I talk a lot about Chicago. And now I'm going to talk about Whittier.
I moved to Whittier, California when I was almost 4 years old. My dad had tired of working the sub-zeroes in the Chicago railyards and moved us west so he could work for Amtrak.
We arrived after Christmas. Bought cereal and plastic bowls from the local Alpha-Beta supermarket and camped out in the living room of our brand new home. I still remember the coziness of that night. We were together, and that was all that mattered.
Whittier is in Los Angeles County. About a 15 minute freeway ride to downtown Los Angeles. It is known for Richard Nixon (he was raised here and played football at Whittier College), the Quakers, and Whittier's namesake, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
It has been home to my family for 30+ years now--and it is the place to which I return between jaunts to (and even years in) Chicago.
Whittier is beautiful. Like many places, it has its seedy areas. When I taught public school here, though the school was situated amongst the picturesque-ness of historic "Uptown Whittier" (with Whittier College and the beautifully-quaint homes), we were also a stone's throw away from low-income apartment complexes and WIC offices and alleys with children from single-parent homes. Many of my students came from such homes. It was rare to see a mother and father come in together for a parent conference. But the students' spirit often prevailed.
Whittier is, in many areas, a working class town. Factories, businesses, trailer homes, immigrants. It is also "Friendly Hills" and manicured lawns and academia and art.
To me, Whittier is the feeling of home. Yes, Chicago is also the feeling of home. Chicago and I are forever intertwined. It is where I took my first breath and the place where my immigrant grandparents decided to plant new roots. It is a life force for me--unlike any other. It is forever part of me. But the other forever part of me is this place to which I have grown so accustomed and which I have grown to love with a new appreciation. I do not tire of the winding path past Rose Hills (the largest cemetery in the world--replete with its own family of deer, who often adorn the landscape as you cruise by). I do not tire of the charm and history that envelops me as I drive down Painter Avenue and head to or from Uptown. And how could I ever tire of driving past Pioneer High School, which always reminds me of the inimitable friendships which were either formed there or long before and which endure to this day. These friendships are the threads known as Lisa and Luz and Joyce and Ericka and Monica and Jennifer and Tony and Luz Maria and many more and they form a beautiful tapestry. I've covered myself with it for most of my life. Yes, Whittier is about people.
I may travel far and wide and yes, to my beloved Chicago...and I am tremendously blessed to have a Whittier to which to return. Just as Chicago is not only about the What but about the Who, so my Whittier is truly about the Who. Because there's no beauty in the What without the Who.
So this is my small-yet-sincere homage to Whittier. And to those who truly make it beautiful.
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