My trips back to Santa Paula are far and few between. If I am lucky I make it home at least one time a year to see my family. There are times it is not easy negotiating the politics of a family that is often at conflict for one reason or another, but I find a way because I love them all. As with many families, we all have issues in our lives that range from medical and children, to financial and employment. When I had to scramble to purchase a car last month, I again found myself in a stressful place not unlike many of my other siblings.
So as I still find my way through my money troubles, the pilgrimage home has led me to the corner of Harvard Blvd. and 12th street in Santa Paula. This intersection is not unlike any other in the city, but it has become a symbol for me and some of my siblings. This place is a symbol of what was and what could have been.
At one time this land in and around this intersection was owned by mother’s family. My mom says their land went two blocks north, two blocks west, two blocks south. My mom’s family thrived during the depression because they had chickens, pigs, and a garden flush with veggies and fruit. My mom’s parents survived the collapse and subsequent flood of the St. Francis dam in 1928. On May 12th, 1928, exactly one month after the dam failed, my mom’s brother was born. As the oldest, he would come to inherit the modest parcel of land my maternal grandparents worked so hard to make productive.
I loved my uncle. By the time I was old enough to know him, he was renting a room in a house he shared with several field workers. He was nearing retirement age and working at a local tile shop in town. He was never married, had no children, and his longtime girlfriend had died of cancer. The man I knew was full of stories that were amusing and often true. My uncle was beloved by so many people in the community. He was also a recovering alcoholic who was slowly dying from the medical effects of his lifelong affliction. He went to his grave with several demons he could never reconcile in himself while he was alive.
When my mom’s parents passed away my uncle was sole heir of the land and the modest family estate. I have heard stories of buses he chartered from Santa Paula to Las Vegas, and of lots of drinks paid for by my generous uncle. My uncle became a genuine life of the party, and who lived for the moment. To say he squandered a small family fortune would be the Cliff Notes version. After spending lots of inherited money, and losing the land, my Uncle was no longer able to pay for the parties. His only legacy was that he was remembered fondly by so many, and the standing room only memorial service at his death was a tribute to this.
Eventually part of the land was bought by the state to build highway 126. The overpass in the picture is the freeway crossing 12th street. Who is to say that my mom would not have been the life of the party herself? Perhaps if she would have had part of the estate to herself she would have saved some of it from being squandered. The world will never know just how my mom would have managed her parent’s estate. Instead her children, myself one of them, can only wonder how different things might have been if my uncle had not been allowed to lose our family’s land.
These days we can only imagine what this place would look like if we had held onto the land. Would there be a restaurant and a nightclub within a block of each other? I am sure as the city of Santa Paula crept eastward, the land would have been sold for the right price. To think my family once owned Southern California real estate makes my stomach turn in knots. My maternal grandparents had two children, and my mom had the misfortune of being born second. To my mom’s credit, she has never expressed remorse about the way her brother mismanaged everything. In fact, she was not the one who told me about what happened. I guess raising a family and becoming a bread winner left little time for her to look back and dwell. Yet one more reason my mom is my hero.
As I end this post, I will leave with two thoughts. First, it was two years ago when my brother Fredo and I were discussing the status of our family. As we talked about who was mad at who, and what events had transpired he brought up some trouble he was having. He then brought up the intersection of Harvard Blvd. and 12th street. He could not help but wonder how things might be different for all of us had that land not been squandered away. Earlier this year a buddy of mine was dealing with his feelings after having watched his father sell a classic car that had been in his family for over 40 years. As he told me the story, I searched for the words to console him. All I could do was tell him about the intersection of Harvard Blvd. and 12th street.