Saturday, April 10, 2010
Where is the One Place You Would Take a Newcomer?
Let's say your friend has just moved to Pasadena. You think Pasadena's pretty special and you want to your friend to know why. Of all the places you want them to see, where do you take them? You can only pick one place.
My great aunt and uncle had an answer to that question. Here's the story:
My great aunt and uncle, God rest their souls, were known for their unannounced visits. I remember as a kid watching their car pull up in front of our house and hearing my mom frantically announce, "Margaret and Allen are here," as she raced from room to room. They were wonderful people, their only apparent flaw being a resistance to calling ahead. Drove my mom nuts.
And so, when Marcia and I married and moved to Pasadena, it was ordained that one day (we knew not when) Margaret and Allen would come visiting. Sure enough, not long after we moved here, they showed up on our doorstep.
The visit was unannounced, but not without reason. My great aunt and uncle had an agenda. There was something they wanted us to see. Something very special.
They knew a few things about Pasadena. My aunt had grown up here and, after they got married in the 1930's, she and my uncle settled here. They raised their family here and my uncle worked as an accountant. Later in life they moved on to another city. But, they still had fond memories of Pasadena. They were excited we had moved to their old hometown and there was something they wanted us to know about our new home.
So, after obligatory pleasantries about our super-fixer bungalow, my uncle said, "Let's take a drive." The four of us got in the car (elderly couple in the front seat and the young couple in the back) and we were off. My uncle mentioned the name of the place we were going and asked if we'd ever been there. Not only had we never been there, we hadn't even heard of the place. "Well, this place is beautiful," my uncle said. "You just have to see it."
Now, Pasadena has a lot of great places. Maybe more than any city its size, Pasadena can boast of historical landmarks, architectural gems, famous institutions. There are the grand public buildings, magnificent mansions, tree lined streets, museums, colleges, the Rose Bowl and the list goes on and on.
But, we weren't going to any of these.
Instead, my uncle drove north out of town. He went up Lake Avenue all the way to the end of the road, then left on Loma Alta. From there he turned onto Chaney Trail and drove us up a steep narrow road along a sparse hillside into the mountains.
Finally, the road dipped into a cool green canyon. We had come to the end of the road and the end of the mystery. We were at Millard Canyon.
Margaret and Allen were too old by then to get out and walk up the trail. So, my uncle parked the car looking toward the stream and trail. Marcia and I listened as the elder couple reminisced. They talked about the stream and the falls and the many times they came to the canyon. They talked about how fortunate we were to have such a beautiful place so close to Pasadena.
In all their decades of living in the city, the place they most remembered and most cherished was actually outside the city limits. It was Millard Canyon. That's the special place they wanted us to know about. They had driven over an hour, gambling we'd be home, to show us the canyon.
After the drive to Millard Canyon, my great aunt and uncle had accomplished their mission. They drove us back to our house, dropped us off and were gone. I don't remember any more about their visit other than the mention of Mijares as a good restaurant.
That visit took place more than twenty years ago. Since then we've often been back to Millard Canyon. Before kids and after kids, we've hiked along the stream to the waterfall countless times. For his fifth birthday, my son and I camped there at the small campground. It is truly a remarkable spot.
I am grateful to my great aunt and uncle for sharing their canyon with us. But, beautiful as it is, Millard Canyon is not the first place I would take a newcomer. That special place is, of course, East of Allen. I'll get to that in my next post.