Today I’ve been looking at an old book that captured and held me hostage when I first heard the author read from it while I sat under the tall sky in Vermont at Bread Loaf…years ago now. The author was a gentle and quiet man who approached the lectern (in the barn, where the readings were held) with his head down – and as he began to read, his soft voice took over the room. He delivered to each one of us lucky souls in that barn, a window into his spirit; a poignant, lyrical tapestry of family, place, home, and the suburban dynamic that defines so much of Southern California, and our mighty nation, at large.
The narrative in this book is broken into passages – snapshots, if you will – 316 total. Waldie grew up in Lakewood, California – a development created in the ’50’s. I taught reading/writing/and study skills with a company called IRD (International Reading Development) down there in Lakewood, and as a matter of fact, quit IRD so I could attend Bread Loaf, the very year D. J. Waldie stood before us like an incantation. a beautiful happenstance.
Here are a few passages, chosen mostly at random…all speak directly to the one listening….(or in this case, reading).
#45: The streets in my city are a fraction of a larger grid, anchored to one in Los Angeles. That grid was laid out in September, 1781. // The Los Angeles grid is a copy of one carried from Mexico City to an anonymous stretch of river bank by Colonel Felipe de Neve, governor of California. // The grid the Spanish colonel carried to the nonexistent Los Angeles in 1781 originally came from a book in the Archive of the Indies in Seville. The book prescribed the exact orientation of the streets, the houses, and the public places for all the colonial settlements in the Spanish Americas. // That grid came from God.
#2: In a suburb that is not exactly middle class, the necessary illusion is predictability.
# 236: Every family speaks its own language. The language I learned had the flavor of big cities in it. // Sometimes my mother, brother, and I ate lunch at the counter in the Woolworth’s in the shopping center. Sometimes the waitress would comment on the way we spoke, and ask us if we were English.
# 219: The grid on which my city is built opens outward without limits. It’s the antithesis of a ghetto. // My city will have only one gated and guarded subdivision. It’s the tract of houses the real estate division of Chevron is building. // It’s the only tract of houses in the city that will be shut off from the anxieties of the grid. // The new development is called Westgate. The name reminds buyers of what they are getting.
#235: I remember exactly how my father drove. He was a very good driver. // Los Angeles freeways were designed for my father’s kind of driving. He was never impatient or uncontrolled. He never had an accident or received a ticket. // We drove everywhere.
#46: “Stop counting, mother,” I said, bending over her hospital bed. // And she stopped on three. All afternoon she had been telling numbers as she died. // She kept saying, “3, 2, 5, 3, 2.” // I said, “Stop counting, mother.” She stopped again on three. // What were they? Were they a telephone number or a street address? // They were coordinates for a map I did not have.
#6: Moral choice does not enter his thinking. // He believes, however, that each of us is crucified. His own crucifixion is the humiliation of living the life he has made for himself.
#91: It is not simply missed opportunities that leave him the humiliation of his comfortable house and his regular habits. The opportunities, themselves, appear out of place. // He prayed at first to be relieved of his life, and not to know when his prayer would be answered. When it was, he prayed for other people’s plans.
#174: I saw my father cry only once before my mother’s death. I was nine or ten. // It seemed to me that my parents were arguing about my father’s health. I don’t think they were. Something else had unfolded in their life together. // The argument stopped. My father came into the middle bedroom, where I had gone to be as far from them as I could. In this house, the greatest distance is fifteen or twenty feet. // My father sat on the end of the small bed that took the place of a couch in the middle of the room. The room was crowded with a desk, bookshelves my father built, the bed, and a black-and-white television set. // We sat a short distance from each other. My father cried. // The middle room became my bedroom when I entered college. I slept there on the weekends when I went to graduate school in Orange County. It was my room when I left school and began a part-time teaching job. // After my mother died in 1979, my father suggested I take the larger, back bedroom. // I said no.
#175: The greatest loss in living deliberately alone is in not having anyone to forgive.
I highly recommend Holy Land, by D. J. Waldie – that you add it to your “Must Read” list. It’s one that can be opened at random, any time of day…like a parable you can put in your heart’s pocket, or a beautiful pebble you can toy with in your soul. Happy New Year everyone – Peace, Love, Curiosity, Joy, Imagination, and Grace be yours – throughout this shiny new year!