Friday, August 23, 2013

Home and Place: National City Brings Out the Sap in Me

I recently became a sap.  I wasn't born that way, I don't think.  Though my mom doesn't remember everything about my childhood and my temperament, I fantasize that I developed toughness because my parents were so nonchalant about most things.  Left alone in the backseat of the 1956 Edsel parked in the garage cause I fell asleep, solo plane trips to San Francisco and Guam at 9 and 11, and that horrible dentist Dr. Weinburger who looked me in the eye as he drilled into my molars only half anesthetized and said, "Don't cry. Don't cry." I tend to attribute those top three memories to my first 40 years of emotional toughness.

I'd say it's now time to openly and freely be a sap.  And after a three week stay in my born home of San Diego, I've been a sappy mess.

Aside from my family and friends who live there, I've known a lot of people who have visited and toured San Diego, and I know that they knew they were in a beautiful place.  Endless beaches, amazingly consistent temperatures, pockets of cultural and ethnic diversity, the Padres and the Chargers (ah-hem) - just a few of the reasons San Diego is so popular.  Most people go there without even blinking an eye towards National City where I grew up, and that being so, I'd say they missed out on a real historical part of San Diego.

31 years ago I left my hometown of National City and whenever I return, I notice it really hasn't changed.  What I mean by that, is that it hasn't changed inwardly, which is a weird way to identify a city but that's the feeling I get.  And I feel that way because some of my strongest memories are bottled up in that environment.   I love it there - I identify with the trees, plants, rhythm of the city streets, freeways, food, and people better than anywhere else I've lived.

And I also love it here.  In Madison.  For different reasons.  I get all sappy because for the sake of my family, sometimes I want to move back and sometimes I want to go, yet most times I want my family to just come here to Madison.  These days whenever I'm traveling between the two, I find myself dragging my suitcase instead of carrying it.  I hug my parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephews and niece tighter and longer because those lifelong connections are not something I wake up to every day and I take nothing for granted.  So that's why I seem to brew with sappiness these days.

Where else does this sappiness fit?  It's in the paradoxes - that for both coming and leaving home, I am so aware of those fits of feelings and experiences that are both illuminating and unsettling, comforting and disorienting.  That's enough to make anyone feel it, right?

Enough of the sap.  Let me just say this: If you ever get to San Diego don't pass up the southern part of the city and make sure you stop in my hometown.  Never mind that National City is noted for the highest violent crime rate and gang activity in all of San Diego.  Never mind that it looks depressed and industrial and stagnated.  Never mind that it spreads inland and its buildings and homes have iron bars.  And be sure to ignore the haters who will turn their eyes downward when you tell them you're heading to National City.  That is how National City is characterized, but it really isn't what it is.  

I took Brad and the kids to see my old house and elementary school.  Here are some photos from the visit to National City, aka Old Town National City (OTNC), also known as the ghetto which is another story, but whatever.  I love my home.  Home(s).

2812 Plaza Blvd where I grew up

It was originally pink, and the only one on the block  

The view from above the school playground

Walked up and down these steps everyday to get to school

Opened in 1967, Palmer Way Elementary was 2 years old when I started kindergarten in 1969

SO cool that Tracey Roundtree-Bristol has been teaching at Palmer Way for the past decade.  True spirit of "coming home," she showed us around and obviously loves teaching there.  One thing I'll remember was when she said, "You know what - National City gets such a bad rap, but I would live here again."  We feel home from deep in our bones.  

Areas of the school are still referred to as "modules" 

Portables - they weren't there when I was in school

Simple kind words painted throughout

Students wear uniforms now and the gifted and talented kids are self-contained, which is different from my school, but here they are - all brainy and on-task.  

Playground is unchanged 

My siblings and friends marked our territory sliding down that rail

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