Once in awhile when my car comes over the hill into Newport Beach and I get my first view of the ocean unfurling like a vast and exquisite diorama, I say to myself, Bobbie, old girl, you are the luckiest woman alive.
On other days when April’s dreariness turns into May gray, and will surely be followed by June gloom, I wish I lived in Hawaii.
The best time of year is from October through January. That’s when the horizon is seamless and the ocean goes and goes until it falls off the lip of the earth. Sunsets begin with soft brushed tones of gentle rose and baby blue, but as the sun sinks lower and lower, all those colors deepen into crimson with bursts of yellow so intense, they’re blinding. The eye can barely take it in, yet it’s impossible to look away. These are the kind of sunsets I suspect the first peoples worshipped, because surely a source more powerful than us creates them.
Summer is less predictable. It ought to be hot and sunny every day, but more likely we’ll have three perfect days swallowed by a thick and ominous fog. It rolls up in huge billowing walls of gray, a vision of Armageddon, consuming all in its path like God’s own wrath.
The trade-off is the pelicans that migrate in large numbers at the first signs of summer and glide like Baryshnikov across the sky. Each season has a personality and mood of its own, and as the sun reappears and the fog lifts, the pelicans soar and so do my spirits.
It’s more than the pure beauty of the sky and the ocean that entices me. It’s even more than the laidback lifestyles I see everywhere. My husband, Bud, nails it when he says, “It feels like nothing bad could ever happen here.” By “here,” he means our small pocket set just outside the sea of humanity coming from the north, a sea full of anger and violence, of gangs and barred windows, where no one is safe after dark. “It’s an illusion,” he says, “but one I can buy into.”
Even Cliff, the manager of the wholesale nursery, says with a toothy grin, “What a great place to live. Aren’t we the lucky ones?”
He always wears a cabana hat and khaki rubber boots and drags a python of a hose behind him. The spray fans out over hot pink begonias and orange and yellow ranunculus, creating a double rainbow. “Luckiest in the world”—I agree.
I don’t think of it as luck, though. I think of it as a choice, one Bud and I made many years ago, not only for us, but for our son and daughter.
“Great place to raise kids,” Bud said then, and I thought he’d read my mind.
It’s also near my mother. When she retired from being a high school music teacher, she sold the house she and Dad had paid off and bought into a retirement center with all the bells and whistles. When I asked exactly what bells and whistles she was referring to, she said, “Tennis, golf, swimming pool, poker nights, yoga and travel groups.” She was quick to add, “But I’ll keep on teaching children piano. I’d never give that up. They keep me young.”
Saturdays are the days when I see both Cliff and my mother. This is Mom’s and my day to run errands together and because Bud orders many of his supplies from Cliff, Mom and I take the opportunity to breathe in the beauty of the seasons while we lug fifty-pound bags of decorative rocks or redwood chips into the Jeep for Bud.
On alternate Saturdays we go to the farmer’s market in Corona Del Mar. Mom reflects on a time when shopping was always like this, with stalls of fresh vegetables and flowers, where everyone carries a canvas bag and fills it with fresh produce. “Not like our supermarkets today,” she says. It’s brief, this leisurely, countrified pace. The clock tower on the corner plays a song on the hour and when it hits noon, all the stalls begin to shut down. We grab armloads of fresh flowers and call it a day.
Our reward is lunch out with a glass of wine.
Sitting at a tall table at the Gulf Stream Restaurant with our feet dangling, Mom orders what she always orders. “Roasted chicken with that rice salad thing you make.”
“I’ll have the same,” I say.
“You have mashed potatoes today?”
Mom asks this every week and every week for the last year the patient server says, “No, I’m sorry. Only at night.”
Mom always retorts, “Well, it’s night somewhere,” and we all laugh and get a refill for our wine.
There is something comforting about this ritual, even the banter. If the server suddenly said, “Why yes, we do have the mashed potatoes,” it would throw off our whole routine.
“So,” Mom begins, “what has your week been like?”
I groan. “You remember that client I told you about with the old house in San Clemente near the beach?”
“The rich divorcée?”
“That’s the one. Well, with a little work her home could be something for Architectural Digest. It’s authentic Spanish, and cute as can be. I worked a hundred hours pulling fabrics and furniture concepts for her and you know what she said?”
Mom shakes her head, smiling. “What’s that?”
“She wants a more modern look. Like with glass and stainless steel. I want to shoot her or myself.”
“You love it. You’ll figure it out. I wish I had your eye for design.”
She’s right. She has no eye at all. She still has the furniture I grew up with, jammed into her small condo at the retirement center.
“What about Bud, my real child?”
My mother adored my husband from the day they met. He pandered to her vanity when he asked her advice about marrying me. “Plenty of fish in the sea,” she told him, and he laughed, thinking she was joking.
“I wish you wouldn’t favor him so blatantly.” I laugh. “He’s fine. A little bored I think, but that’s normal at his age, right?”
“Men didn’t have midlife crises in my era. They just went fishing.”
The server sets our plates in front of us and then from behind her back she reveals a small bowl of mashed potatoes.
“Don’t tell anyone. I had the chef make you some special.”
So much for rituals.
“Eat up. I’ve got a golf date at three,” Mom says, and I’m at once glad and sad that my mother has a full life of her own and doesn’t need me at all.