Children’s Diary-July 24, 25
We camped in the Redwood Forest. It was dark under the big trees.
We camped in Guerneville. We went down a big slide and watched the racecars.
It has taken me thirty years to return to California, the state of my birth. I’ve heard stories of my infancy, but it was like I came from another continent, so far and different from Florida, was the place I grew up. I get to know you California, little by little from the top down. After the cool dark peacefulness of Redwood National Forest, we were back on the road again.
There I was dragging my sweet little family along to San Francisco, my youngest, Nicole, then four, a year older than I was when I left this exotic city on the other side of the country. Driving down the coast, we made it as far as Guerneville and set up camp outside of town. Not in the woods, this place had civilization – a massive slide and a race car track drew the kids immediately. They burned off lots of excess energy and returned to the campsite as we were lighting the grill (a luxury) for dinner. The wood was wet and mostly smoking with just a few pinpoints of flame.
“Hey, Jill bring the lighter fluid,” Ray calls. “Let’s get this baby going. The kids look tired and starved.” He takes the lid off the can, pours a small amount into the lid and throws it into the grill, “just a dab’ll do it.”
“Whoosh!” the dab explodes and a snaking tail of flame shoots back to its origin in the can. My “Oh shit!” is always there for emergencies. Lifesaver Ray reacts immediately, smashes the lid back on the flaming can while everyone within sight or sound is retreating, and heaves it as far away from humanity as possible. It works. No more explosions, no more fire, except in the grill.
“Jesus Christ!” Ray rasps. “That was close.”
“Thank God everyone’s okay.” Our horrified faces soften into little jittery smiles.
One of the campers waves and calls back, “Quick thinking, man.”
The kids were settled in the back of the van quietly doing their own thing as we traveled down Hwy 101 towards San Francisco, my birthplace. My mind drifted back through the past, my only recollections coming from the stories my mother had woven. She had given me the link to my past: the name, address and phone number of my long lost godparents, the Byrnes.
My extended family history began in Milwaukee, WI. where both of my parents were born. My mother, Genevieve Apolonia Roncke (altered from the original Ronski to obscure the Polish heritage) was the first child of nine to be born in the United States, successfully entering through the immigration nightmares of Ellis Island. Her older brother and sister were born in the countryside around Warsaw, Poland. My grandfather came first; hearing from his compatriots that there was work in the northern woods, sneaking away from the tyranny of his Russian captors and settling into an environment similar to his native Poland. Being intelligent, enterprising and productive he earned enough money in a few years to bring over the rest of the family. I know much less of my father, who was not the storyteller my mother was. Gene Lester Green (altered from the German Gruen for the same reason) and his only brother, 21 years younger with no other children in between, were born in Milwaukee.