM

    Thanks for the ruby reminiscences of brothers, creeks and Paradise. They got my muses dancing and spinning again. I love your childhood memories almost as much as I cherish mine.

    It is important to visit memories, even if they trigger a salty regret or two. A long time ago, I used to drip in to visit the old ranch hand, Art and his mousy wife, Mickey in the evenings with a sixpack in tow. They lived in the Old Stone House right on the confluence of Red Lake Wash with Cataract Creek, north of Williams, Arizona.

    Being a hop-head, my eyes were woolly and dry when I drove up usually, and just as usually, Art and Mickey would avoid making any mention of it. But this time Art dared to point it out. “You like that devil’s lettuce, huh, Steve?”

    I had to own up to it, so I did. I shuffled in my seat a bit and copped to my inebriation. Sensing they’d made me uncomfortable, Art backed off on the scolding, and said, he’d smoked some of ‘that’ a while back, but he didn’t like it.

    I asked him why.

    And the old cowboy stirred in his seat and said, because it made him cry. I pryed gently, “Why?” And honesty lit up his handsome face as he said, the pot makes him think of his son.

    Just then a lightning bold seared the air.

    I didn’t know it at the time but Old Art was letting me see deep, far inside his sea-gray eyes and through his grizzled skin, and past his scarred and prickled chin, and where no one else had ever been allowed to go. There is a story here, I told myself – a searing, unforgettable story of neglect and guilt and a yearning for forgiveness, crying to get out, hiding behind those words.

    And, over the years I simply let my thoughts of that night drift like snowflakes to gather heavily on the fences, light poles, and prairie dog mounds, and history, so that, 25 years later, that story is as clear and bright and undeniable to me as the light bulb over my kitchen table is tonight.

    (I won’t print the story here out of courtesy. Yet. I wrote it for Art, because I knew that he never could, and because I know that a relentless machismo governs remote ranch-hands that would have forced him to disown the story if it ever threatened to see the light of day. Real men don’t cry over spilt’ milk. Not in public anyway.)

    Left to its own devices, the story tumbled onto three typeset pages while I sat, trapped inside, during a two day long blizzard in Arizona’s Rim Country. The story is called Snow Days, and I cannot read it without crying in long, cathartic, happy draughts. If you’d like to read the story, I’ll post it in the comments. But only if folks ask me to.

    My take home: Be kind to your memories and visit them and the people in them often. They and the places in them are our touchstones for the life well-lived.

    God Bless,

    • Mike Austin November 9, 2021, 5:11 AM

      Print it, Steve. I’ll probably cry as well, but no one will see me.

  • Dirk November 8, 2021, 5:40 PM

    Guys, Paradise, was exactly that. A awesome place, off the beaten path. I understand how fortunate GV was or is, to have lived in such a stunning place, to grow up sharing great adventures with family and friends.


  • LP November 8, 2021, 6:15 PM

    That’s a wonderful story, I loved reading it, thank you

  • Mike Austin November 9, 2021, 5:17 AM

    “Throwing a football on the beach. Putting a playing card into the spokes of my Schwinn. Snow. A small house by a small lake. A cup of hot chocolate with a large marshmallow melting inside it. Grandmother’s apple cobbler.”

    Paradise it was. Paradise it shall always be.

  • stephen_barron November 9, 2021, 7:46 AM

    My grandpa, who was born in Panama while his father drove a train helping to build the canal, moved to San Bernardino when he was five, and spent most of his life there. After retiring, with no fixed address for seven years, he pulled his Boles Aero travel trailer around the country looking for a place to settle down. Eventually he did, and it was in Paradise CA in about 1968. There was only one stop light at the time. My mom moved there too after her retirement, to care for her step mom, and then I moved there too, while still in the military, commuting down to Beale AFB. My oldest daughter graduated high school there. We left in 2005, and the house we lived in, almost 100 years old, is no more.

  • Mike Austin November 9, 2021, 4:29 PM

    Every man has romance, sadness, struggle and redemption built into him. I love reading the stories. They remind me of me. They remind me of everything.