© Another Day in the Country
When I started writing this column in 2000, I had just come back to Kansas to live in Ramona, having lived for 35 years in Napa Valley.
Coming to the country, in Ramona, was such an unusual experience — even though I had lived here as a child, and in Kansas in general until I was 15.
I “sort of” knew about country life, enjoyed country living, and actually lived a country lifestyle in California, away from big cities, up on the side of a mountain.
However, country in California and country in Kansas are planets apart, and I really had no way of knowing about it except to begin experiencing it — hence the need to write about it, since I’m a writer, in order to better understand it and myself in it.
Now, I’ve lived in Kansas for 15 years, and I visit California once a year — the reverse of what was usual for all those years before 2000.
When I return to California, I have to acclimate. For starters, the cheapest gas is $3.79 a gallon. Everything to my Ramona eyes is twice (or more) as expensive in California and, yes, I know, their wages are also higher by twice (and more).
When I arrive in California, it takes me a bit to get my feet on the ground. I’ve been coming in the summer to be chief caretaker for my grandson, but this year he was still in school. This gave me time to discover my surroundings; you never come back to the same place twice.
I believe it’s a wise Indian proverb that talks about the fast-moving stream and every time you step your foot into it, it’s a different stream, and California is a fast-moving stream.
Kansas also is a fast-moving spot, in a different venue. The fields are green, then gold, then bare, then full, now dry, soon too wet, etc., and just a few days have gone by.
Time is a fast-moving phenomenon, for that matter. Meanwhile, here I am attempting to acclimate to an entirely new place even though it is the same place. I’m in the same house, on the same land, on the same street, with the same neighbors, and in the midst of the same family grouping as before; but something is different.
Fact is, all of us are different and I need to reboot my computer brain to this new more up-to-date programming. It’s not easy. If you live around your family all the time, as quite a few people in Marion County tend to do, you make changes gradually, and you are all doing your upgrades at a similar speed. However, if you don’t — like me — live near my loved ones, it takes some work to figure out the new format, if I’m going to be useful and included in the mix.
First of all, my daughter is working at two jobs full time (which doesn’t include being a mother). That’s why she needed me when school got out.
I love the idea of being “needed,” always waiting for a chance to be included in a much younger world, so I say, “Yes, of course, say when,” etc., not realizing what my willingness has got me into.
It’s got me into a whole new world, that’s what — and that world is not always comfortable, to tell you the truth.
“You were just here last summer, Pat,” I tell myself. “Why does this feel so different?”
It just does! Maybe I’m registering it for the first time in a while. Maybe all those other summers I was doing something different — like teaching an art class, going on a cruise to Alaska, babysitting for a day here or there, staying a few weeks; but this summer it’s a new story.
Luckily my grandson was not out of school when I arrived, and it gave me a week to figure out where things were.
What stores were gone? What things no longer available? What’s everyone like to do this summer? What’s the top priority for an 8-year-old and what no longer matters? How much energy do I have and is it enough?
As parents, we’re doing our computing on the run. As grandparents, we ideally have a little more time to contemplate. Already I’ve discovered that there’s no planning ahead. We’re all living in the moment, jumping from Legos to swimming lessons, piano practice to play dates, laundry, and chores, “Did you feed the cat,” while the rest of the family is coordinating work schedules on another day in the country.