Dreams Can Take You On Sentimental Journeys

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This week on the spur of the moment I drove To San Francisco.

It was one of those days when I was on my own; making up my own schedule, feeling relaxed, smiling at other drivers. Besides, I needed to go to Britex, the last outpost of quality yardage in the universe. 

It was a break in my routine, a break from the laptop and writing, from looking back.

I drove instinctively.

I had forgotten how it feels to just know a town like the back of your hand: to wheel by the touchstones of your life.

I parked at my favorite garage near Union Square and tripped down Stockton to Maiden Lane.

When I was a little girl each Wednesday I got out of school early to go to eye exercises downtown at Dr. Blanc’s, whose wife was his nurse.

At first my mother took me, but for some reason my grandmother (my dad’s mother) took over the duty. She would arrive at my grammar school with a perfect little half tuna sandwich, which I would eat on the drive downtown.

After an hour of sitting in a darkened room looking through a huge contraption with dual glass slide images of ornate cathedrals that eventually came into focus, my grandmother and I would make our rounds.

We’d walk to Maiden Lane to Britex and walk up to the notions floor to buy ribbon or snaps or new glittery buttons for her old pink housecoat.

Next stop: Robison’s Pet Store.

It’s the pet shop immortalized in the opening scene of the movie, “The Birds.” They had a wall of ornate white cages behind a thin chain hung like a velvet rope at a nightclub.

The staff would let you test drive kittens; play peek-a-boo with puppies. They stocked the rhinestone collars punk rockers preferred for bracelets.

Upstairs at Robison’s they stocked oodles of birds in floor to ceiling roosts. They had everything from jungle parrots that would outlive you to finches the size of your thumb. For a child it was pet-smell heaven.

After Robison’s we might head over to Blum’s bakery for toffee cake or the TWA office (an all glass Mad Men corner storefront) to buy a teeny-tiny flight bag filled with salt water taffy.

We wrapped up our afternoon downtown at our favorite watering hole, The Top of the Mark.

I don’t remember what my grandmother ordered, but I always ordered a Shirley Temple with maraschino cherries and a plastic monkey riding the lip — although I dreamed of the much rarer plastic giraffes.

My grandmother was almost too fancy to be a grandmother.

One day when I was very little, I was home alone playing on the green shag carpet. I was cutting paper and making little boxes with lids. I never cared for dolls. But give me some good construction paper, scissors and tape and I was a one kid carton manufacturer.

I looked up and there was grandmother, her shiny alligator pocketbook hanging from her wrist. She was so beautiful. Always dressed up with every curl in place; smelling of exotic perfume.

She asked me where my mother was.

I didn’t know.

It was a weekday and I was home earlier than my older brother who must have still been at school. My grandmother asked if I’d like to go to the park.

I don’t remember much about that day other than it was a nice treat to see my grandmother and that it was fun to leave the house and be by the museum, the old deYoung with the fish pond in front; the pair of gigantic lions watching the people.

And then we were back at the flat and the mood was black.

Where had we been my mother wanted to know and my grandmother wanted to know the same of my mother. That was none of my grandmother’s business, my mother said.

My mother said she could call the police. You can’t just take children for the day. You can if no one is watching the baby and you are the grandmother, my grandmother said.

Then it blurs.

When they were newlyweds my parents lived with my dad’s parents on Cole and Clayton streets. So, I have to believe my grandmother knew what she knew.

I can’t remember that last time I thought about my grandmother for a second, let alone the better part of a day. It was like my grandmother was in the car with me, at the counter buying ribbon.

Then I realized she might require a chapter in the book.

I was having a sentimental journey including flashbacks from Playland at the Beach, roof rides at the Emporium and my grandmothers fleeting appearances in my young life.

Newsflash: She tried to stick up for me and my brother.

Who knows where my mother was the day my grandmother kidnapped me. She left a five- or six-year-old alone, likely for an afternoon. She could have been drinking, out with a man, or just playing tennis.

A trip to the city, to my hometown, to the streets that were always wet with fog and riddled with snail tracks reminded me of the curious case of the baby Rayne kidnapping.

That’s when I realized that sentimental journeys are part of dreams — or should be.

When you finally knuckle down and focus on that goal you take all your experiences with you. That’s why you have to befriend your experiences, good or bad.

They comprise your story and make you who you are.

The bad parts can’t hurt you without your permission.

The good parts make you think.

I had plenty of gas, so I rolled through Golden Gate Park, past the tennis courts and the new DeYoung. I swung down Geary Blvd nearly missing a squirrelly cyclist darting in and out of traffic.

When I saw a parking space right in front of Bill’s on Clement I stopped for French fries and a coke.

Then I took a walk over to Wirth’s Bros. bakery on 23rd, now a Chinese bakery with Russian customers where I bought a perfectly awful cookie shaped like a rooster with the best hard icing that crackled when I bit it.

My brother used to put me on his bike handlebars and we’d ride over to buy a Danish wreath for breakfast.

I remembered Wirth’s from a kids perspective: my eyes level to the door knob; holding our dollars up as high as I could for the lady at the cash register.

I passed blocks of buildings whose windows have watched me grow up.

I cruised by the Russian church and remembered the day I sat on the curb watching them lift the glittering domes from a flatbed truck.

It was a sentimental journey, reminding me of the sights and smells, the brass doorknobs rubbed gold and the occasional two- by three-inch speakeasy windows carved into the fourth step of so many old lobby stairways.

Close up of a single brown eye looking at you through a peep hole.

It reminded me that someone in my family did see what was happening and did try in her own way to intervene.

It couldn’t have been much fun to show your son that his wife was untrustworthy.

Yes, a chapter for grandmother, I think.

I drove back across the bridge smiling.

I played hooky and wrote a column in my head.

All I had to do was type.

Rayne Wolfe’s dream is to write her first book Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter by the end of 2011. She completed her dream journey May of 2011 on 8WD after a year living her dream. You can find her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook.

  • Heather, CEO and serial entrepreneur

    Thanks for such an incredible story. I LOVE Britex! I never had the opportunity to explore it until I was an adult and a good friend introduced me to the many floors of splendor. Now every time I am in the city, a visit to Britex is on the list.

    I loved your sharing about the times with your Grandmother. I had an interesting experience with mine… mainly due to the toxic mom influence.

    Yeah – still working on my questionnaire for you!

    – Heather

  • Remy G

    “They comprise your story and make you who you are.
    The bad parts can’t hurt you without your permission.
    The good parts make you think” –

    Thank you for such an incredible reminder about life experiences.

    I’ve been thinking alot lately.

    xo Rem

    • Rayne

      Good! Keep thinking – then write!

  • Thank Goddess for Grandma’s. I loved my Gramma Pearl so much. Being the 4th kid, I missed out on some attention from Haze, so having Pearl in my life was awesome! I named my youngest daughter Perrie which is another name for Pearl. Thank you for reminding me how much I loved my Gramma Pearl.
    Blessings, Laurie

    • Rayne

      grandmothers rock! for the most part!

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    • Rayne

      SquirrelTV rocks!

  • Catherine, Site Admin

    I feel that I am right there with you.

    Love it – especially:

    “When you finally knuckle down and focus on that goal you take all your experiences with you. That’s why you have to befriend your experiences, good or bad.”

    So true.

    Your stories made me remember what Santa Rosa was like as a kid, with Pepper the downtown character and going to Rosenburgs to buy my brownie uniform.

    I love it when writers share how a story comes to them. Elizabeth Gilbert does this in her TED lecture – I don’t know if you have ever seen it. If not, I am sure you would love it and can appreciate her story on how some creatives hear from their muse-


    Just love your writing –


    • Rayne

      The thing I like about honoring our childhood memories by sharing stories is that when we put ourselves back there we are rewarded with moments of feeling like a kid with no responsibilities, no big worries, no heavy issues.

      • Catherine, Site Admin

        And how lucky to know that your grandmother was “on your side”. Hilary Clinton got all kinds of grief when she said “It takes a village (to raise our children)” but it’s so true.

        Somehow the world was trying to tell you in your situation that you mattered, by having people show up intermittently (like your police boyfriend) to let you know that you are worth being cared for.

        I can’t wait to read your book – and I get a signed copy! ;-)

        • Rayne

          You’ll definately get a signed copy. Child, please!