Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rekindling Friendships In The Sierra Nevada

Becky, center, Lily, right, and I enjoy the amazing view from
Tom and Sally's deck in the Siera Nevada mountain range
OOPS. No. It's not an expression of error.  It's an acronym which stands for Old Orinda People Soiree. As in a party of momentous proportions to reunite a bunch of us of a certain age who all grew up in the small east bay towns of Orinda and Moraga in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended the two high schools there. As in how I spent my Memorial Day weekend, which was absolutely fabulous.

The gracious hosts of the reunion party were Tom and Sally, he of Orinda Motors, who eventually purchased the gas station and automotive repair shop at which a group of us had spent our formative years.  Early on in high school, I developed a taste for muscle cars and deep-throated motorcycles, and naturally gravitated toward a place where both held an honored position - our neighborhood gas station.  I even took an auto-shop class in high school (I was the only girl in my class) during which the teacher held up my oxy-acetylene bead to the other students as an example of a perfectly straight weld. I got an "A" in that class and embarked on a lifelong love affair with big engines.

As a teen, I subscribed to Cycle World magazine and spent time as a "trophy girl" at local speedway races.  I held a position for awhile as the fastest girl in my age bracket on an ATV track at the tiny Point Richmond race track, clocked the fastest time for a girl my age at the popular go-cart track in nearby Concord (a record that took several months to break), and naturally hung out with like-minded kids, almost all of whom happened to be male.  But that was incidental, really.  I was just "one of the guys" in our group of automotive lovers, treated more like a little sister than a potential squeeze, and that's just how I liked it.

1970 El Camino with Hurst 4-speed transmission and 454 cc motor
I learned to shift gears on Tom's Triumph 650 in the early 1970s.  I learned to double-clutch in a 1970 El Camino with a 454 cc engine and a heavy-duty Hurst four-speed transmission.  I paid attention as the apex of a curve was explained to me and I practiced until I it was second nature to power out of a turn and brake only on a straightaway. The valves of my own 1969 VW beetle were bored out as far as they would go.  I tricked out my little car with flared fiberglass fenders, Appliance mag wheels, an external oil cooler, a Monza dual exhaust, V.D.O. gauges, wood trim and fully reclining Porsche Targa touring seats.  I could beat Hondas in that little Volkswagen.  And I did on a regular basis.  But I digress.

On Sunday, May 27th, Tom and Sally invited as many of our old gang as they could find to reunite at a party at their lovely mountain home.  A few couldn't make it but, with spouses, those of us who could numbered over sixty.  We came from all over the state to their custom-built abode in Foresthill, California, set deep in the Sierra Nevada range between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.  On a wide wooden deck overlooking steep canyons and high peaks thick with pines, a fantastic two-man acoustic rock group called The Doubleshots ( held forth, entertaining us with splendid renditions of 1970s rock tunes and folk ballads. Guests searched for classmates through high school yearbooks dating from 1967 through 1974 and perused a slide show of motorcycle races, costume parties and other outings we all attended in our youth.
I probably traveled the furthest, having come clear from the east coast, but many made the trip despite significant health issues and other concerns, the desire to reconnect with our roots was so strong.  The meal was potluck, so food was plentiful and delicious.  Wine and beer flowed.  People were agog at Tom's five-car garage, outfitted with hydraulic lifts and compressed air, an extensive tool collection and a closet full of motorcycle leathers and other gear, all of it so spotless we could have eaten off the gleaming floor.  We dropped our jaws at the astounding view from every window in the well-appointed home. We danced.  And talked.  And reminisced about the old days and those no longer with us.  These were people who had played a significant role in my life during my teens.  I hadn't seen most of them in almost forty years. I don't remember when I've had a better time at a party.

Although I was invited to stay at Tom and Sally's home for the weekend, they had their hands full with other out-of-towners who needed a place to lay their heads, so I accepted the gracious invitation of my dear high school girlfriend, Becky to stay with her, her husband and their sons, at their lovely home in El Dorado, California, nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills about an hour from Tom and Sally's.  On the day of the party, another high school chum, Lily, joined me in Becky's car as we snaked our way along highway 49, watching scrub oak give way to evergreen as our elevation climbed.  

For the party, I wore a pair of vintage red Levi's straight-leg jeans, a simple floral-patterned ribbed tank top, and beaded, wood-heeled sandals by BCBGeneration.  I received lots of compliments on my attire. Once I was safely tucked into bed back at Becky's after the party, I fell asleep to the haunting serenade of wailing coyotes.
In the vineyard at Iverson Winery in Somerset, California
The next day, I awoke to roosters crowing in the pre-dawn light and I rose early to hike through the foothills before anyone else was out of bed. During my hour-long sojourn, I came across a female peacock with seven chicks pecking in the scrub.  Later, while traversing a meadow along the highway, I watched a large wild turkey display his fully-arrayed tail feathers for two nearby females.  Jackrabbits the size of small dogs bounded through the brush.  Eventually a neighborly highway patrolman slowed his patrol car to tell me, jokingly, that he'd had a report that I was "walking too fast".  I laughed and explained that it was the best way I knew to burn off all the calories I had consumed the day before.  He instructed me to carry on and drove off with a friendly wave.
Becky, her husband Bruce, me and Bruce's parents, Gretel and George
Later, Becky and I perused antique shops in old town Placerville and visited a number of wineries in the area, happily sampling their offerings.  In the late afternoon, we ended up at the home of Becky's wonderful in-laws in Apple Hill, George and Gretel, whom I also had not seen in many years.  It was George's 86th birthday, and the lovely and eternally youthful Gretel had prepared a delectable spread for thirteen of us as if it was no trouble at all.  George gave me a tour of his extensive garden and then we sat down to an incredible meal, capped off with a festive birthday cake - and more wine.
Preparing dinner at George and Gretel's home
The plane trip home from Sacramento to Baltimore the next day was mostly uneventful. I spent the time reminiscing about the spectacular weekend I had just enjoyed, nurtured by friendships born long ago which were rekindled in these past 72 hours as if there had not been a separation of several decades.  The fellowship among the kindred spirits of our youth runs deep. I feel re-connected to my roots and am delighted to be in touch with so many people who helped form the person I am today. It was a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

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