Jeana, After The Earthquake
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My story is based on my grandmother who was in the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.
She was sent to a tent city with her family as well as many others.
There she encountered a prize-fighter who later became her husband and won a ranch in the Napa Valley.
I live on this cattle ranch that has been in my family for 100 years.
The story is part of my book TOLL that is being agented.
Yesterday I was a student; I couldn't wait to graduate from the sixth grade.
Yesterday we read a story about a beautiful garden.
Yesterday San Francisco was like a beautiful garden, today it is not.
Now I see before me confusion and sorrow as families escape their houses and cross the streets with their belongings.
Yesterday San Francisco was lush and beautiful.
Today the garden is made of dirt and ash, shaken by an earthquake that made the hills tremble and burned by the fires that swept through the ruins.
"Almost there Mama," I say, "Don't give up Mama."
We've been walking for hours, dragging a heavy trunk filled with the few belongings we managed to salvage from our collapsed home.
My feet burn as if I've walked barefoot on hot coals. My arms and shoulders no longer simply ache; they pulse with pain.
When we arrived at Washington Park, we saw a makeshift arrangement of tents, tables, benches and chairs.
Then I recognise my friend Gabriela, hurrying towards me through the jumble of belongings. We embrace.
Under our feet, each grass blade seems to quiver.
Gabriela kisses my cheek, then tells me about Matelena.
She was buried under a beam, her brother tried to lift the heavy plank. Their family scattered all over the neighbourhood looking for someone who could rescue her.
As Matelena's brother raced to the fire station, a looter found his way into the house.
He took a pearl ring from her finger, the one passed on to the women of her family for four generations, and then he left.
"I heard it first-hand from her brother," Gabriela says. "See him?"
Matelena's brother unloads barrels of water from the back of a tank wagon.
"Where is Matelena now?" I ask.
"The firemen took her to the infirmary; we should visit her tomorrow. Promise you'll ask your Mama?"
Gabriela brushes a windblown strand of hair from her face.
"Papa says we cannot leave the park until then, there are too many looters. He'll go with us."
We embrace each other and then part.
Mama sits on a wicker card chair. She stares into her hands; her eyes have purple bags under them.
She puts up her feet on the trunk that holds our belongings.
Her small ankles are swollen, so I take off her boots.
She wears Papa's boots stuffed with rags at the toe and heel. I rub her toes; they are cracked and dry.
"I wish I had a little mastic for my rheumatism." she says.
Sitting beside her is Mrs. Ciprini who is swathed in furs. She wears tortoiseshell glasses and a fancy hat with an exotic bird on top.
"I have some right here." Mrs. Ciprini says. She fumbles inside her big leather purse. Mrs. Ciprini has always brought Mama focaccia each morning.
Mrs. Ciprini's husband is a baker and makes the best focaccia in North Beach. He bakes it in big black ovens shipped from Genoa. He wraps the focaccia in white butcher paper and ties the packages with twine that he cuts with his teeth.
Mrs. Ciprini moistens her face with a little flask of olive oil, her lips are as red as stewed tomatoes.
She has a jewelled necklace around her throat, and her hands are adorned with many rings.
I think of Matelena, her body trapped beneath a beam, lying helpless as the pearl ring she cherished is removed from her finger.
I am jerky on the inside. My stomach growls both small and hard.
I watch the smoke rising over the rubble, wafting high into the blue sky, taking with it the beauty of San Francisco.
I wonder if it will grow again, springing from the rubble like flowers from thawing ground.
I wonder if I'll ever see its beauty again.
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