My dad has known my friend Ben’s mom since high school, so I grew up with Ben. They lived in Frasier Valley (in the San Joaquin Valley of California), up against the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, in a farm house that had been in their family for generations. An old family cemetery is just outside the gate. There’s a barn, the old bunkhouse for ranch hands, a creek, and lots of cows.
When we were little, there was a small room that used to be part of a wrap-around porch. Ben, his sister and I covered the wall with drawings (the room was the “crayon room” and our activity was fully sanctioned by his mom). There was the “fish tank room” so named for the fish tank that dominated it. It was remodeled when Ben and I were little, and the crayon and fish tank rooms were lost.
During junior high and high school, Ben and I became part of a group of 10 friends, and we did everything together, usually out at Ben’s house. Ben and three guys had a band which practiced in the bunkhouse (there was a drumstick stuck in the wall for years); we hiked all over the hills; we stargazed in the cemetery; made awful home movies and videotaped class projects on the long winding road to the house and at the pond in the old gravel pit; had 7-hour progressive rummy games; and we usually all slept on the floor of the living room in front of the fireplace and stained glass windows every weekend.
In college, we all came back to the house often. It was the official gathering and reunion place; we’d all meet up there when someone came home for the weekend, got out of the army, came back from a semester abroad…Ben and his wife’s wedding reception was in the front yard, and they remodeled the bunk house and lived there for years. Every New Year’s we’d cross the creek and hike up the hill to the firepit we’d built atop it. On New Year’s 2000, our friend James initiated our tradition of making flaming signs of the year. (2000 was matches saying “2000” inserted in holes drilled in a sheet of plywood… the best was 2002: pool foam “noodles” formed into numbers and soaked in gasoline) Our test to see if Y2K was as bad as predicted was the stoplight in the tiny town near Frasier Valley: if it worked, then everything else must. We brought champagne up the hill (and stumbled down…) and buried a time capsule.
I brought my fiance hiking up the hill at night when we’d first met… he says it’s one of his favorite memories; Ben proposed to his wife at the house; I learned to drive stick on the mile-long dirt road to the house; my brother had his first car accident while driving recklessly in the gravel pit; counless Christmas, going-away, and birthday parties were held there; and it’s where we painted the “War Wagon”, an old Ford station wagon, with an eye and “I am watching you” on the tailgate.
To everyone’s great sadness, Ben’s parents decided to move out of state and sell the property last summer. The people who bought it have remodeled it extensively.
So, I’d like to go back. I want to just be there again, because there are so many great memories infused in the house and land. I want to tell the new owners how much history and how many memories their new house holds. It meant so much to us for so long, and I want it to be remembered by the people who are there now.
Plus, the time capsule is still up there…over 7 years ago