Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tangled up in Time : Memory, Loss and Hope Make History -dedicated to 9/11/2001

A Memory offered in Memorium of the Lives Lost and Changed by September 11, 2001

I stopped in the town of Benicia the other day. Popping in there once in a while helps remind me of the child I was before I took my first hard blow.  I never lived in Benicia, but my younger brothers and I were, without our older brothers or parents, once left to stay a few nights with family friends. 

Benicia, California

 Until I was five years old, I had lived in the city, San Francisco,where I couldn't go anywhere without escort. Then I lived in a wonderful valley where I became well versed in the creek that marked the back of our property, the blackberry patches and apple trees in the empty lots, the uppermost climbable limbs of the buckeye trees that grew strongest at the west edge of the valley, the rocky bluffs and caves of the grassy hills between us and Muir Beach on the Pacific Ocean.  I was happy in Tamalpias Valley to roam around on my own.  As often as not I had a book with me.  What more could a kid want?

Visiting the town of Benicia in 1962 I found  no lack of nature to explore and the parents temporarily  in charge of us were content to let us wander about freely.  School had been out for ten days and  I had just finished seventh grade.  The little town was, back in the early 1960s, poor and small, already diminished from what it had been, but for me the small scale of the streets and houses made everything feel accessible. Life felt so available. I ran here and there, a miniature tourist, content to wander from the muddy flats and back up the streets of the town that hadn't yet had its hundredth birthday.

The history of Benicia is one of  greatness passing through and as quickly moving on. Benicia was   established by three men. The year was 1874.  Dr. Robert Semple, who was a newsman from Kentucky, a Bear Flag revolter and a politician and Thomas Larkin, the first United States Consul to California, a traveler, storekeeper, a trader and man of Monterey renown.  Together these two bought land from Comandante General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo who asked that the town be called Francisca after his wife, Francisca Benicia Carillo de Vallejo.  But Yerba Buena had just become San Francisco and claimed the name. Francisca could not be used.  The lady's middle name would have to suffice.  

After the cities of Vallejo and San Jose,  Benicia was chosen to be the third capitol of California and reigned as such for 379 days, from February 11, 1853 to February 25, 1854.  Around that time the founders had a falling out and went their separate ways leaving the town to create its own destiny. 

Inland waterways are an opportunity for confluence. It was at Benicia in the 1860's  that Pony Express Riders who had missed their connection on the Sacramento River Delta steamers could  ferry across the waters blocking their trail. In the 1870's  a leg of the transcontinental Central Pacific Railroad established a major railroad ferry across the Carquinez Strait from Benicia to Port Costa.  Benicia became home to the largest ferries in the world, transporting entire trains across the inland waters of the San Francisco Bay.

It was in Benicia  in 1901, where the world's first long-distance power line was stretched across the Carquinez Straits.  When wheat was the big crop, it was stored in Benicia, but when railroad bridges replaced ferries and the early 1900 wheat crops declined, Benicia declined too, mouldering without economic purpose on the back waters of the bay.

 Not until World War II,  did the little town grow again when it served as a military arsenal. The war boom economy doubled  the population quickly to 7,000 residents.  The arsenal closed in the 1960s.  Later in that decade, oil refineries were built northeast of the town's residences. Eventually, as more bridges were built connecting the bay area's various ports and towns by roads, the little town of no longer as important trains and ferries became what all towns near big cities are destined to become, a  bedroom for 28,000 locals and commuters and a weekend diversion destination for city dwellers. 

But that is not the town that was back in those few days of my summer vacation.  Then it was just a  small modest town with no great current boons, but the confluence of its waterways and flying birds, its child  friendly streets, cushioned me with hospitality while hope and longing opened in me in the first bright days of the summer of my thirteenth year.
And then on the third afternoon of our visit, my father and older brothers returned unexpectedly. I blindly ran to the murky waters that day in disbelief, wanting to shake off as dream or lie what we'd 
been told. Our mother had died.

Here I am tangling my history up with the early history of this little town. I don't often tell my story. I know for everyone its often a  struggle to keep clear angles of perspective in this life. I make an effort to pay attention to current events and history.  So I've reminded myself, with a little history lesson of a few of the events that have come and gone and shaped this town, of some perspective, and yet it's true that even at my age, as I briefly walked about the edges of Benicia the other day, what I can see best is what had once  happened there to me. I can't even hear the name of the town and not remember, palpably receiving that first wrenching.

How true might this be for those who lost family and friends in New York, Pennsylvania, the Pentagon. Today is September 11, 2010, the anniversary of a great tragedy of terror and the loss of many lives.  So many people heard that day or the next,  how they would have to go on in  their world carrying love lost; heard that they had entered a forever- changed- reality.  At some level, we all did, didn't we?

I offer this tangled memory of mine in  memoriam with my personal acknowledgement of how deeply the loss of loved ones is, how enduring our losses are.

I was also reminded at the water's edge the other day by these lovely little mallards sunning on a log amongst relics of Benicia's past, that there is One who does have all his little ducks in a row. 
We need not grieve as ones without hope. 


MKM said...

Thank you for sharing this, Jeanette.

Mark said...

My favorite moments in Benicia with you the other day were when we sidetracked down an alley and stood at the water's edge looking over the forgotten remnants of yester-Benicia, just like those ducks. Quack, quack!


Wow, Jeanette. You were so young to lose your mom and in such sudden and shocking fashion. I am so sorry. Just as I am truly sad for all the families so deeply touched by loss on September 11. I am glad you intertwined your story here . . . I loved it and hope you tell us more about you in the future. Enjoyed the California history lesson as well.



The Gomez Family said...

I read this! :) I love your postings, always a treat to read your thoughts, memories and, in this one, past experiences that are so touching and tough! Thank you.
love, Kim

GretchenJoanna said...

The little history lesson you gave us about Benicia only implies, also, the stories of many thousands of people who gained and lost and lost again, whose stories only God fully knows, and that make the story of the town. It's good that we write down our stories, even short excerpts from them; this thought has been on my mind all week and even this morning, quite apart from the Sept 11 reminder. I'm really thankful to read this post.

Ryan Brady said...

It's crazy how those memories can be so strongly embedded in us. Such a great piece of usual! Thanks for sharing :)

Haddock said...

May it never happen again anywhere (Sept 11)

Like that last picture.
All waiting in line.

Rachel Federman said...

I'm not sure I completely understand what happened (or maybe I'm not supposed to) but I am so sorry and so touched by your ability to weave together history, memory, eulogy, sympathy, little scenes of beauty and sadness, and hope.