I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and lived in California all my life until 2013 when I moved to Idaho because I wanted the experience of living in a different state.
The last thirteen years of my California residency were spent living in the Klamath River Valley town of Happy Camp. Before that I lived in the northern East Bay town of Pittsburg, CA. I’ve actually moved around a lot within the state of California over the years. I listed my many homes a few years ago on my blog: Places Where I’ve Lived. The Happy Camp cabin is number 49 on the list. I moved there when I was 47, and lived there 13 years, longer than any other place I’ve ever lived. I must have liked it.
My San Francisco Bay Area homes were in San Pablo, El Cerrito, Richmond, El Sobrante, San Leandro, Hayward, and San Francisco when I was young. Later in life I moved back to the Bay Area to live in Oakland in Alameda County, and Pittsburg, which is in the “East County” section of Contra Costa County, on the southern shore of the Sacramento River, just before it empties out into the San Pablo Bay. The San Pablo Bay connects to the northern edge of the San Francisco Bay.
I lived in Pittsburg five years with my two youngest children. I moved there because one day in 2004 I woke up in my Oakland flat, and heard a disembodied voice tell me in my half-dream state (in my head) that I should move north to live in the Sacramento River town of Pittsburg, and so I did. Yes, I do things like that. My time in North Oakland was up anyhow. I followed the advice of what I thought was a “spirit guide” and it turned out well enough for us. At least, we lived to tell about it, right? This “spirit guide” thing happened again, later in this story, about five years after the move to Pittsburg.
Those who have read my novel, River Girl, might notice that Pittsburg is right next to Antioch, the town my fictional River Girl, Claire, came from. We who write take our cues from what we experience in life. You can see a bit of California in every novel I’ve written. California is in me just as I was in it.
See that green spot on the map, just south of Pittsburg? That’s Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. I spent a lot of time there with my children when they were younger. We loved exploring the area – climbing the hills, seeing what was left over from the settlers who used to live and mine there. Originally there were coal miners and later, sand miners. The coal was called black diamonds, and Black Diamond was also the original name of Pittsburg. I wish they had kept the name – it sounds a lot better than Pittsburg. Don’t you agree? Pittsburg was indeed the pits for us on many levels, though we managed to find a lot of good in that area during the five years we lived there.
My mother came to see me at the time I was moving in. Maybe she was helping me move – I honestly don’t remember why she was there. She rushed into my duplex apartment, white and shocked, wide eyed, telling me she’d just seen a drug deal go down on the corner in front of my new home. I think she was afraid the drug dealers were going to chase her down and kill her for seeing something.
Actually, the drug dealers in the neighborhood couldn’t care less. Everyone knew who they were and what they were doing there. The police department was practically across the street (kitty-cornerish and down the street a bit). The town’s methadone program was administered there, so all the heroin addicts that couldn’t afford their drug would show up early in the morning for a shot, then linger and loiter around the corner outside my window. A small corner market was across the street in one direction, and City Park was across the street in the other direction… a nice feature as there were three playgrounds in the park, to take the children to.
Here’s where we lived – right on the corner, across the street from the Parkside Market. Apparently the market is famous for meat, and that was kind of lost on me because I was vegetarian the entire time I lived there. Maybe more about that later in this blog, but not today.
That tree in the front yard of our duplex, the children named “Wea.” (wee-ah) When I moved in, both children came up with the name at the same time. I’m not sure how that happened! The name stuck. We called the tree, a poplar, “Wea” the entire time we lived there, five years, from December 1994 to November 1999.
I’d been there only a few weeks when the drive-by shooting happened. I was sitting in the back bedroom when five shots were fired, three of them hitting the front of our duplex, with bullet holes over and under the window. My son was sitting in the living room at the time, watching television. He could easily have been killed, but the Lord spared him, and spared us the grief. The window was not even broken though the bullet holes were only a few inches away from it.
Apparently someone had been angry at someone else and when the target person left the market and walked in front of our new home, the angry person drove by with a gun and shot at him.
You might think by now I’d be having second thoughts about living in this neighborhood! Indeed, I was, but I felt the Lord wanted me there, and I didn’t have any money for moving again. Money was tight in those years and it is a miracle I ever managed to gather enough to leave five years later.