When I was almost 12, I spent most of the days of summer curled up on a comfy chair in the small room that led from the living room, that opened onto the front porch of our upstairs, rented flat. I spent so many days curled in that chair, reading, reading, reading the books that would open their pages to a large world outside of that old flat in the inner city, Milwaukee, that working class street lined with flats, flats filled with families whose parents and grandparents had come from the Old Country. I spent so much time in the chair that my mother would yell from the kitchen several times a day: “go outside!” Summer is short in the Midwest, she knew that, and maybe she wanted some time alone in the house.
My imagination was at work in that chair, also, and I remember, have always remembered, a fantasy I had that took me from that little room with the dark, varnished woodwork, “outside,” to another place. From my porch, a few feet away from where I sat, I stepped into a glass tube, large enough for me and fellow travelers, that moved like an escalator from that rented flat, a tube that floated above my neighborhood, headed west clear across the country to a place I had never been: South San Francisco, California.
In fact, I had never been out of the State of Wisconsin except for the occasional Sunday afternoon family drive south across the state line into Illinois to buy “oleo” – margarine in large plastic bags. At the time, Wisconsin was still “The Dairy State;” it was illegal to sell margarine in Wisconsin, and so, we law-abiding people left the state to buy contraband margarine. We drove back across the state line with oleo in the trunk.
I had never been to South San Francisco, but a favorite uncle, my Uncle Pete, and his family lived there. I don’t remember conjuring up an image of South San Francisco in my mind, but I do remember the trip across the country in my glass tube; the vehicle arced over the Midwest, the plains, and rose higher to accommodate the Rocky Mountains, as I peered out the windows. I knew its destination: xxx Alta Mesa Drive, South San Francisco. I knew the address by heart, imagined that place, without a picture to grease my imagination.
My journey did not include an arrival; the trip was the thing. Was my fantasy an escape from an often unhappy mother and a father who loved us all beyond measure, his eyes sparkling whenever he looked at my mother, my sister, and me? I don’t know. My world was small, but that’s how the worlds of children begin; those childhood places and people populate us for the rest of our lives. (3/22/2018)
In the spring of 1995, my husband decided to take a sabbatical. That is, one day he came home and announced to me that he was going to take a year’s sabbatical from being a pastor, to try his hand and heart at his art. I was on leave of absence from my own work as a pastor, so I had no church, no community, no income.
How did we manage that time? I remember driving in the rain all that spring, shopping for an apartment to rent in South Berkeley. It did rain all spring! I also made a phone call to the Bishop’s representative in our area, to let them know I’d like to be placed in a church on July 1, the day my husband’s sabbatical would begin. It was late in the year, late to let the Bishop know, but they would try. That’s all the certainty I was given.
We found a flat in a part of Oakland we did not know, a lovely old upper flat with railroad bedrooms, on a street called Sunnyslope. All that spring, I had only one prayer: that God find a place for us to live, a sunny place. The day we saw the flat, after weeks of walking through places we didn’t want to live, we sat down on the couch in the living room and watched the other home-seekers walk through the place. We hardly dared to hope that it would be ours, as we saw the line of home-seekers. When we moved in at the end of June, we didn’t know we’d live there for 11 years.
After we had secured a place to live, we still waited for a call about a church placement. One day, that call came. The superintendent told me that this was the only place left that needed a pastor. She set up an appointment for me the following week, to meet with the leadership of the congregation.
Jeff and I drove over the Bay Bridge, through San Francisco, to South San Francisco, that Tuesday evening. We drove over the hill on the east of South City, and onto the flats. We had directions to the church, which we had never seen. When we arrived, we met together with the leadership team, and within an hour, the deal was set. I would be their new pastor.
Life is odd, sometimes, don’t you think? What I didn’t know that night was that the little church which would bring me back into life as a parish pastor had been built as part of the development of South San Francisco after World War II. And in that development was a street called Alta Mesa Drive. My beloved uncle and aunt still lived in the little house on that street, the street I had imagined so many years before, a few blocks from my new job.
Life is odd, sometimes. Surprising, too. And a bit of a mystery, I would guess. (03/21/2019).