Memories, Castles, and Barking Seals

Recently, I celebrated my 40th birthday. I hesitated to type “celebrated” there just for a moment, because there’s still this part of me that wants to be young again. But I went ahead and typed the word, because it was a good birthday and when the day arrived, it really did feel like a celebration.

A few months ago, when the thought of my 40th popped in my mind, I started feeling a little depressed. I went through what felt like a minor mid-life crisis. Truly minor and not really worth calling a crisis, but I felt bummed out on a different level than I’ve felt in the past. That’s all it was, though, just feelings.

I told my wife that instead of us just going out for dinner locally for my birthday like we do every year, I’d like to do something memorable. I know that the importance of making a memory was especially taught to me by my mother. She understands quite well how a memory is more important than a gift.

So my lovely and loving wife planned a trip for our family. On the day of my birthday she surprised me with a note saying to pack for an overnight trip. An hour later we were in the car, heading somewhere. After about an hour and a half, I started seeing the signs for Hearst Castle and guessed our destination. We had talked about going to see Hearst Castle for at least ten years, but hadn’t gotten around to it.

It was a beautiful drive through a part of California that I hadn’t seen before. The weather was perfection. The view was all the entertainment I could want. It was an excellent way to spend my birthday. When we got to San Simeon, we headed past our hotel for a short visit to the Elephant Seal viewing area. Hundreds (at least) of these lazy and beautiful animals mostly napping or throwing sand on their backs, occasionally barking. Every one of them reminding me of our family dog, which only made me like them more.

Afterward, we quickly checked into the hotel nearby, then headed out to dinner. I didn’t know the dinner plan, but when we were driving through Cambria, I spotted a family that we’re friends with and I told my wife, “Wait, stop! Look!” She kept driving and I said it again, then she said she knew, they were here for dinner with us.

No idea how I had this little brain lapse that I didn’t immediately realize that. Somehow I thought it was a coincidence. I probably spent about ten minutes laughing at myself for not realizing it right off the bat. Chalk it up to old age.

Dinner was at this fantastic restaurant called Robin’s. It was amazing food, and I don’t say that lightly. Everything was delicious. The entrees were choices of world cuisines. I chose an Indian dish – Tempeh Korma. It’d be hard for me to choose something different if we’re ever there again. So scrumptious.

The company, of course, was great. We had good conversations to go along with the food, and I opened gifts and cards from family. More important was the memory of being there with people I care about. And the laugh that I had before the dinner was as much of a gift as anything, because I’m going to remember that, too.

The next day, we had tickets to the Grand Rooms tour at Hearst Castle. My wife had arranged for an ASL interpreter to be there for the tour, and he was an excellent and friendly interpreter. The castle was far larger than I had expected, and the grounds as much a work of art as the buildings. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Grand Rooms and wished we had time for more. If I’d change anything, I’d love it if they would give visitors the option to just explore the entire Hearst Castle without a tour, just so one can see everything in an hour or two. As it is, we’ll have to go back once or twice for the other tours just to see the rest. I’m sure money is part or all of the reason they do it this way, but since it’s the California State Parks that gets the money, I’m not complaining too much.

We headed home shortly after lunch, and my birthday weekend came to a close with some rather nice memories that I can treasure. That’s what I wanted the most.

Today I’ve had a week of being in my 40s. I’m alright with it. The mid-life whatever-it-was has passed, and I’m looking forward to creating more memories each week. Today was berry-picking, tomorrow who knows?

By J. Parrish Lewis

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

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