* Editor’s note: Marion is taking the day off. She is repeating this column — her first as an Enterprise writer in 1996 — in honor of Maggie Schimmel, who died recently at age 95. Maggie is not named in the column, but she is the grandmother who offered wise words at Patwin Elementary School. Maggie moved from Davis in 2003 and spent her last years living near her daughter in Oregon.
Recently, my husband suggested moving. Not right away, he assured me, not while our kids are in school, not even when they go to college, but maybe after he retires 20 years from now.
He thinks it might be fun to live either in the city of his childhood (San Francisco) or in the kind of countryside we both love (near a river, just about anywhere).
No longer pliable about following a man, I gave him a firm “no.”
But it was my willingness to follow a man that got me to Davis in the first place.
I had been in graduate school in the Midwest, seriously dating a man with a military obligation. He was called to duty at McClellan Air Force Base in June 1974, and I followed two months later.
I moved into his apartment, kicked off my shoes and started through the want ads. It’s hard to imagine how my life would be different had I placed first, rather than second, in the running for a job as executive secretary to the director of the California Association of Funeral Directors.
The day after I lost out on that position (and since I still harbored illusions about finishing my dissertation), I took a break and drove to Davis looking for a university library.
I won’t say it was love at first sight, exactly, but I will say that driving through that crazy underpass toward downtown I felt a pleasant respite from the traffic lights and concrete of housing near McClellan Air Force Base.
What was then called the UC Davis Women’s Center was located on the corner of campus closest to the underpass, so I stopped there first.
Only a few minutes later, I found myself sniffling in the office of a kind person who understood that moving to a new place is one of life’s under-recognized emotional land mines.
I didn’t make it to the library that day, but I did consult the job list and soon began commuting here, 40 minutes each way, to work as a secretary/editor in the medical school.
When Jerry and I broke up, the move to Davis was as inevitable as the tears, and I landed in Portage Bay Apartments, which are still home to many single people.
I met my future husband, Bob, in the hot tub and have been circulating in Davis ever since.
Davis is neither as cosmopolitan (San Francisco) nor as beautiful (river) as I would like, but it has become home. My closest friends are here, as well as many acquaintances, and if I open the phone book to any page, I will know somebody.
At Safeway, some of the checkers can say my name without peeking at my check. And when I wait in line at the Holiday Cinema, at least one person who walks out of the early show will know me well enough to tell me if I need tissues. I like that.
So I began marshaling arguments to convince Bob we should stay in Davis, until about a month ago, when something happened.
I was at Patwin Elementary School, perched on a child-sized chair at a loud, festive luncheon in my son’s classroom. While my son fetched me a cookie, I chatted with a white-haired grandmother who was sitting next to me, and she told she had moved to Davis from Iowa, where she and her husband had farmed and lived in the same small town since childhood.
“I’ve been in Davis two years,” she said. “I’m happy here now.”
“But how could you leave home,” I asked her, “after all that time?”
“I thought I never would,” she replied. “All of our friends were in Iowa. I told my children out west I’d never move.” She looked at me with warm blue eyes. “Are you sure you want to hear the truth about this?”
I nodded and, of course, she sighed and spoke of loss. Friends who died, traditions gone, infirmities that made old age hard going in the snow.
In Davis I won’t have to worry about snow.
But my friends, like hers, are mostly of my own generation. We’ll die around the same time, and if somehow I’m the one who outlives others, I may feel again as lonely as I did that day I came through the underpass and found refuge at the Women’s Center.
So it may not be forever, Davis, but for now, I hold you close.
I think that’s where this column begins.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org