Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Mysterious Flame of Highland Valley Road

As I slowly work through the novels of Umberto Eco, I find myself on the cusp of finishing The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, still enthralled with the adventures of Yambo rediscovering his past after succumbing to retrograde amnesia.

Most of the book takes place at the summer house of his youth in a small town named Solara (in Northern Italy, though there are two towns named Solara, both very close to one another). There in the attic, the scenery, the books on his shelf, he encounters his past, attempting to piece together his lost past.  It occurred to me, about halfway into the book, that Yambo's experience was much like my own, and I'm thought about it sometime, meaning to get thoughts to paper.

After my parents split up, I spent my weekends at my father's ranch house in North County San Diego. It was rather isolated, literally atop a mountain named after an incident during the Mexican-American War, when Mexican Forces attempted to starve a portion of the US Army. I spent most of my weekends learning every inch of the 12 acres my father owned, which was not particularly awful. There was plenty of fruit available for casual consumption, which was convenient, because my father (at the time, he's a lot better now) was a stingy bastard and wouldn't buy us food (or clothing, or toys, or bedding, or anything else). Given that my father was a farmer and local seller at a farmers market, I'm sure he considered it a tax write off.

My father in his 20's (I think)

My father, even to this day, remains an enigma to me. Most, if not all, information I've learned about him has been via secondhand resources (friends, family, and various documents). And much like Yambo, I spent the days at the ranch house either combing the countryside for interesting things to discover, or searching through his personal effects, hoping to glean any information I could on this mysterious person that was my father.

The garage was most interesting, full of bric-a-brac. Newspapers, chemicals, car parts, bike parts, dusty old books and magazines, furniture, and amazing booze (of which I did not partake) could be found in the heap. And even though I have hazy memories of my childhood when my parents were together, the many portions of that house I grew up in were ever changing. My father was attempting to remodel the house for most of my life, replacing the porch with a master bedroom and leaving the upstairs carpet-less for at least 10 years. But despite the slow changes, I was able to glean a few things...


  • My dad had almost 20 years worth of National Geographic collected and meticulously organized. I would spend most of my time looking at the pictures inside. Discovering that some had natives in the nude would fuel an early addiction to pornography. 
  • My dad was a cinephile, and had a wide array of films (both good and bad). When the first DVD players were available, my dad purchased one, along with a $6,000 widescreen TV (rated at 480p). At around the same time, my mom was asking for help for the cost of my braces. My dad said they were too expensive. 
  • My dad had a plethora of maps. Detailed, topographical maps of San Diego County, Hawaii, and others that came with his National Geographic subscription. 
  • My dad was a collector of antiques. He once used a 100 year old apple press to make apple juice on the sly to sell at the farmers market. (Probably breaking numerous health violations in the process.) What's more amusing was the intoxicating stench of alcohol produced, as the rinds fermented on the hill beside our house. 
  • My dad had a large safe. It was ancient, not unlike those seen being broken into by bandits in westerns. I knew he used it for collecting coins. Every once and a while I would see him depositing new valuables, recently purchased from California Numismatic Funding off of East Vista Way. 
  • My dad had a storage unit, which was once a large camping trailer beside his watering meter up the hill. Inside was all kinds of things, including a vintage pool table. When he sold it to my aunt, she once told me in passing that the rubber cushions were the original ones from when the pool table was manufactured in the late 1800s. 
  • My dad preferred to keep his wares in mint condition. His VHS tapes often still had the plastic wrap covering the paper containers, preserved by cutting slits around the bottoms of the tapes. 
Today, unlike Yambo's eventual recovery of his faculties (via a stroke), I still know very little about my dad. I wish I did. The house was sold in 2005 or 2006, I can't remember when exactly...

I hated that place. I hated every minute I spent there, so much so that when my cousins from Germany moved stateside I would spend most of my high school years there, leaving my poor brother to fend for himself alone. Incidentally, the house was burned down during the Witch Creek Fire in 2007, when I was away at UCSB for my Freshman year. It wasn't until a year or two later that I revisited the orchard to find my father's orchard in ruins. The subsequent tenant let the property go to waste, and what was left was destroyed. 

Life is funny like that, isn't it?

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