As “wonderful” as Clifton Park is, it is not my real home (and hardly my favorite place in the world). I haven’t traveled outside of the country yet, nor discovered any exotic, enchanting places. Thus my true home, and favorite place in the world, is one that everyone has heard of.
I resided in what is an Italian-turned-Chinese Immigrant neighborhood. The streets aren’t immaculate, the air is a little foggy, and the buildings are time-worn, but this far-from-perfect city is still my home-away-from-home.
For a time, my parents and I lived on the second floor of my grandparent’s flat in San Francisco. But even when we purchased our own home, we continued to visit them on a regular basis.
I remember finding their flat enigmatic and haunting, because everything in it (including the building itself) dated back to some by-gone era. The sparkling, crystal doorknobs from the 1930s, and the characteristic shag carpeting and textured wallpaper from the 1960s, always caught my eye. Often I would explore the bedrooms and see how many antiquated treasures I could uncover. My biggest discoveries were 70-year-old yearbooks belonging to my grandmother and great aunt, a collection of Life magazines from the 60s and 70s, and photo albums containing childhood pictures from the ‘teens and ‘twenties.
Along with the structural aspects of the flat, I also made joyful memories there. During my youngest years, I used to play with dolls, make pretend fashion magazines, piece together puzzles, and tell my grandparents everything I was learning in school. As I became older, and lessened the toy and arts and crafts obsessions, I would ask my grandfather to recount WWII stories, and watch the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” with my grandmother while she cooked dinners that filled the air with smells of herbs and spices. My dad and grandfather used to play old, crackling records for me, which I would sing along to. Just for the experience, I used to occasionally watch television on my grandparent’s tube TV, which had only a handful of channels, a fuzzy screen, and difficult-to-maneuver knobs.
Spending time in the backyard was also something I’ll never forget. Green apples from the neighbor’s yard fell over the white picket fence and landed beside the lone rickety bench I would sit on. Bumble bees were constantly swarming, the scent of rosemary filled the air, and the sun seemed to beat down brightly and warmly all year-round.
The Holiday season was always an extravaganza at the flat. On Christmas Eve, I would wait by the staircase leading to the front door, and excitedly anticipate greeting guests as they made their entrance. My relatives and I traditionally exchanged presents at midnight beside the tree with the oversized bulbs, and ate home-made Italian dishes at the large oak table in the dining room. The adults always spoke of remembrances and years past, which at the time, I would ignore, and have my own special side-conversations with my grandmother.
One of the last times I was ever in my grandparent’s flat, I inscribed my name and the month, day, and year at that time in permanent marker on a stud in the basement, directly next to my dad’s signature from January 31, 1968.
Aside from my grandparent’s home, I miss the bustling, siren-wailing streets of San Francisco as well. My grandmother used to walk me to toy stores in unimaginable weather. The wind would gust so hard in my face, that I had to close my eyes and breath out of my mouth, which resulted in my inhaling the stench of the fish markets that lined the sidewalks. She would clasp my hand as we treaded along roads that shot straight down (riding in cars down these streets gave me a pit in my stomach, as they felt like roller coaster rides). Nevertheless, we were so happy to be spending time together, that the impediments were inconsequential. When we would finally make it back home, it was as though an adventure had just transpired.
My dad used to guide me through neighborhood, pointing out various sites, such as the high school that my grandparents attended. The spiky black fence that surrounded its perimeter always brought me a sense of doom. Other times, he would take my mom, grandmother, and me (my grandfather had passed on by then) out on trips to restaurants and other places, such as the zoo (where a seagull came down and swept a sandwich right out of my hand… I cried my eyes out), the circus, the vintage arcade that was featured in “The Princess Diaries,” and the beach, which was so chilly that we had to wear jackets.
Though my grandparents have both passed on, and I haven’t stepped foot in their flat (it has since changed hands), or in San Francisco for that matter, in almost seven years, everything about them and this city remains close to my heart. I plan on returning someday, and making new memories.