Kim in Baltimore counting down the days to Malice Domestic.
“The thing I miss most are the fog horns,” Aunt Betty would tell me each time she spoke of growing up in San Francisco. As a small child, I was so caught up in her stories that I could see each hill, hear the clang of the streetcar and taste the crust of the sourdough bread. Aunt Betty had been a young girl when her family sailed through the Panama Canal on their way to live in the Philippines. Before the start of World War II, her father was sent to the Presidio in San Francisco. Of all the places they lived over the years, it was here that her heart held as home.
Aunt Betty and Dad were first cousins though they were as close as siblings. Their mothers were sisters and both Auntie and Dad had lost their fathers when they were young. When Dad was eighteen months old my grandmother, who had been recently widowed, took him on a train across the country to be with her sister. The story of my grandmother, grieving and traveling alone with her baby, revealed a vulnerable side she didn’t often acknowledge. I was fascinated by Nana’s story and hoped to one day recreate her journey and travel to San Francisco to see the city she and Aunt Betty loved.
It wasn’t until a year after my dad died that Aunt Betty and I were able to take a train trip to California. My husband and children shared one compartment and Auntie and I shared another. We spent hours talking about her life over cups of coffee in the dining car.
The train arrived hours later than scheduled and afterwards we had a thirty minute bus ride from Oakland into San Francisco. It was after midnight by the time we were brought to the apartments I had rented. We immediately went to bed.The next morning, with the sun shining, I stepped out into the courtyard feeling much like the women who rent the villa in Enchanted April. Everywhere I looked was beautiful and exactly as Auntie had described.
My mom had flown out to meet us and was sharing a place with Aunt Betty across the courtyard from us. Each morning we would stroll up Chestnut Street, passing Auntie’s old apartment building, to get our morning coffee at The Squat and Gobble. We spent some time visiting attractions such as the Coit Tower and Alcatraz, but mostly we stayed in Cows Hollow retracing the steps of Auntie’s youth. On Easter Sunday we went to mass at St. Vincente de Paul, the church Aunt Betty had received her sacraments. After mass Auntie cornered the priest to tell him how much the church had changed since 1940, yet told me how everything looked the same as she had left it.
At night, before I went to sleep, I would listen for the fog horns and smile knowing that Auntie would be listening as well. In a blink of an eye two weeks passed and we were boarding another train to make our way home. There wasn’t one conversation I had with Aunt Betty over the next few years that didn’t include reminiscing about our trip. Some days she would call me and say, “Hon, you ready? Let’s go to our city and never come back.”
It’s been three years since she’s left this world and now I am the keeper of her stories that became our stories. Before I close my eyes at night, I remember the sound of the fog horn and know that is what I most long to hear again.
Have you ever heard a story that has inspired you to take a trip?