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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some chocolate cake & help celebrate a landmark moment in my life.
** Linger to peruse some diary entries of a girl on her gap year.
** Savor a last ½ cup smiling over a dream come true.
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All my bags are packed
I’m ready to go. I’m standing here
outside your door. I hate to wake up to
But the dawn is breaking…
lyrics by John Denver
Slice of Cake:
Forty years ago this week, I left my home town of Vacaville for San Francisco.
Off to the big city.
Off to job-hunt, to become a vegetarian, to begin my adult life.
In a way it sounds so ordinary: My mom helping me move into my sister’s house.
But I felt wildly independent. I knew I was starting on an adventure.
I remember reaching the Merchant Street I-80 on-ramp and thinking:
This is it. This is real. I’m on my way.
A lot of clichés, I guess.
But I’ve never forgotten that moment or that feeling.
Happy Anniversary to me
for 40 years of being a grown-up!
Been thinking this week about gap year—my year off between high school and college—which I spent working, saving money, and dreaming about my future.
I started the year in San Francisco. I lived with my sister Patricia and her family, I worked two part-time jobs, and I started a new diary, writing in a blank book with a plaid cover.
My journal helped me think about the changes that came with
becoming an adult.
I was working toward my dream, and my dream was college.
The following are a few excerpts from my journal:
Sept 23, 1979 San Francisco
Today I wandered around a bit on Geary Street, shopping for stationery and candy. All the good things in life.
Old people are often so eager to talk with me. A small smile when we meet eyes is enough to set them off—talking of children or dogs or cheese on sale.
Then there’s the characters on the bus: the disc jockey in overalls trying to get to the university radio studio; the overly-made-up woman who “didn’t usually take the bus.” (What was that she was carrying? — a rug?)
All these brief encounters—they’re so unusual for me. From Vacaville I’m used to seeing the same people, knowing that chances are good I’ll run into them again. People here well up and submerge, disappearing back into obscurity. The city’s secrets.
Walking around the Inner Sunset today I had strong feelings of freedom and, well, pride knowing I am supporting myself. Full of energy, enjoying the feeling of self-earned money in my wallet.
I am still enjoying my time spent alone—even would rather spend it that way; I can poke around unquestioned. The facts are, though, that I hardly have a friend here. I could get awfully lonely awfully fast.
I think the two most inescapable fact of independence are: decisions and change.
Today my father sent me a check for $20. I’m surprised and pleased. Last week’s could have been from Mom’s naggings, but this second one he sent on his own.
In here I don’t always write what I’d planned to… But in writing I’d discover too much of what was hidden truth, so I’d keep writing.
I was about to tell myself to lighten up, but I just realized that I spent most of my day trying to decide whether to buy a straw hat or a new cotton skirt. (God love me.)
I see a lot of opportunity with the Harvest Moon job, also a good sense of achievement because it’s difficult.
I love the fog. I love the grey-greyness of it. It gives a feeling of space, of infinity to the city. The long, slow hums of the fog horns are made surrealistic by the ticking clock and the warm room. The sound of rain makes me appreciate the roof—reminds me of my gratitude for all I have here.
And now I’m on a staircase; I am no longer where I was, nor yet where I will be. Both places demand my thoughts but the stairway itself, though steadily passing, is also worthy of thought. This book—as it is, and not completely defined—is the journal of my passage on this staircase.
Friday I bought a dresser at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. It was from the sale of an elderly man’s estate. It, like my contact lens, was bought with my own hard-earned money and I’m proud of them, of my independence.
Life is so damn fascinating. I’m going through such a renaissance.
A fire brightly converses
But rudely I
I hear instead
the long, low hums
of fog horns far away.
in a lullaby of waves
pulls the fog up
© KJH Sept 30, 1979
I was sick a while and I credit it partly to nerves. I am now running around around, having to make major decisions, dealing with people all day—while all summer I had a babysitting job where I sat around and yelled at kids. Time really has passed.
Love isn’t a word to toss around, but it’s too important to use too conservatively. I’ll always remember Manuel writing that he’d never said it to anyone. That, to me, is terrible.
I’ve never actually cried over a book before, but I did tonight.
Maybe I’m too sentimental now. I used to be not sentimental enough.
A week from today I turn eighteen. Hurray for birthdays!
I didn’t realize that I really do miss Mom until Patricia said that the person we heard on the stairs was probably her… I was so disappointed when it wasn’t. Maybe it will be this weekend I get to go home.
Eighteen. When I think over the last couple of years, I have to feel—despite a lot of pain and mistakes and dishonesty—that life is rich. Love is so strongly woven into my life and my outlook that I cannot be afraid of change—that’s what enabled me to come here to be adventurous.
It’s very late. I just totally cleaned the kitchen and dining room minus the floors. Every dish, though, is washed and the counters are clean. (I am my mother’s daughter.)
Other news tid-bits: I wrote two letters to Vacaville friends and got my niece a birthday present—now I have to mail it.
I called home tonight and it’s set that I’ll go to Vacaville a week from today.
I’ve been here a month, as of yesterday. The thing is, I haven’t saved any money yet. Although, I have been self-sufficient except for the ten dollars Katherine lent me (which I will pay back this week) and a small debt to Mom. I have had help from Dad ($60 – I got a third check yesterday). I think I’ve done well. My next paycheck from Harvest Moon should be rather large, so I’ll be able to start saving soon.
I have no more thoughts, I guess. Fog horns tonight.
Yesterday I wrote to my friend Manuel—and got to tell the whole story about what I’ve been doing.
So I’m 18. Enough on that subject.
Tomorrow I go home. I’m going to make an effort to relax and enjoy the visit. I love everyone. The more I think about it, the more there is to look forward to.
The birthday cake from my bosses at Petrini’s bakery was so sweet of them to do.
I ran into my co-worker Robin and we walked home through Golden Gate Park. I hope I never forget that trumpet player at the end of the tunnel; the way his silhouette looked, among the short, bare trees and benches of the museum plaza at twilight.
Here’s a poem I keep seeing on buses. I like it so much. The full mind is magnificent.
by Richard Eberhart
Nothing is so magnificent
As the full mind, stored with summers,
With age approaching,
The sun standing over the horizon,
Wonders yet unknown, love not refusing.
The world all a visionary
Guess, unspent clarity.
Oct 19, 1979 Vacaville
I walked over to Vaca High for lunchtime with everyone…The bell to end lunch rang really soon.
I walked to Katherine’s house and sat on her porch and pet her cat Mikey, waiting for my eye appointment. Father Jim happened by and said he was on his way to the post office and the bank. I needed to go to the bank too. (Only in Vacaville can you say the bank—even though there’s more than one, they’re all within a block of each other.) I walked with him and, at his invitation, we stopped and had dessert at the frozen yogurt shop.
My eye doctor gave me an A-OK: clean contacts, everything great; we also got to gossip a while, which I always enjoy. I walked home on the old familiar route and stopped by Lois’ house just for a minute, interrupting her doing her homework.
In the evening I talked with Mom, walked with my sister Mary, sang with brother Steve.
I sat around into the night (but not too late) just rocking, thinking. Finally to bed.
Oct 22 back in SF
A high point from Friday’s party in Vacaville was Mary and Tim’s dueling piano pieces. Having Janet around was really helpful—I’m so grateful to have a friend from Vacaville who’s living in San Francisco too.
I’m glad to be home now. Mom brought me back to SF on Saturday, after a slow morning and a good breakfast.
It’s interesting to me that I wrote about
‘going home’ (meaning Vacaville) for my birthday—then
when the weekend was over I wrote:
‘I’m glad I’m home’ (meaning San Francisco).
Music brings up vague restless feelings. I’m a little lonely, I guess. Again.
All this aloneness: It’s a bit romantic and I believe doing me more good than harm.
I’m growing up, kids.
I’m thinking about looking for a third job. I need more hours than I’m getting.
I knew there’d be a morning like this.
Far away, in thoughts of home,
This day was in my mind.
© KJH Oct 25, 1979
Once again it is evening—I pull out my bed, kick off my shoes, sip some tea and prepare to set my thoughts.
I definitely turn on the gab with some people, while others not. That bus driver did hit on a pet subject when he mentioned school. But the same old story is sometimes a drag to re-tell, whereas tonight it flowed easily.
I’m feeling a cramp of space. Also, time. I won’t be living here two months from now. Everything has to be decided so soon: Oregon, the holidays, the trip south. Plus all the phone calls add up to what? More damn money.
I really wanted a letter today and none came.
As of yesterday I’m working seven days a week. Tuesdays I work both jobs. I’m glad, though.
Days fly by so quickly.
I think I’ll look back on this year and think of the freedom. Sleep on a bed I pull out of a couch. Long mornings with breakfast and reading the newspaper. Babies lying on my bed. If only a letter would come…
I really enjoy having a skill. A big reason that cooking at Harvest Moon is so much fun is that I know I’m doing something well that’s not easy or quickly taught. The bakery job is an ego boost in another way, with compliments spoken and unspoken.
Not much to say these days. I work a lot.
I’d really like to go to Vacaville tonight… break up the monotony.
Nov 12 Vacaville
The old complaint of Vacaville, yes, is true: There is nothing to “do.” The complete richness of friends and family makes up for it, though. People to sing with, to laugh with, to hug, to flirt with, to talk and listen to about everything or nothing, to watch a movie with, to toss a disc with. And, of course, to dance with.
I like the feeling that I had a day off so I hopped on a bus and came home to lounge about for a while. It’s nice. It puts everything in the right perspective.
I’m restless. I want some new thoughts, new situations, new information. I’m dying to take independence further. I want to move on, become more. I want a place of my own…
Such a patchwork of ideas! A series of rambles. Impatiently I pace from subject to subject. No comfort tonight.
There is an endless fascination in how daily things, things you can see so clearly now, will become pieces of memory. I can see many such once-daily things fading before my mind’s eye, just as I know today’s have a similar fate.
I just really work a lot. And that’s good—the money’s good, in the bank. All the growth and awareness is good. I just wonder… what am I really working towards?
With the vacation, card-writing, gift shopping, tree-buying, the feeling of this Christmas has certainly come.
I feel if I pick up my pen tonight it will be many hours before I set it down again…
There are so many books I have to read. I’m hoping for a lot of chances to read in Oregon.
Being a little sister has influenced me. I can ride easily on the edge of the scene, let myself blend in because of years of tagging along. It’s why I’m a listener mainly. (But am I really?) I’m not above fighting for attention—I grew up in a big family. So being a little sister made me easy going, with a big need for love and attention. And with an inclination to be a ‘ham.’ Humor, yes, but also some major defenses. That’s a lot of ‘everybodys’ when you’re being laughed at. My mom both indulged my sensitivities and encouraged my independence.
While I’ve been here in San Francisco:
September was looking for work, October was a spending spree because I felt so independent and was high on all that new freedom. November was a solid month of working every day and sending my paychecks to the savings account. Now with Christmas I’m back to spending money.
Right after work on Friday, Janet and I took the streetcar to the beach. The ocean is such a refresher. I walked quickly home from Cole Valley in the fading evening light (abendsonnenschein). I warmed up with a bath, put on my brown skirt, and Janet and I went out to the Folk Music Club, which is an unbelievable place. Also ran into Josie (freaked her out).
I’ve known Josie since we
walked to school together in 2nd grade.
Later my sister Patricia and I went upstairs to visit a neighbor and had some coffee, which is most likely, I have to admit, why I’m awake right now (4:00 am).
I don’t know why I so often want to save good times as if in a bottle. I love weekends that are so busy, varied, and active that a couple of days seem like a week. I just want to remember them, I guess. I’m so aware of my good fortune. I don’t take happy times for granted.
I feel strong tonight—I always do when I am pulling myself away from a situation, gathering myself into myself. Again. And I can feel myself moving toward something new.
I like to do things on the spur-of-the-moment, I like spending a lot of time hanging around, and I’ve a lot of laziness. I don’t always keep these facts in mind as I make plans, thereby always running behind schedule. I tend to surround myself with events and persons and I become distracted easily.
Another thing. I say “sure, fine” a bit too carelessly and overestimate other people’s elasticity. The real point is I underestimate time and other factors in an unrealistic, therefore irresponsible manner.
I love the feeling of freedom; I’m pressured too easily and too often. I think I need to really be alone a while. Again and again, I’m itching for a place of my own.
Oh but tonight my heart can be light. The sadness—if not dissipated—has gathered itself into an identifiable shape that can be walked away from.
And so I do.
There is hope coming: Christmas and the best of life in the city, relaxation in the week at home with old friends newly-grown and filled with things to share; the trip south—but that’s too far away to be real tonight.
Dec 25 San Francisco
A very nice Christmas.
Time is becoming precious and filled as I’m getting geared up for the move.
I like not having been “tee-veed” in so long. (Two things I hope I never get into again: high heels and television.)
Dec 28 Vacaville
I’m so sad to leave San Francisco behind. So much potential, so much to look to. There were friends there and I loved my two jobs, despite all.
I don’t know. This town is getting me down. These visits trying to pull together something that can never be whole again. So frustrating.
Jan 2, 1980
My stay in Vacaville has been up and down, and somewhat extreme in both directions.
I said good bye to my sister Patricia. Said, ‘thank you for the home.’
Add to this a general homeless state, a frustrating search for my financial aid forms, and too little time spent alone with a close friend and it ends up a fairly straining trip home.
The two Christmases (in SF and the one with all the family in Vacaville) were very nice and New Year’s Eve party at Janet’s was very nice.
Jan 4 unexpectedly still in Vacaville
As I wind down this winding day, I can’t help but be comforted by the warmth of the town and my friends.
I think I like the feeling that I don’t know what I’m going to do next. Suddenly, I have time, space, and an exciting dash of uncertainty (i.e. potential).
I’ve had such a lovely time with Lois these past few days. It’s really been a good rest, lounging around—it’s given my independence a rest.
This is a time of life that some people never experience: The time when you see your decisions directly affecting your life and you have no other responsibilities than those to yourself.
Jan 12, 1980
So tomorrow I’ll start my trip—first to Cal Poly, surrounded by new people, with so much to see and absorb. This stay is one of the most basic, close-to-what’s-vital facets of my year. This is the school of my future, my ultimate destination of the year.
Talking to Carlyn on the phone certainly put me at ease—I feel really good about next year, and about staying with her at Cal Poly, and much better about the rest of the trip south.
So with that under my belt—fighting apprehension on the way—I start this mid-year adventure.
“Half Cup More”
My ‘mid-year adventure south’ was visiting 3 colleges, and
staying in friends’ dorm rooms.
That spring, I lived and worked in Oregon.
Then, in September, my dream of college came true.
Here are some of the last entries of this diary:
September 10, 1980
College college. I’m really going, it’s happening, it’s real.
October 3, 1980
I should say something auspicious, like: Here I am at college
after working for it so long…
I must have spent Spring Break in Vacaville that year because
the diary ends with this one last—and very short—entry:
March 5, 1981
There is nothing nicer than a clean room, an old journal,
and Simon and Garfunkel on the stereo.
I’m sitting in the railway station
Got a ticket to my destination…
lyrics by Paul Simon
Thank you for reading!
— Kelly J Hardesty
Scroll down to the end—and you can leave me note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.
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© Kelly J Hardesty 2023
2 thoughts on “Leaving Home”
I loved this one, getting a peak at your gap year (which I very much mirrored in some ways).
Did you edit your journals at all? The thing I don’t like about reading my old journals is how damned enthused I was about everything. Way too many exclamation marks and underlined words. You seem like a calmer 18 year old. Unless I’ve been duped by editing. Love you so much.
Thank you, Elle!
Yes, I did edit. Especially, I left out heaps of angsting about boys—with and without exclamation points.
So, no, not always a calm 18-year-old!