Judith Lautner (judith) wrote,
Judith Lautner

When is a place not a place?

My family - sisters and nieces, actually - is currently discussing whether to keep property our father owned in Three Rivers. I am torn about its meaning to me.

The property is on the Kaweah River, not far from the entrance to Sequoia National Park. My father and stepmother Elizabeth bought the property many years ago and in the 1970s purchased two prefab fibreglas domes to put on top of a wooden deck that overlooks the river. My father designed it, including an outdoor bathroom on the deck between the two domes. One dome held the kitchen and living areas, the other the bedroom and bath.

The extended family spent a lot of holidays here, even before the domes were installed. Thanksgiving mainly, sometimes Easter, sometimes other days. In its heyday all of us in California would get there, with our families, and would either sleep in the living dome (my father and Elizabeth, and later his third wife Francisca, always slept in the bedroom dome) or in nearby motels.

It is a beautiful location and we usually enjoyed the river in one way or another. The water comes down off the mountains, snow melting, so it is never hot, and in the thick of summer heat the river is especially welcome. Sometimes my father and Francisca would fish in it. We always made treks to the nearby candy store, a destination in its own right, and later came to investigate some other unique Three Rivers sites, like the doll store and the museum. On our Thanksgiving jaunts we almost always took one day to go to Sequoia in my father's German bus, a Setra, outfitted to be a diesel-powered, compact RV, or in some other large vehicle.

I think most of us enjoyed these various things about the site. We also, to some extent, enjoyed each other. I liked chatting with my brother Mike and my sister Mary. My children and Mike's children got along very well together. In fact, it was on one of these trips to the town, before the deck and domes were established, when we all stayed in a group of cabins in 3R, when my daughter Elaine and Mike's daughter Michelle first met. I think Elaine was three and Michelle four. It was instant connection. Perhaps they recognized some sort of family thing inside each other. More likely they saw that they were both girls, close to the same age, and they both liked to play.

It wasn't all roses, of course. I had worked with my father for several years and knew that my best bet was to stay off topics about which we disagreed. I therefore filtered my conversations with him so that we stayed "safe". There were times, too, when my father was irritated at whatever the various children were doing. I came to the conclusion that he didn't "get" children until they were about 12.  And there were times various arguments would erupt among us.

In a way I suppose we were like a lot of families. Even so I remember a lot of these times with a great deal of mixed emotions. Even tension. It was good to head out on a walk with a sister or with daughters and to talk on the way. I enjoyed meeting everyone for a big breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Yet I can remember just wanting to be alone much of the time. It's the recluse in me.

And so now I think of how I would see the various options for this property. I would like to have the property available for me and only secondarily for large family gatherings. Sometimes I went up there alone and loved my time. I wrote in the journal my father kept there, telling about what I was doing and what was going right and what was broken. I think these times are more of a treasure to me than were the times when we were all stepping around each other.

The domes are in serious disrepair and the deck is so bad it may fall into the river. The first question to answer is whether to keep the domes or dismantle them. The deck was starting to have troubles while my father was alive, and he made sketches of a replacement deck. I just found those sketches the other day, in my storage building (from when my sister Karol and I cleared a lot of valuable items from the inside of the domes). The second question is whether to keep the property at all.

And I don't even know where I stand. Is it the place or is it the memories? If it's the place, what about it? Is it important because it's beautiful or because of some family connection? Is it important at all?

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