Places I Remember… by Cat Reilly

Waiting in line at a Mexican restaurant this weekend, I saw a sign on the wall for Santa Fe, NM.  And suddenly there I was, back in Santa Fe, walking the main square, pausing at the turquoise jewelry, lounging near the O’Keefe museum. Once I bought a pair of red jeans from the Gap there because they were on clearance for six dollars.  Ah, the gifts of Santa Fe. 

Growing up near Chicago, I took field trips to the Art Institute and the Field Museum.  When my friends and I were old enough we would drive downtown and feel dangerous, adult, giddy and nervous with this new power.

In Missouri and Iowa, I felt artsy at coffee shops and poetry slams.  I earned my BAs with coffee-laced all-nighters and constant activity.

In Seattle I worked at a fancy hotel, catering to the rich, then took the bus home and walked a mile in the rain to my crappy, ant-filled apartment.  My Midwestern circuits could barely compute the drama of the stunning Seattle scenery.  But mostly I remember the lonely, hollow purr of rain, dampening your energy and your pant legs everywhere you went.

In LA, Seattle’s sun-drenched opposite, I felt reborn. I could jog on my birthday in the dead of winter; I could go to a bar at night without wondering where to hang my coat: it was beautiful.  And we were all young and broke and starting out, and somehow there you could be young and broke and starting out and not feel it, not hurt for money, have a decent apartment on the cheap, find plenty to do for free, live years on that invincible summer-forever feeling. I laughed a lot in LA. I remember the laughing well. 

But a little voice kept telling me to go to Taos, NM and go alone, so I finally did, and as I drove into Taos, trying to find my hostel, Taos Mountain was looking at me.  I say that as clearly and simply as I say that my eyes are brown, and it’s just as true: the mountain was looking at me.  She watched me drive in, I couldn’t escape her gaze, my whole body shuddered, and I knew I was home, and I stayed.  And what can I say about Taos? It sucked some people in and spit some people out, and everyone knew powerful stories of both. The town was alive, the mountain was alive, and we were lucky enough to perch on her side for a bit, and bask in all that energy, and the physical beauty made you gasp, day after day, rounding any new bend in the landscape. 

And after Taos there were more places.  Grad school in San Francisco, first jobs in Oakland, moving in with my husband in Walnut Creek, then crossing California again for work. 

All of these places are real to me.  They aren’t ads in a magazine, or jingles on TV. I’ve lived in them, I know them as a resident, not just a tourist, so when I see the sign in the Mexican restaurant, I’m right back there, with the sights and the people and my own crazy head that kept me moving, adventuring, maybe seeking a geographic cure.

And I want this for my son. Not necessarily the crazy head part, but this: the travel bug, the movement bug, the curiosity.  I want him to know parts of the world beyond the shell of our town.  I want him to experience the personal challenge of figuring out a new city, to go through those first months where you can’t find the grocery store or the gas station, and to feel the pride of finally knowing that you did it. You did it. No one else.  And now it’s part of your story, and when you see that sign, or that ad, you’re right back at the burrito stand with the world’s best chicken molé, or the karaoke bar in Koreatown were they called you “the white people!” whenever you came back.

Before he settles too much, I want him to feel he lived.  And this a gift of later parenthood: to know that you lived, and have that much more to draw from, and that much more impetus to encourage daring, and soul-following, and passion-finding in your own kids.  I certainly want it for mine.

What about you? What were you lucky enough to experience that you hope your kids will also have?

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