Through the back door comes the smell of kelp and barnacles when the tide is out and the smell of salt and spray when the tide is in.
– Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
This is a guest post from writer Jayne Martin who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is California. Enjoy.
Every morning right around six our rooster lets it be known that the world has blessed us all with a new day and it’s time we dragged our butts out of bed and enjoyed it.
After nearly a lifetime as a city dweller, I left the traffic, smog, and crowds of Los Angeles for the beauty and serenity of the Santa Ynez Valley, a small rural community in central California, and quickly realized that I had a lot to learn.
The people here are warm and friendly, never too hurried to stop for a chat. To avoid a neighbor’s eye or mutter a brisk hello while moving on will not endear you. True, I’ve had to avoid grocery shopping during peak hours or risk my ice cream becoming a puddled mess in my cart, but when you’re sick or have lost a loved one, you can count on this whole community to wrap you in its arms.
There’s not much nightlife, so people entertain mostly at home. For my very first dinner invitation the host carefully instructed me to avoid driving over the wet cow paddies as they would splash up on my car and create quite a mess. I agreed to be mindful of that and thanked him for his advice. However, not in all my years had I ever received such an instruction and I couldn’t help thinking it odd. Not so much that he would caution me to avoid driving over wet cow paddies, but that he would just take it for granted that I’d be able to tell the wet ones from the dry ones. As I drove to their home that night, it seemed a good idea to simply avoid all of them, which I did. I’m just grateful the sheriff wasn’t around to watch my car zigzagging down the road as I’m certain I would have been arrested on the spot.
As a newcomer, I was eager to plant my first vegetable garden. It can only be learned by experience that two zucchini plants are more than enough, and if you don’t lock your car here in the summer other newcomers will fill it with the green stuff, but there is nothing quite like eating food that you’ve grown yourself.
As for our dress code, you don’t want to be strolling around town looking too clean. If you don’t smell like a horse or a cow and have at least one trace of some kind of manure somewhere on your person, people will think you work for the government and regard you with suspicion. Other than that, we’re a trusting bunch and seldom even lock our doors.
When I broke my neck and was hospitalized for several weeks, friends would stop by the post office to pick up my mail. They didn’t need my box key. The postmaster knew them, knew me, handed it over and sent her best wishes. I’m sure this broke all sorts of federal laws, but we don’t worry much about stuff like that. Whenever someone in town dies, we lower the flag in the town square to half-mast for an entire week which, apparently, is also illegal, but that’s how we honor our own.
Soon after I first moved here, I came out of the post office one day to find a mule-drawn cart carrying a coffin moving down the street on its way from the church to the cemetery. Cars respectfully pulled over to let it pass, while people on the sidewalk bowed their heads and took off their hats. Then everyone went on their way like it was the most common sight in the world. That took a little getting used to.
Like any community, we have our problems with traffic, only here it might mean being stuck behind your neighbor’s tractor for half a block or so. We don’t mind. None of us is ever in much of a rush anyway. When out-of-town guests come to visit them, I caution them to slow down and under no circumstances touch their horn. Honking is reserved for only the most dire of emergencies and is otherwise considered the height of rudeness. It’s not unusual for people who have been honked at to stop, get out of their vehicle, approach the offending honker and deliver a polite but firm WTF.
Some of my friends in L.A. wondered how long I’d last up here “in the boonies.” It’s been 15 years now and I can honestly say I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Your heart knows when it’s home.
Jayne Martin lives on a ranch in Santa Ynez, California. “Don’t Drive Over the Wet Cow Paddies” is from her collection of humor essays, Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry, available in paperback and digital formats. She has been sharing her views on everything from politics to private parts on her blog, injaynesworld-where nothing is sacred since 2009. Most recently her short story, “The Heart of the Town,” won the Fall 2013 WOW-Women On Writing Flash Fiction Competition.
The authors’ original words do their work more justice than any book review I write, and when grouped together, the quotes become atmospheric of the state they are set in. I hope you enjoy this addition of a “Favorite Quotes” series to my Andrea Reads America coverage.
“Boone believes that a wave is God’s tangible message that all great things in life are free.”
“Hawaiians taught us to surf… we sent people over there with Bibles, and they sent guys back with boards. The Hawaiians sure got the shitty end of that stick.”
“‘Like, the moana was epic tasty this sesh and I slid over the ax of this gnarler and just foffed, totally shredded it, and I’m still amped from the ocean hit, so my bad, brah.'”
“He and Boone sit and look at the waves together. Boone doesn’t rush things. He knows his friend is working through it. And the ocean never gets boring – it’s always the same and always different.”
“There are days when that drive along the 101 is so beautiful, it will break your fucking heart. When you look out the window and the sun is painting masterpieces on the water…”
“Waves are smacking the pilings beneath Crystal Pier. The ocean feels heavy, swollen, pregnant with promise.”
“The universe is God’s self-portrait.”
“Still raining… Steady drizzle, and occasional heavy showers all day. All day. So different and beautiful. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed by water.”
“It’s hard to believe any household once had three cars, and gas fueled cars at that.”
“How is it that we had never established an outside meeting place – somewhere where the family could reunite after disaster.”
“I worked my way toward the lemon tree. When I reached it, heavy with little green lemons, I hunted for any with even a hint of paling, of yellow.”
“Kindness eases change.”
“So many people hoping for so much up there where it still rains every year, and an uneducated person might still get a job that pays in money instead of beans, water, potatoes, and maybe a floor to sleep on.”
“Water stations are dangerous places. People going in have money. People coming out have water. Which is as good as money.”
“Through the back door comes the smell of kelp and barnacles when the tide is out and the smell of salt and spray when the tide is in.”
“Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses…”
“The whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the silver rivers of fish pour in out of the boats and the boats rise higher and higher in the water until they are empty.”
“Lee’s mouth was full and benevolent and the flash of gold when he smiled was rich and warm.”
“Monterey was not a town to let dishonor come to a literary man.”
“The sun came up and shook the night chill out of the air the way you’d shake a rug.”
“If a man ordered a beer milk shake, he thought, he’d better do it in a town where he wasn’t known.”
“The new [hitchhikers] try to pay for their ride by being interesting.”
“Financial bitterness could not eat too deeply into Mack and the boys, for they were not mercantile men.”
“It was the hour of the pearl. Lee Chong brought his garbage cans out to the curb. The bouncer stood on the porch of the Bear Flag and scratched his stomach.”
“I’m sick of pretending everything. For once I’d like to have it real – just for once.”
“The nature of parties has been imperfectly studied.”
“The cops didn’t find anything. But the party was sitting in the dark giggling happily and drinking wine.”