Of all the California migrations in my family, the most recent ones might be the sweetest.
This is my Northern California family at the Parrattos’ new house in Lincoln on Thanksgiving day. My second cousin Robyn with her husband Johnny and daughter Charlotte (in the front row) led the 2019 migration from SoCal to NorCal. Not many months after they arrived this summer to start new jobs (Robyn as a culinary arts teacher at Rocklin High School, Johnny as field supervisor in nutrition services for Twin Rivers Unified School District), Robyn’s mother, Dee Hann, decided to move north, too.
This is a big, big deal, since Dede (as my sister Donna and I knew our first cousin when we were kids) has been a lifelong SoCal girl. She, her sister Pat and their parents, our Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob, lived down the street from us in Long Beach. Lois and Bob and the girls lived on Ostrom Avenue before our parents bought a house a few doors down. That became the first home Donna and I knew.
Our mother loves to tell the story of the summer day when, pregnant with me, she was mowing the front lawn of the Ostrom Avenue house. She was startled, then amused, to see Ellie Butler, a neighbor (and also a nurse like Mom), coming down the street wearing surgical scrubs and a mask, forceps in hand, ready to help with the baby she was sure my mother was about to deliver. Mom didn’t. I showed up later, but Ellie’d made her point that Mom might want to stop mowing for a while.
What I remember about Ostrom Avenue (we moved to the town of Orange, California, when I was about 3) is spending time at Auntie Lo’s house with Dede and Pat, both of them making time to play with and fuss over their little cousins. Auntie Lo loomed large in our world—not just as our father’s sister but also as one of the family musicians. A longtime piano teacher, she could play just about anything by ear. I was in high school before I learned that she could read music (she taught it, for heaven’s sake); she just preferred not to. Auntie Lo accompanied Dede, a talented marimba player, on many occasions, and Donna and I gave our first “performances” on the raised concrete platform in the den that served as our stage as we sang and Auntie Lo played piano for us.
Auntie Lo kept bottles of cold Pepsi in the fridge, liberally dispensed to thirsty nieces, took on daily walks with her funny chihuahua mix dogs in the big park (taking along bread bits for the duck-ducks in the huge pond), and loved to take us to Disneyland. She earned her Best Aunt Ever status for those reasons and because, well, she gave us Dede and Pat, Best Cousins Ever.
Dee married, became a teacher and had two daughters, Marryn and Robyn, who grew up as SoCal kids. We saw them for some holidays and trips as we went south or they came north. But after Robyn married Johnny, who loved and had spent time in Tahoe, the seed to move north was planted.
That seed grew into a young plant this year when Robyn secured her job at Rocklin High, down the street from Granite Oaks Middle School where my nephew (Donna and her husband Eric’s son), Kevin Just, was once a student and now teaches music. (We feel sure that Auntie Lo is applauding her band director great-nephew from her heavenly piano studio, along with our dad, Roger, and their parents, Ann and Ed Haag—all musical folks.) When you also realize that Eric, Kevin, his wife Ashley, his sister Lauren and her husband Gerald are also teachers (as were Dee and Pat), you can see the educational expertise in my family. Even my mom had a long career as a school nurse in the same district where Eric teaches. And Donna does her share of teaching, too, as a home-health physical therapist for the Sutter Health in Roseville. (And I do a bit of that teacher thing, too.)
But the part of the story I like best is thinking about the migrations my family members have made since the late 1940s when my grandparents, Ann and Ed Haag, made a trip from their Chicago suburb to Southern California, marveling at the warm winter weather. They returned home and made plans to move west, which they did in 1948, leaving my father behind to finish his senior year of high school and live with his sister (Auntie Lo! Uncle Bob! Baby Pat!) until they all moved to Long Beach, too.
My mother followed in 1953 after she finished nursing school in Chicago and worked for Hines Veterans Administration hospital in a Chicago suburb. A young, single gal, she picked up her life and drove cross country to take a job at the V.A. hospital in Long Beach. Her family knew the Haags from their days when they all lived in Clarendon Hills, Illinois, so my mother knew some California transplants. She and my dad began to date and married in 1957 and had me in 1958. That’s when my mom’s parents, the Keeleys, moved from Chicago to Southern California to be near their first grandchild. (That’s why Dee decided to move north, too—for her granddaughter. She has long done Charlotte transport and care to and from school—and now Dee and Donna live a block apart on the same street in Rocklin.)
My parents took up residence first in Long Beach and then Orange, and became the first in the family to move to Northern California in 1966. They moved because of my father’s job, but, avid boat/ski people that they were, they found a house right next to Folsom Lake to transfer boat, pets and kids. Water skiing became the family hobby. Dede came up more than a few times to slalom behind Dad’s boat, giving her her first taste of the area to which she’s just relocated. Cousin Pat moved north to the East Bay area with her husband and family in the 1980s. And now Marryn, Dee’s oldest daughter, lives in Auntie Lo’s house on Ostrom Avenue that she and her husband Jerome Santucci have renovated.
Robyn told me at Thanksgiving that every month now she either goes south to see her sister and SoCal friends or they come north to her, keeping those ties strong. And we northerners have been blessed with the awesome culinary skills of the two food professionals in our group—Johnny and Robyn—who put on quite the Thanksgiving feast, complete with two turkeys, scalloped potatoes, outstanding dressing and veggies (and Dee’s yummy Waldorf salad). I made our Grandma Haag’s signature brownies, and Robyn whipped up Grandma’s Swedish meatballs. Charlotte made sweet place cards for each of us with a question inside that sparked lively dinner table conversation.
And Dick, as has been the tradition for some years now, set up a family portrait to show all of us together.
I like to think that our dead loved ones join us at these gatherings—among them my late husband Cliff, who loved to host Thanksgiving, and Grandma Haag, who loved it best when all the family got together. My mom’s father, our Grandpa Keeley, used to say, “Every generation improves the breed.” Looking around the table on Thanksgiving, that was clearly true, but it’s also true that this family has married up and partnered well.
My mom is now the matriarch, the last of her generation still with us, and she plans to live to be 120. If that comes to be, then she’ll perhaps see another generation join us at the table. In the meantime, we raised a toast to this year that has given us so much, looking forward, literally and figuratively, to what 2020 will bring.