Point Loma

Tuna fishing brought them to San Diego. Portuguese immigrant families caught tuna in the ocean and made homes on a peninsula called Point Loma that dangles south into the Pacific like an elephant’s trunk.

The Point is hard to get to by land, requiring lots of motoring on streets that run at strange angles as you work your way south, and I did that last weekend to pick up my daughter Sophie at a friend’s house after a sleepover. It was a two-story modern-style house with a view of the ocean. Pretty cool to tell the truth.

Point Loma, San Diego.

Point Loma, San Diego.

The mom of my daughter’s friend is a Portuguese-American woman called Jessica. She grew up within blocks of where she now lives. Her dad was the captain of a tuna boat and her world was filled with family. She had forty first cousins who could visit on foot or by bike. They were always around.

Her daughter Stella is a classmate of Sophie, and on a Friday they all went to the Festa do Espirito Sancto, an annual Catholic festival and march that wends its way to the Portuguese church, St. Agnes. Sophie told me she and Stella won the cakewalk, and there was a endless stream of friends and relatives coming up to Stella to say hello and ask her stuff.

When I grew up my family was my mom, my dad and my brother. Aside from pets, that was it. I had an extended family, of course, but it was at least two states and hundreds of miles away. Maybe being surrounded by family has its drawbacks. Everyone in the family knows your business. And what if half your family are fools and deadbeats?

I have been reading books by Richard Russo, most recently Nobody’s Fool. The author grew up in a dying industrial town called Gloversville, New York that sounds a lot like the Upstate New York city my father grew up in.

Russo left Gloversville. I hear he now lives on the coast of Maine. But he writes about the people who stayed. The people in his books stayed near their families and the people they went to high school with, even if that meant working a crummy job and everyone knowing your business.

I was like Russo. I left the small town in Iowa where I grew up. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get out. But even if I had stayed I wouldn’t have been surrounded by family because my dad was an itinerant academic (Grinnell, Iowa is a college town) who went where the job was, not where family was. Maybe chasing jobs in strange places runs in my family.

I can’t see a San Diego Portuguese like Jessica doing that. Jessica has black hair and a pretty face that seems to always smile. I see that as she talks to me in front of her house with the flat span of the Pacific in the distance, and I can’t picture her anywhere else.

Jessica talks about her eldest daughter and her three grandchildren living in Goshen, Indiana like it’s something she still can’t wrap her head around. It’s such a small town, she says, and the weather is so cold.

I’m not surrounded by cousins but my niece lives here now, I’m raising my kids in San Diego and my parents have lived here nearly as long as I have. For me, I guess that’s enough to make it feel like home.

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