What do you think of when you hear the term "Americana"? The first thing that comes to my mind is red, white and blue striped and starred wooden object decorating walls in a home. Blue and white checks. Teddy Bears. Second it brings to mind a more modern twist on the first. Antique looking signs advertising farm stands and fresh eggs. Those scenes in Armageddon where Doris has just been made known to the world. You know, the ones: Groups of people gathered around the radio in the barber shop, Kids running out the screen door and letting it slap shut a la The Waltons, posters of JFK with American flags streaming in the wind.
Driving home from work on Monday I was able to experience my own, perhaps truer, definition of Americana. My children were in the back seat sleeping or staring out the window. I had a cd playing softly of Pastor Steve Caudill singing songs he wrote about his love for the Lord. Around me for a while where golden tan rolling hills. I love those hills. I often imagined living in them when I was a child being driven through them at least once a month while heading to the Bay Area for one reason or another. They aren't always tan, or dead as I used to think. Just in the summer time. I used to hate that, but have come to enjoy the amber waves of grains. After the rolling hills come the part I love the most no matter what the season. The flatness of the fields with the occasion orchard or vineyard to make it interesting.
I settled in to my drive. The sky was the perfect shade of sky blue. So fresh and clear. Looking East toward the Sierra Nevada the clouds where sporadic and poofy. Poofy. Like spoonfuls of freshly whipped cream on top of bread pudding. And it was perfectly flat up to those mountains. I took a moment to think about my mom and how much she loved driving into the mountains and visiting our family cabin at Lake Tahoe. I told myself I needed to get up there, and soon.
As I said, I love the flatness of the drive up I-5. And this is where it became Americana, in real life, for me. I passed rice fields. Still green and growing strong. Sunflower fields. As yellow as the sun shine that makes them grow. Orchards. Their leaf covered branches jutting up into the sky almost disturbing the peacefulness of it. Hadn't it just been a few months ago those same trees where bare? Then weeks after filled with blossoms so white it looked as if snow had landed on their tips. Now, green and full and waiting for their fruit to come forth and ripen into nuts. Then fields again. Some full of plants at various stages of growth with the intermittent field laying fallow, resting, getting prepared for another crop at a later date. And the picture that makes it all quaint and decidedly Americana... the pieces of farm equipment left in the random field. Not forgotten or left by a lazy worker. But waiting there to be used the next day to do another days work. Transfer trailers in tomato fields waiting for a tractor to hook up to them and drive them around while harvesters fill them up. Tractors with various pieces of equipment standing by, ready to be hooked up and used for tilling or fertilizing or any of another dozen or more jobs I have no idea of. I look to my right and on the frontage road is a man driving an old pick up truck. Windows rolled down against the close to 100 degree temperature outside. It rambles down the road, off the freeway, traveling slower than the rest of us. I slow down too to take in beauty and life around me.
I look West. The sun shining in my eyes. I see the mountain range I most love: The Coastal Range. A section of those I know like the back of my hand. It leads me to my favorite place on Earth. Beyond that rolling range where I know elk, deer, pigs, bears and all sorts of animals call home is the vast expanse of ocean. But this is about Americana, not the ocean. To the West aren't as many fields as there are orchards. I see the sun dancing in the leaves, leaving shadows that play pictures in my mind like clouds in the sky do.
I get off the freeway to start my way down smaller highways home. The two lane roads my mom used to travel on the way to the Bay Area before there was an Interstate 5. The same one that man in the pick up was traveling; although I wouldn't be seeing him unless I pulled over and waited awhile. These slower roads are my home. These fields I've watched be planted, grow, harvested season after season, year after year. I've seen some change from places of food to places of shelter as some were sold to housing developers. These roads. With the same homes on them that were there 30 years ago and beyond. The same silos jetting up out of the fields that I remember as a child. The same worn out sign of this business or that.
I enter my town. It's city limit decided by my Bug as the John Deere sign. I pass the Fair Grounds that hasn't changed at all. The streets that I walked as a kid and teen to and from school or a friends house or the store or pool. I'm feeling nostalgic now, thinking of my Americana, and remember that my small home town has a Farmer's Market going on. I drive through town, past the strip mall -- the only one we have, past the golf course that hasn't changed in 30 years either to my first visit of our great Farmer's Market.
There are 8 stands. One lady selling Tupperware. One giving information on the Market and selling bags and local nuts. One is fresh bread, of which I buy a loaf. Not the delicious white chocolate cherry bread that may sound yucky but trust me is OH SO GOOD! No, I buy the healthy grain and nut bread. Three sell peaches, nectarines, apricots, strawberries -- all or some. Two selling zucchini and squash. I buy some fresh fruit and hand my Tiny a strawberry. It's warm and smells so fresh. He shoves it in his mouth and while the juice is still dripping down the side of his mouth he says, "I?" - his version of mine or may have I have another, I'm not entirely sure yet.
We take the long way home. Long way? In my town. It's 15 minutes instead of 5. I pass the strip mall again and remember when it was a field with one building it... the Elk Lodge if I remember correctly. I pass the building that used to house Taco Bell that sits on the property that used to be my friend, Stephanie's, house. I pass the big house that I've always loved and never been in and have never seen anyone live in. I take the left that will continue me around town past the 7-11. Past the rural fire department and the sprawling (for my town) auto dealership. Past the post office and the pharmacy/gift shop/florist turned the most amazing Mexican food in town building. I stop at the only stop sign on this street and think for a moment how things don't change. The bank on the corner that has always (in my life time) been a bank. The one screen movie theater next to it. The barber shop next to the bar that have been there forever. I pass the Court House which for years, decades?, was the only building in town to have an elevator. I love our Court House. It's white. Probably brick, although I've never paid much attention to it. It has pillars in the front and is green trimmed. Set back from the road it's surrounded by lawn and wide trees that shade the front and make it homey and beautiful. I pass the pharmacy that my family had always used. Past the only hardware store in town. I love this town. Everything so familiar and lovely. The old building a block long and falling down in places. The one that held my mom's my first job. Past Jackpot where the gas pumps still say, "Buy our chicken and get gas". The park on the corner as I turn left again. The huge estate houses covered over by trees and so stunning I can't help but drive slower to take in, for the millionth time, how it looks and makes me feel -- peaceful. I drive past the pool and Jeff's that used to be Rick's where I'd buy fries while visiting the pool. Then I'd take another left and head home.
Home. The house I've lived in since I was seven years old. The one my mom made lovely with her hard work and patience. The one I never cared for enough growing up, but have come to cherish now. I pause for a moment in front of it before getting out of my car. I think back to the times I spent at this house. Growing up. Learning. Leaving. Loving. Losing.
I glance at my boys in the rear view mirror and say a prayer. That they'll come to love, not just this house, this home, but this land, this area, as much as I do. I whisper a prayer that they'll live their life full here. Experience all our community has to offer. Get so engrossed with it that years from now when they are grown and gone and come back to visit they'll have the same feeling I had that day. The feeling of change within changelessness. The feeling of peace and contentment of the familiar. The feeling of home. Of pride. Of memories. Of Americana.