The Bitter Taste of Santa Barbara is an excerpt from Jigsaw Puzzle in a Vortex: A Collection of Memoirs by Aurora M Lewis
In 1957, my grandfather purchased a new cream-and sherbet-orange-colored Ford station wagon. With the larger car, he decided it would be a good time for the entire family to go on vacation. He selected Santa Barbara, California, as our vacation spot. On this trip were my grandparents and aunt, my parents, my younger brother, myself, uncle, his wife and their two small sons, one of whom was a baby less than three months old.
Unlike vacations to Yosemite where my grandparents camped in tent-like cabins, my grandfather located a resort in Santa Barbara, close to the beach, that had log cabins. He mailed a check, reserving three cabins to accommodate the family. I was seven years old and for weeks my aunt, who was five years older, and I were giddy with anticipation. I had never been on any of the Yosemite vacations; although my mother had been asked, she declined because she often had carsickness. The thought of staying in a cabin was like something I had seen on the Spin and Marty Show, a segment of the Micky Mouse Club.
The logistics of all of us gathering together and making the trip had its obstacles. My grandmother had to drive to a different area in Los Angeles to pick up my mother, brother, and me. My father was a Los Angeles County Sheriff, and he was to meet up with us at the resort after he got off from work that evening. My uncle and his family lived a few miles away from my grandparents, in Compton. During the day, my grandmother made and packed an abundance of sandwiches, potato salad, chips, cookies, and other treats for the trip. Once we arrived at our destination, her plan was to get groceries from a local market and prepare our meals at the resort.
It took us longer than my grandparents thought for us to get on our way, and it was starting to get dark. Los Angeles is about ninety-five miles from Santa Barbara; today it would a little over an hour and half. In 1957, it felt like an eternity, stopping for gas, and eating our dinner in the car along the side of the road. I was too excited to take a nap and chattered endlessly with my aunt. Most of the trip was along streets in various cities we passed through. There weren’t as many freeways in 1957 as we have now. We did some traveling on the Pacific Coast Highway that runs along the coast.
Finally, at what felt like midnight we reached our destination. I could see a row of cabins behind some trees across the road from where we parked. We met up with my uncle and his family in their red and black Ford Fairlane. My grandfather thought my father would be along soon. He went alone to the registration desk to get our keys. To his surprise, he was told they didn’t have any cabins, even though my grandfather made prior arrangements and had a written confirmation he received in the mail. The white man at the desk gave my grandfather cash to cover the amount of the check. I remember my grandfather told my grandmother how rude the man was, tossing the money on the desk counter.
We waited for my father, who arrived shortly. He was still dressed in his sheriff’s uniform and my grandfather thought perhaps my father would have some influence on the man at the resort desk. My grandfather and father went back to the resort. My uncle stayed with the women and children sitting in the cars. However, my father had no impact on this man at the desk. My father and grandfather said the man told them he didn’t care if my father was a sheriff, they didn’t have any cabins for “You people!”
The men in my family were educated, my father and uncle were veterans of the Korean War, and all held good jobs. My grandfather was a maintenance engineer with the California Department Finance Division of Buildings and Grounds. My uncle worked on airplanes for Northrop as he had been in the Air Force, and as I have already stated, my father was a Los Angeles County sheriff, one of the first of five Blacks; before that he was a hospital orderly. I know the men in my family had more intelligence than the racist at the desk.
My grandfather had no intentions of making the long drive back home, he still wanted us to have our vacation. After some thought it was decided we’d drive along the coast and perhaps find a place to stay. We came to a beach where we could camp, which was legal back then. I was afraid of sleeping on the beach that night after hearing the adults discuss the white man who was so hateful back at the resort.
About the author
Aurora M. Lewis is a Black woman, who retired from the Finance Industry. She has been writing since she was a pre-teen. She became serious about her writing and in her late fifties, she received a Certificate in Creative Writing General Studies with Honors from UCLA. Her poems, short stories, and nonfiction have been accepted by; The Literary Hatchet, Jerry Jazz Musician, Gemini Magazine, Persimmon Tree Magazine, The Blue Nib, Flash Fiction Magazine, and other publications including several anthologies. Aurora won two contests and was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and The Best of the Web. Her newest book is Jigsaw Puzzle in a Vortex (A Collection of Memoirs). Her first book, Jazz Poems, Reflections on a Broken Heart.
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