“You are not going to believe this place,” Daddy announced, jumping back into our van after a first glimpse of our new digs here in San Francisco. We were all more than a bit bleary eyed after a six-hour flight from New York, the weary wait at baggage, and a chilly “Airtrain” zip across San Francisco Airport in pursuit of our rental car.
From my perch in the van’s passenger seat, peering into the California twilight, I could see a line of city garages to my right and a view out in front to a roller coaster of a hill. So far, the city seemed to me another New York, only pleated, accordion-style, in folds of impossible steepness. Behind me, our intrepid junior travelers slept, whined, laughed, exclaimed and chattered in turns, creating a din that was simultaneously pleasant and menacing.
Being at last in San Francisco, California seemed surreal somehow. The plan for our Family Odyssey had been in the works for the better part of a year, but it was one of those things that always seemed as if it would get canceled at the last minute. Sure, I talked about going, looked forward to it even, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I couldn’t really picture us going through with a cross country trip, particularly in light of my recently acquired “fear of flying.”* How would I ever have the nerve to put all seven of my precious eggs in one basket 30,000 feet off the ground?
But Daddy was determined to make it happen, arranging for plane tickets, not to mention the largest van in the San Francisco Airport. [When we picked up the keys, the woman behind the desk smiled and told him they had never rented one of those to anyone before, and as we left, the man in the kiosk outside laughed outright and said he had never seen a van so large drive out of the lot.] Dad's office had handled the housing end of things, providing us a lodging in the heart of the city, and we were not quite sure what to expect. From the look on Daddy’s face after his quick walk through, I could see the place more than met with his approval.
We hoisted babies and bags up a curving set of concrete steps, straining our eyes on the landing to find more wooden stairs and the most breathtaking Victorian townhouse imaginable. Beautiful as it was, I could not help feeling a bit like an intruder, particularly as we passed through two tall sets of doors and into a gracious hallway with a full bridal staircase such as I have seen only in photographs of historic homes. To the right and flanked by rich burgundy-tasseled draperies, the meticulously decorated parlor seemed at once to beckon with its beauty, yet cry out “Halt! I am fragile as an eggshell and precious as a diamond!”
“Honey?” I asked, a bit dazed by the unexpected grandeur and looking about for velvet ropes before entering, “Are you sure we are in the right place?”
Agnes and Theresa were elated to find themselves in such inspiring new surroundings. “This is exactly like something out of a book,” Agnes marveled, spinning around to drink it all in. Theresa added an avid, “I feel like one of The Penderwicks!” Five-year-old Patrick, just waking up from a heavy, drive-induced sleep, with neither an eye for decorating nor reverence for venerable history, cried out in a voice to match his twisted expression, “This place is scary!”
In the advancing gloom of evening and with only a few dim bulbs burning here and there, the assorted Grecian busts, cyclops-eyed peacock feathers, and elaborately curlicued piano did take on an eeriness of sorts, like some long abandoned movie set or a Wilkie Collins thriller come to life. Still, Patrick’s exclamation—far from creating an “Emperor’s New Clothes” moment for the rest of us--met with hushes and emphatic assurances that he “would love it,” along with a few indignant Patrick-how-can-you-say-that’s thrown in by the girls for good measure. Tired as he was, our boy was not to be moved from his considered opinion and kept muttering at intervals, “I want to go home. This is somebody else’s house.” Only seven-year-old Marie, with a thoughtful thumb thrust discreetly into her mouth, seemed to shudder in tacit agreement.
Within half an hour of this grand entry, we were all sleeping soundly--most of us, it must be admitted, still fully dressed, and not caring a wit for pajamas or any other convention that would need to be hunted out of bags or backpacks. There would be time to explore and unpack in the morning.
[There is a point to all of this, but rather than create a post too long for busy mothers to read—or for this busy mother to write--I’ll continue as soon as I find another free moment. Hopefully, it will be soon!]
* So real is my fear of flying that I posted “The Anima Christi” here the morning of our flight with the thought that it would be a fitting “final” Cottage Blessings post just in case! It seems so silly to me now, but I was truly nervous the morning of June 1st.