California Coming Home
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California Coming Home

The California of which I write is that of someone who has kicked around there for forty years. That is different from being rooted there. When I returned East from my first long sojourn on the West Coast, I found a home in Washington, DC, because it was full of rootless young people, like the one I had become. I had no history there. I moved on again, but when I returned to Washington as a Jesuit of the Maryland Province, I had joined a family that had oral memories of the “War of Northern Aggression” and that visited cemeteries other than Arlington. Having lived in California for a half dozen years and many summers over the past forty years, being related by marriage and adoption to California families, I too have visited some cemeteries here, something tourists to Big Sur or Disneyland do not do. California is a country unto itself. The California of the universities and technological laboratories is not the California of immigrant agricultural workers. And last summer the Italians in the parish where I worked in Monterey were more like the Perry Como Italians of the town where I was raised in New Jersey than anyone I have encountered elsewhere in forty years. One always runs the risk of “cultural tourism,” and I must ask indulgence of the aborigines. [End Page 44]

For better and worse, California has long been “America’s America.” I hope there is some helpful light in the things I have known in the Golden State.

1. The Summers of Love: Beyond Good and Evil

The summer of love was 1967, when Haight Ashbury happened. The next summer was the summer of revolution—1968. That summer I was working at a factory in the Rhineland in Germany. And the following year, 1969, was the summer of Woodstock. Of those years, I recall Wordsworth’s lines: “Bliss it was to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.”

I had chosen Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts—over other schools like Georgetown—because in true New England fashion, it had the Jesuit cemetery at the center of the campus. I was a student at Holy Cross College when I first came to California in the summer of 1969.

It was a magic place, the ultimate magical place in the magical year. The magic had been broadcast, worldwide, for over a decade. When you watch old movies or hear old radio programs, they are generally set in New York (with references to New England) or the Midwest. The accents of formal radio speech were decidedly upper-crust New York, like Franklin Roosevelt’s. But by the 1960s, Hollywood was no longer portraying the ideal life as that of the East or Midwest. After the flight to the suburbs, and the move West of many returned servicemen, California emerged as the ultimate American place. Even the Dodgers left my hometown of Brooklyn for the promised land of California.

New York was certainly not cool, as it was burning in racial riots along with a dozen other industrial cities. In the summers of the late 1960s, the summers of love, the eyes of the nation turned to San Francisco, and the explosion of the post-War dreams of a generation. California produced the films and, more importantly, the music that expressed the spirit of California with its suburban style, its [End Page 45] surfers, the flowers, the metallic blue skies that became the defining style of America. It was the place of youth, of hopped-up blonde surfers and their “California girls.” It was a different sound from that of the 50s, neither Frank Sinatra nor Elvis Presley. Nor yet was it “Motown,” the music of Detroit with its driving passions from the black soul. It was a clean-cut, all-American sound. Music, say Plato and Confucius, forms the soul, and the soul of my generation was formed in the studios of California.

Before long hair it was the world of the crew cut. This had been the America portrayed to the nation in shows like Leave It to Beaver, and My Three Sons. Then, as...