Saturday night with Ojai Ranch House date nut bread (If you think you’ve changed, go visit your parents)

Last night I felt the edge of solitude turn into Saturday night loneliness. The room that looks so bright and inviting when the sunlight pours in looked dim and dismal. The motivation to write seemed sucked out of me. I decided I needed human company and a change of scenery, so I went to visit my parents.
My good intentions ended up in my revisiting an old fight with my father.
When I arrived, the living room curtains were closed but the lights were on, so I knew they were up. I went around back and stood on a chair so I could look through the kitchen window into the rest of the house and spy on them. I could see my mom dozing in her easy chair. A wave of nostalgia rose up in me. Someday, maybe soon, I’ll look at that chair that she practically lives in and she won’t be there. And by then my dad, too, will likely be gone.
So I go back around to the front of the house and knock loudly on the window, right by where she’s sitting. “Who is it?” my mother exclaims, pulling back the curtain. “Oh, it’s Suzan! Do you need a place to spend the night?” she asks, laughing. She leans into her walker, hoists herself upright, and opens the door.
The scene is always the same. My dark-brown Indonesian dad, wearing his faded checkered robe, is lying back in his easy chair at the far end of the room, reading a Louis L’Amour Western novel or a book about Armageddon or heaven. My pale-white Dutch mom sits in her chair near the front door reading one of her Spanish books or the same pages of a National Geographic magazine over and over again. They are both so thin—each probably under a hundred pounds. And the more skeletal they turn, the more they delight in joking that I’m gaining weight again.
All goes well for the first half hour. I sit on the floor in front of my mom’s chair in various yoga poses and entertain her with excerpts from National Geographic and jokes about life. My dad loves it when I amuse her so he can read uninterrupted.Then he puts down his book and asks if I know what’s happening with the Golden State Water buyout. His water bill on his Pauline Street property is over $200. This innocent conversation about the water bill slowly trickles into dangerous political ground. My old Republican dad starts going on and on about how Ojai doesn’t need any more low-income housing, how people on HUD are taking advantage of the system, how the Hispanic population is taking over because they don’t use birth control, how his property taxes just keep going up and up because of government aid to all these lazy people, and “Why should I pay more taxes when I no longer have children going to school?”
And suddenly the adolescent in me that ran away from home at age sixteen can’t take it any more. I point out that my dad’s youngest daughter, the apple of his eye, the one who can do no wrong, has five children. She didn’t use birth control, so why is he pointing the finger at others who have more children than they can afford? I also point out that his grandchildren and great grandchildren go to public school, and that the government is helping to support the baby born to my youngest sister’s teenage daughter.Raising my voice, I say, “But Dad, what if you hadn’t helped Paula build a house? What if you didn’t subsidize her rent? What if you hadn’t supported her for all these years? Not everyone has parents to help them . . . “It’s like talking to a rock. All my arguments that it benefits  society as a whole to make sure everyone has adequate housing and food fall on deaf ears.
He says, “Suzan, I want you to promise that when you go to those city meetings you won’t be sentimental. You need to keep an open mind and think rationally. When I came to this country I never asked the government for any help. I worked hard and took care of my own.”We’ve had this same fight a thousand times. I know it’s a hopeless altercation, but it’s all so unfair and infuriating the way my dad supports my youngest sister, all the while raging against government handouts and blatantly insisting, “I love all my daughters equally.”

1956. A Diets-Vermeer family photo taken in Den Haag, Holland, a few months before destiny brought us to Ojai, California,  the land of sunshine and orange orchards

1956. A Diets-Vermeer family photo taken in Den Haag, Holland, a few months before destiny brought us to Ojai, California, the land of sunshine and orange orchards

We yell back and forth for a few more minutes, just like old times. As Ram Dass or some other hip spiritual teacher has said, “If you think you’ve changed, go visit your parents.”Finally I regain my wits and lean over to kiss my father on his forehead. “Dad,” I say, “I love you. Let’s just agree to disagree.”
Then I go to the kitchen, open the fridge, and cut myself three thick slices of Ranch House date nut bread. I swipe three slices of Havarti cheese for my dogs, who are waiting in my borrowed car because my dictator dad doesn’t allow them in the house. I rummage in the cupboard and swipe a can of Trader Joe’s unsalted tuna for my cats. I wrap it all up and stuff everything in my coat pocket. I hug my mom goodbye and bolt into the night. When I open the car door, the dogs are overjoyed about the cheese. Before driving off, I unwrap one of the slices of date nut bread, and laugh as I see how pathetic I am and how little it takes to console me.


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3 Responses to “Saturday night with Ojai Ranch House date nut bread (If you think you’ve changed, go visit your parents)”

  1. Tom Erickson Says:

    I thought I was gonna read about a date at the Ranch House, you tease! Nice vignette. I could totally relate! And I seem to remember Alan Connell, and meeting Paula, when they first lived in that house on Pauline. I may even have fone some work there!


  2. Lisa Vermeer-Pluimers Says:

    Lieve Suza, wat heb je dat mooi beschreven. Ik zag het helemaal voor me. Ik was weer even in Ojai, bij de zus van Jan en zijn zwager. En alles zo herkenbaar, de reactie van je moeder en van René. En je weet het zelf ook wel, je vadere verandert niet en jij ook niet. Mooi dat je met een lach weer naar huis kon, met je lieve honden. Op zo’n moment denk ik, was ik maar wat dichterbij, dan zou ik met jou meegaan.


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