Yesterday I visited Sacramento for the first time since last Fall. The place looked beautiful—lush, green, tree-topped, finished, glistening. Flowers abounding. It is such a beautiful place. It was a brief visit, and it happened to fall on the very day that an old neighbor had died, that very morning. Grant Morgan. I learned about Grant’s death while I was there, in fact. Grant and Helen had moved into the Woodlake neighborhood just weeks before our family had moved there, back in 1955. After Mom died in April 2017, only Helen and Grant were left from the old days. Virtually every other house had changed owners many times over.
Grant had been a plumber, a man of specialized skill. My paternal grandfather was also a plumber, so I felt some kinship. But Grant was also a poet, and left behind a fairly good-sized “oeuvre” (ironic word for him) of poems. His poems included odes to neighbors; the old part of Sacramento where he and Helen had grown up, met in high school, and settled for life; family tragedies; dogs. I grew up with the Morgans, and their first son Ron and I were the same age, and attended the same public high school. Ron married his high school sweetheart, Alice. The tradition had carried on through the generations. When Ron died from cancer three years ago, I presided at the memorial service and burial. The Morgans were sort of fallen away Methodists, but we were part of an ecumenical neighborhood where such things didn’t matter. Catholics were in the minority. I could do a funeral, and so we did it.
When I was ordained back in 1992, Grant went fishing and caught a big beautiful salmon in the Sacramento River. He had it flayed beautifully and it was to be served up for the party in Sacramento. Predictably enough, it was a hot June day and somehow the fish spoiled in the heat. My brother David, who worked at the Hyatt, had the kitchen prepare a fresh salmon, which is the one that went on display. Grant beamed before it, ever so proud. Dave never breathed a word of the matter, except to me. He loved Grant too much to tell him the truth.
I drove over to Helen’s house and knocked on her door. She came to the door, and we hugged. Her eyes were red, but she seemed characteristically strong, dignified. She loves me like a son. And I love being inside that house. Much like the old Crowley house across the street, it’s virtually unchanged since 1955, except that the trees are now giants. It even smells the same as it ever did. I can’t explain it: how could this be? But it is.
Returning to the car, I espied a new neighbor, Hannah, one half of the couple to whom I’d sold the old house, She was driving by. We flagged her down and she stopped. She is so young, possibly a little younger than Mom was when she first saw the house and said she would never leave it. Hannah works at Friendship Park, which is part of the Loaves and Fishes ministry to the homeless, located less than two miles from Woodlake. Her husband Jesse works for a non-profit agency, Mercy Housing. It turns out that we have many friends in common, especially Sisters of Mercy. It was nothing less than providential that these were the two who found a new home in our place. I asked if she was happy. She threw back her head, laughed, and exclaimed, “Oh, yes, yes, we are!”
What a poignantly beautiful hour in the old neighborhood: saying good-bye to Grant, witnessing the glow of new life taking root. I returned to the Bay Area with a tinge of sadness, but also consolation, and much to ponder.