Over the years, I’ve returned from prettier places. There’s that familiar sickening and Pavlovian reaction, when the air wing brakes lower, and your jet lurches into descent, slowing down over the Tehachapis. Except for our 20 minutes of spring, you can see nothing but dusty brown for miles. If I’ve had an exceptionally peaceful trip, I’ll sigh, shake my head and ask the same three-part question of decades seemingly lost: “What. The hell. Am I doing here?”
The soothing monotony of an empty beach. Riding a horse in the Rockies. Sitting with my back against a redwood. And yet, I am so grateful for Santa Clarita. There simply is no other home.
Friends are buried here. I know the exact location of the ashes of my mom and dad. When my daughter was just a few days old, I wrapped her in warm blankets. Under the ancient porch awnings, we listened, smelled the cleanliness of the storm. I gently rocked my baby girl. It was her first rain. At some point in our lives, rain deserves a soothing voice and proper explanation. When she was 4, she sat all bundled up again, this time on my lap on the sun porch in Iron Canyon. We counted by “one-one thousands.” Sometimes by the six-count, the sky would explode in a lightning strike, just a mile away.
There are places where the lightning is more maniacal, where it rains more, it’s hotter, colder, windier, certainly more pretentious (Mojave). But, there’s nothing like Santa Clarita. We have what zen calls, suchness. And for that, I am grateful.
About 30 years ago, The Los Angeles Times wanted to hire me to not write humor thrice weekly. Paid good, too. A couple of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist pals cleared their throats and whispered a juju warning. They called The Times, “…the velvet coffin.” You crawled in. They shut the lid behind and slid paychecks through the slit until you were no more. Death usually came within decades. But, until then, there was designer coffee and sweet rolls mid-morning and 3.
Nowhere, in any job recruitment site, ever, offers a career position to tweak noses and swashbuckle. Look at me. I got the job that’s listed nowhere. For that, I’m grateful. I get to work at the most unique newspaper perhaps in all of American history. For more than a century, we’ve got to help people. We even used to remind people to get out of bed and go to church. Or buy a cake or two to help kids get that playground equipment. Or, painful rabies treatments. I remember a little boy threw himself in the path of a charging mad dog, to save the little girl walking next to him.
I’m grateful. I was taught how to help. Granted. Just a little.
Without the threat of corporal punishment, I danced my first dance at Hart High. Kissed my first girl. Fell in love. Had my heart broken. Sold enough peanut brittle as president of Key Club it briefly upended the world peanut brittle market. A loner kid, I learned to laugh. How can you not be grateful for laughter?
Years ago, I supplemented my income with everything from poker to umpiring softball games. Came across a terribly damaged and angry man who threatened to beat me to death with a baseball bat. Came back after the game to fulfill that dark wish. The two of us sat in the stands for about an hour. He confessed he had lost his soul, his wife and his job that week. He just wanted to lash out, hurt someone. He thanked me for listening, for being a friend. I hope he found himself, his real self.
Isn’t that something? It was here, in Santa Clarita, I learned how to be a friend. I learned that from older, wiser men and women, some who had lived lives of ordinariness.
How can you not be grateful?
A woman called me once. She said I made her laugh. She had been dying of cancer and figured I had given her an extra year. Said she felt it was OK to go on. Searching for something to be grateful about? What? Should I take a few moments to gripe about $6 gas or the current imbecile stealing from his fellow man?
When I was in my late teens, I stepped out of Michael Corbin’s office when it was on now-Main Street. I was blind as a bat. Mike fitted me with contact lenses. I can still remember stepping out into the street to awkwardly stare at the Technicolor pop of — Life. I could see. Still can. For that, I’m grateful.
People have been kind to me. Generous. I have watched friends survive tragedies that would kill regular people. Smiling, I’ve stolen from them. Here, in Santa Clarita, they discovered courage, grace, forgiveness. In admiration, I’ve rightly figured: “If THEY could not just survive, but flourish after all that, then I can do that, too.”
I’ve learned kindness, not in New York City, Paris or Rome. But in Newhall. I’ve learned courage from the people of this valley. Watching from a safe distance, I pieced together how these brave souls prospered when all seemed lost.
I always seem to be carrying around lists of things that need improving. I hope God doesn’t hurt Himself laughing at my folly. You know what I’m grateful about? That glorious feeling of a Friday, of reaching deep into your pockets and you can’t find a Post-it of anything — or anyone — that needs fixing.
I never made it out of town to run Hollywood or New York. Still want to reach my dream, of becoming that novelist, that man I’m supposed to be. It promises to be a beautiful weekend in Santa Clarita, my boyhood home. God’s in Heaven. And Santa Clarita. And all’s right with the world. As I glance around, I’m beginning to suspect that I’ve got all the tools, supplies, friends, support and inspiration to do just that.
And, for that, I’m thankful.
John Boston is a local writer. His bookstore is johnbostonbooks.com.