While attending our annual AAML national meetings in Chicago in early November, we watched as my hometown of Paradise, California burned to the ground in mere hours. My 80-something parents lost everything. My sister’s, Christine, family saw their home singed but spared. They were all blessed to have been invited to evacuate to the home of generous friends in nearby Durham.
We moved to Paradise in 1970, when I was eight years old. My Dad, a lawman, and my Mom, an elementary school teacher, moved in the “back to nature” era to get out of the smog and drugs then invading Orange County.
Our folks were encouraged by their college friends who bought a ranch near Chico on the Sacramento River. It was a ballsy move, but thousands joined them. Real estate was cheap. The financial stakes were relatively low, and the lifestyle rewards were high.
Dad bought a Ford Bronco, a 12-gauge shotgun, a deer rifle and an array of rods and reels. We hunted pheasant, ducks and sage grouse, and we fished for salmon and trout. My birthday, September 1, began dove season. The night before, Dad and I would camp on the Sacramento River, then start shooting our limits at daybreak.
Chris and I had so many friends. We joined the swim team (“Paradise Piranhas”), went to Sunday School and dove into school activities. She sang in the sextet and became a cheerleader. I played varsity football (“Paradise Bobcats”), made the basketball team and ran track. She played flute and I played trombone in the school band.
I joined Cub Scouts, with Mom as our Den Mother. I eventually became an Eagle Scout, with Dad as our Scout Master. My buddies and I hunted for Indian arrowheads in Butte Creek Canyon. We still know where the gold rests in Little Butte Creek.
In the winters, we learned to ski at Mount Lassen with our friends, through the Parks and Rec Department. We had “snow days,” where the schools closed because the school buses could not get through. One Christmas, we enjoyed a dump of four feet. Our visiting grandparents got “snowed-in” with us!
Paradise kept growing. It was always, though, the kind of place where I could have friends of all types. I enjoyed them all. Many were living with grandparents or single moms, escaping abusive situations elsewhere. Many were dirt poor; a few were rich.
I left for UC Davis in 1981, eager to leave small town life for bigger things. Davis might as well have been New York City to me at the time!
Our folks moved to a nicer new home on the Feather River Canyon. They cherished the views from their deck. They told us of the foxes, bears, mountain lions and turkeys that roamed the property. They settled into their retirement rhythm.
After moving to the 805, I enjoyed regularly “coming home.” Our kids grew up visiting “grandma and grandpa” throughout the year.
Our strong family ties will ensure that my folks are comfortable and safe, no matter where this transition might take them. In the meantime, I mourn the loss of our sweet town. We deeply and sincerely thank all our friends and colleagues who have reached out in so many ways. Our own thoughts and prayers go out to all the other victims of the nearer Southern California fires.
HLG recommends the North Valley Community Foundation as a responsible organization toward serving Paradise’s first responders and evacuees: nvcf.org.