TAPES FROM CALIFORNIA, a memoir, is an interpretation of a 6-month hostelling/ hitchhiking road adventure embarked upon by two teenage girls across the West Coast of Canada and the Southwestern United States between February and August 1976. Using journals to reconstruct her story, author Jill C. Nelson faithfully captures the innocence of their journey, experienced during the less restrictive, unfettered era that defined the 1970s decade. TAPES FROM CALIFORNIA is available now.
View of Mt. Baker, Washington, from Aldegrove, B.C.
is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – Saint
Francis de Sales
Awakening Easter morning,
I peered through the bedroom blinds. The sky was a dull grey, no sunshine in
the forecast. Despite the dismal weather, claiming her mm had a surprise, Yvette
up, dressed, and encouraged
us to do the same. Hidden inside of cupboards, next to books and between boxes
of Crispy Crunch cereal were dozens of chocolate Easter eggs
wrapped in coloured foil;
a caring touch by Jean who rightly assumed we might be feeling homesick. After
we finished gathering
up the eggs, Yvette’s mom
cooked us a hearty blueberry pancake breakfast. Around four, sisters, Louise
and Linda accompanied by Linda’s husband and their three children, congregated
around the living room in anticipation
of a traditional Easter dinner. Somewhere within the commotion,
older brother called to apologize.
Luke would be arrivinglate.
The past several weeks, Jan and I’d heard many stories about
Luke – all of them good. Whenever
that happens, you wonder if a person can actually fulfill expectations. In
my mind, I’d manufactured some Adonis-like
human being with a six foot wing span. In this
scenario, big brother
did not disappoint. Arriving minutes before dinner, standing at a little over
six feet tall,
peering down from a pair ofheart-stopping
baby blues and wavy, chestnut brown hair floating past his shoulders, Yvette’s
sexy, older brother easily lived up to the hype. One momentary look, and it was easy
to understand why Luke drew people to him like shit
sticks to a blanket –
Once introductions were over,
we took our seats at the table set for twelve. Supplemented by the appropriate trimmings, Jean had prepared a spectacular turkey feast.
In the midst of serving trays
and casseroles dishes containing turkey, almond stuffing, scalloped potatoes, broccoli,
squash, cranberries and rolls passed in conveyor belt-like fashion down the
table, Luke absorbed some
from his parents for his unconventional lifestyle. Currently staying with friends nearby, a Jack-of-all-tradesman, Luke
took on whatever work he could, dividing his time between Victoria, Saskatoon,
and Mexico. For a fraction of what it would cost to settle in a major city, Luke’s
dream was to live in the country permanently.The way he explained it, seemed
Despite fine-looking features, soulful
blue eyes and liberal philosophies, what struck me most about Yvette’s older
brother was his gentle deportment.
At times, exchanges between parents and son were
prickly. Staring down my plate, I listened alert asLuke softly deferred to Jan and
me as unsuspecting
allies, suggesting that our presence at the family table might help improve
what he’d perceived his parents’ questionable opinion of their only
The back and forth had reminded
me of squabbles
between Chris and my parents around the Sunday evening dinner table not many
years before. Heated arguments
about my brother’s hair
length, his unsuitable
and what they sawas a rebellious nature
in general. According to Luke, Jan and I were doing the same thing he was,
bucking conformity, trying to find a sustainable way to keep our heads afloat.
Refraining from caving to societal traditions and parental expectations.
I hadn’t thought of it that way before, yet when Luke
had said it, it sounded sensible. Sane. Then again, every utterance from Yvette’s
big brother’s princely mouth seemed reasonable. Much to their mom and dad’s dread, Luke pointed out, even his
kid sisterwas an example of non-compliance.
After all, Yvette had both feet planted firmly in her big brother’s shadow.
After a time, somebody cracked a joke and people
moved on to lighter dialogue. You got the impression this was the family norm. Relieved the conversation hadn’t spiraled
into obtuse remarks or hostility – I’d noted that although members of Yvette’s family did not
unanimously agree,they were civil and
respectful of one another.
Levity deflected beautifully. The absence of
alcohol might have had something to do with it.
Dishes magically cleared away. While Jean
served homemade coconut cream pie and Nanaimo barseverybody milled about. Announcing he’d be returning shortly
to his friend Mandy’s place in Langley, Luke asked Louise if she’d give him a
lift. Prior to our trip to Aldergrove, it had been decided that Louise, who lived with her husband in
Vancouver, would drop Jan and me off at the Y on her way home. From there, we’d take the bus back out to Betsy’s
for one last night before departing with Walter and company next morning.
When the time came, it was tough bidding Yvette yet
another goodbye. Tears welling, the three of us made a firm promise to meet up in Banff that
summer. Thoughtfully, Yvette wrapped up the remaining Nanaimo
bars for us to take on the road.
Mandy’s country home
was a small, yet pretty, older house. Outmoded fixtures and a wood burning stove
absorbed much of the main living area. Joined by her husband and young son,
Mandy was moving to Hawaii and selling off several pieces of furniture. Looking
over some of Mandy’s tables, Louise purchased two items for
her apartment. When we
about ready to leave, off the cuff,Lukemade a proposal. Though careful not
to commit, after our return from California in a few months, he might consider
driving Jan and me to Alberta.
I didn’t care if Luke’s offer was
in vain and would never materialize.
Gesturing affirmatively, I concurred. “That could