A daughter’s appreciation

Rachael Newkirk is a social worker who’s lived in Chico for 19 years. Growing up she split her time between San Jose, where her dad lived and taught, and Berkeley, where her mom lives.

My parents, while living in Erie, Penn., were talked into moving to California in large part by my mother’s brother, who was living with us at the time. He had served in Vietnam and had been introduced to California while stationed at the Presidio. In the summer of 1970 the four of us drove across the country in an old Mercedes and a moving van. I was 2 years old.

Within a year, my parents divorced. My dad married my stepmother Linda when I was 5. Linda was from Texas, and the three of us began a childhood’s worth of weekend excursions radiating a day’s distance from the Bay Area.

When I was a teenager my dad got the idea to write a book about the Central Valley. We went to places like Woodland, Stockton and Chico, looking at old court houses, going on “urban walks,” visiting tiny, lonely museums. When I’d get back to Berkeley High School on Monday my friends would feel sorry for me that I had to spend my weekends like that.

My father really loved California, but he always said some day he’d move back to the fields and farms of Eastern Pennsylvania.

Three years ago my Grampie started having some health problems, and in June 2002 my father, my husband and I drove an old Honda and a moving van from Fairfax back to my grandfather’s farm in Pennsylvania.

This past Saturday I finally went through the five-drawer, heavy-duty file cabinet my father left behind for me; there were two-and-a-half drawers full of files on California topics and towns. I’d ignored the file cabinet for three years because getting rid of those files meant admitting my dad and Linda were never moving back.

Visalia, Lodi and Hayward each had its own file, not to mention dozens of other cities and towns. There was even a file marked “Attempt” with query letters and rejection notices for his book idea.

I sat at a card table in the sun and heat, sorting through files and feeling sorry nothing ever came of my dad’s book idea. Then I looked around. If it hadn’t been for our visit to Chico, I never would have picked it over Northridge. I never would have considered moving to a small, valley town.

I got rid of most of the files, keeping Chico, Oroville and Butte County. I doubt my father, traipsing around the valley with a sometimes sulky teenager, ever imagined I would one day choose one of those towns as my home. The book never got written, but I am happy and love where I live, and I have, in no small part, Roy Christman and his unwritten book to thank for that.