“There are places I remember/All my life/Though some have changed/Some forever, not for better/Some have gone, and some remain…”

I am three years old and visiting my Grandpa Don Matics at the Island Market on Balboa Island. I am looking at a comic book while he looks over the produce of his store, once his parents’ store, and later my father’s and uncle’s store. My mom and I take the ferry across the bay that day, the ferry my dad used to pilot when he was in college. My mom used to take him dinner on that ferry and talk through the night, before they were married.

I am six years old and visiting my Grandma and Grandpa Yoder at the Newport Beach house on Christmas Eve, also along that same bay. My cousin Jed and I sing Silent Night in front of the Christmas tree.

I am nine years old, and my dad takes me to work with him at the Island Grill, next to the store, in the Matics building. We grill burgers, dip chocolate covered frozen bananas, and sizzle up fries all day. We eat lunch on the seawall along the bayfront, in the spot where Grandpa Don eats his lunch almost every day. I love working the restaurant with my dad. My great-grandparents once worked a restaurant out of the same place.

My dad and I take a bike ride around the bay once when I am young. When we move from Yorba Linda to Temecula, I bring my new friend to the beach, and I am tumbled by the biggest wave I ever boarded. There are barbecues of kabobs on the patio of Grandpa Yoder’s house. My cousin Beth, the first of all of us to be married, has her bachelorette celebration on the island. Years go by, and I have my babies. Katie gets to meet Grandpa Don, barely. She has three years with Grandpa Yoder. Eric has three months. Katie and Eric play in the Matics building and sit on the seawall and ride the ferry to the Fun Zone. The Matics-Lambert-Horne Family sells the Matics building. The Yoders keep the house, and I visit once, but then two years go by.

The connection to this place of two of my three grandfathers dwindles to memory. I regret the loss for my children of knowing this bay, beach, and island the way I have known it. I regret the distance they will have from this piece of their family history, if a sense of history is partly determined by place. Our family has been part of this place for five generations; the last time I ever saw Grandpa Don, he was telling me stories about the people, it seemed, in nearly every house or business on the bay.

Within a month of selling the Matics building last year, MLH sells the family avocado grove in rural Valley Center. The places of my childhood—our childhood, with my cousins—are gone from us. There is mourning. Can my children ever be anchored to these places of their history?

The history is not all rosy. The island represents years of hard work and long hours for many members of my family. I remember my dad, in particular, in the ’80s. I am not sure I ever knew a harder worker. In the summers, he must have been on his feet for over twelve hours a day, every day. I know there were times he wanted out, but he gave his every bit of energy to the larger family and for his young and growing family. I am not sure the island was a vacation spot for him, the way it was for all of us in the next generation. I am sure it wasn’t. Like the Yoders, the Matics family built everything they had from the ground up, through hard work, through the entire efforts of their bodies and minds. I often feel that my generation reaps so much of the benefit without having to experience the back-breaking: no matter how hard we might work, and we do, we aren’t doing what my grandparents and great-grandparents did and building ourselves from nothing. Knowing that is enough to keep me working as hard as I can every day at what I do, while still knowing I will never quite reach the standard set before me.

So Newport Beach and Balboa Island have been translated from one generation to the next. The way I read those places is not the same way my dad reads them. When he was growing up, he had a little fishing boat. To ever imagine owning any other kind of boat would have been met with faces aghast from my great-grandparents and grandparents. Maticses just don’t do that: spending money on luxury items and taking time away from working to cruise around. Did I mention before that we like to be setting goals and working almost constantly? We do. It’s an obsession with us, and a heritage of which I am very proud.

When my dad and mom bought a boat a few weeks ago, it was a chance to translate the beach and bay one more time for the next generation. Katie and Eric will not know the place the way their great-great grandparents knew it, or their great-grandparents, or even their grandparents, or even the way I knew it. Almost all that was tradition, from people to places, are out of our reach now. The people have passed, the building is gone. The Yoder house still remains, and it is almost appointed exactly as it was when my Grandpa Yoder passed. For now, my parents have been able to dock their boat at his dock. Walking in on this sunny morning and taking in the familiar scent of that house and seeing my kiddos’ pictures just the way they were as a newborn and at 3-years-old made me mourn again for times that are far past now. I missed not only my grandfather, but my cousin’s ex-wife with whom I am no longer in contact, and all the times we used to bring our toddler girls there to visit him and play on the floor by his bed in the family room. Even though it looked so much the same, I found that the unchanged state only underscored to me the necessity of adaptation and acceptance of an evolving narrative. We have to be willing to imagine old places in new ways and to acknowledge that it is the act of constant change and, yes, loss that keep our narrative moving forward. It was a sad, but revelatory, moment for me.

My dad and I have talked much about how different will be Katie and Eric’s connection to, and memories of, the bay. This fifth generation is going to have such a unique experience here. Newport Beach and Balboa Island will be only a place of play, for them. It almost boggles my imagination to think so, but coming at this from an English lit major’s point of view I will say that this is our opportunity to reinvent/translate/reimagine this place in a completely new way. I am excited to be along for the ride, frankly, although I did nothing to earn it. My great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents earned this luxury, and I am profoundly grateful to all of them for letting me be part of it.

And today? Today we played:


My mom and Katie are ready for adventures on Open Gate


Eric takes a selfie


It was a beautiful day to cruise on the bayliner


Looking for seals (we found some sunning on a buoy)


Looking at the old Matics building by the ferry…so much history there, so very much…


I loved driving this boat. Loved it. The speed on the open water is thrilling! And yet also, strangely, meditative… I could be content driving a boat for hours.


Someone else loved driving the boat with Boppa, too. This little guy was SO excited this morning when he woke up. It’s boating day!


We were all screaming and cheering with delight at ripping over the ocean. This boat goes FAST!


Excited for speed!

So, yeah: remember how I mentioned my wanderlust in the mountains? It applies to oceans, too. Our intention today was to give the kiddos an introductory boating experience: cruise the bay, go out into open water for about thirty minutes, come back in, call it a day. But when we saw how close we were to Catalina, my dad and I had a bit of a confab. We could get there today, easily, we realized. The island called to us, what can I say? I get caught up in adventure…But my dad and I egg each other on in this respect… So then we thought, let’s just drive by the island.. and the next thing we knew: we were sand docking at Catalina. And getting out to shore. With bathing suits.




I was nine-years-old the last time I was on this beach.


With the casino building in the background of Avalon… Let me just say: this getting on a boat and going anywhere-you-want business is very addicting. And the learning? Oh man, the learning of how to read the compass and charts and calculate our course is VERY addicting. I love learning this new language. Love it.


Happy boy loves the boat! He kept egging us on to go faster…


Driving home from Catalina Island


I got to drive us about halfway home and turned the boat into the jetty. I am still not brave enough to navigate in the bay as yet. I have this fear that I will knock over a paddle-boarder.

We got some gas and headed back to the Yoder house dock, and started for home about 7:30 PM. Such a memorable, amazing day. My adventurer’s heart is still feeling the thrill!