Last week I did something I haven't done in over ten years. I went back home. Home, for most of my childhood, was Simi Valley, CA. To many people Simi Valley is the place where Ronald Reagan chose to put his presidential library and where Air Force One now resides. It is where Rodney King's assailants were found not guilty which resulted in riots in Los Angeles and questions about racial equality being raised across the country . But to me, Simi Valley is the place where I used to spend my days playing with my best friends in my neighborhood, collecting walnuts in the field across the street, riding my bike up a canyon looking for the place where Little House on the Prairie was filmed and watching my brother play baseball at the park. Back then, you had to go to "the Valley" to go to the mall and people on the other side of the hill in LA thought we all lived on farms and had horses. I wish. Instead Simi Valley was the picture of suburbia and even though the population was near 100,000 it had a small town feeling that is increasingly hard to find in Southern California. On my trip I realized two important things, some things change but some things still say the same.
I knew I wanted to take the kids to a park that I used to love as a child. I could have taken them to Tapo Park which used to have a water play area and a zip line but I knew the things I remembered were long gone. The concrete bowl with a sprinkler spraying from its base that we used to ride our bikes through had been replaced by a safer , softer, splash area and the zip line was taken down years ago after one too many kids broke a bone trying to do something crazy off of it.
I ended up taking the kids to Santa Susana Park. It was located right across the street from where my brother had baseball games and I used to love it for three reasons: #1 The railroad tracks where we used to put pennies and the wait for the trains to smash them #2 The merry-go-round we used to love spinning ourselves sick on and #3 the giant boulders I used to love climbing on. Well the railroad tracks were still there but a large retaining wall kept children from climbing up and sticking pennies on the tracks and the metal merry-go-round was replaced by a much safer plastic Little Tikes play structure. Luckily, nobody could remove those boulders in the name of safety!
It isn't that I am against safety. I just think our culture has gone a little far in the world of plastic play structures and rubberized floors. Those merry-go-rounds were fun and we all managed to survive their existence! Anyhow, the park was even prettier than I remembered it and my kids loved climbing up those rocks just as much as I did.
I just had to take the kids across the street to the baseball field. It is such a cool little park and holds alot of memories of me playing amongst the boulders and oak trees behind the field.
From the park I drove past my high school which looked exactly the same except for some new paint. Empty fields were almost completely filled in with subdivisions. The produce farm on Alamo Street was now a Kohl's. The canyon back where Little House in the Prairie was filmed now had a golf course running up the middle of it. Here is a picture of what used to be the walnut orchard across the street from my neighborhood.
I bet the people living in those houses don't realize a little girl used to love picking walnuts and pretending she was Laura Ingalls where they now watch American Idol on their 42 inch flat panel LCD television while sitting comfortably on their Pottery Barn couch. Just. A little. Bitter.
Finally we down the street I grew up on. It was alot smaller than I remembered. Actually everything about Simi Valley was alot smaller than I remembered. I guess the world is bigger when you are growing up. Distances seem longer and neighborhoods feel larger. It really was a cute little street. Nothing fancy. Just a bunch of starter homes in a cookie cutter neighborhood painted a rainbow of colors in Edward Scissorhands fashion. They are still kept up with pride and filled with mothers and fathers trying to make good lives for their children.
Our house looks pretty much the same as we left it minus a large tree in the front yard that my brother and I used to love swinging from. It looks as though the new owners have put in a new garage door and the driveway is now some sort of stamped concrete but the window box where my parents stored water balloons in anticipation of catching friends toilet papering our house in the middle of the night is still there. I wonder if the new owners have as much fun....
Now Simi Valley has its very own mall and there are fewer empty lots for children to live out their Old West dreams but the same small town feeling is still there. I guess sometimes you can go home. Even if its just for the afternoon.