Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Arnold Cabin Project Part 1: Love Letter to My Monterey Ancestors

I don't mean to brag, but my people come from Monterey County in California.  I may have been physically born in Phoenix, Arizona, but I really come from Monterey County too.  My mother, Kathleen Henning, and my Grandmother, Winifred Kincannon, were born in Salinas, CA.  My Great Grandmother, Anne Arnold, was born in Jamesburg, CA (which is more of a crossroads than a town now.  They don't even have a post office, but I know they once did).  I'm told my Great Grandmother's father, Henry Arnold, was the orphan son of a soldier in the Prussian Army.  He grew up to be a sailor, then a farmer, a stone mason... I suppose he could do whatever was needed.  He spent some time in San Francisco, where he met, wrote poetry to, and married the woman he loved, Sarah Church.  She had come to California with her parents and family by covered wagon.  

To my heart, no other genealogy matters.  

Beyond that, there is only need of the coffee-dark soil of Salinas, and the sun-dappled leaf-litter of Carmel Valley.  There is the sand of the beaches along Cannery Row at low tide.  There is the water in Carmel River.  There is the wind through the Live Oaks.  The screech of the blue jays. The smell of the Sycamore trees in the valley, the Chaparral sagebrush on the hills, and the flower-smoke-and-salt scented air by the ocean.

If this sounds hokey to you, you've never loved a place the way my heart loves Monterey.

And, so, I must admit, that one day, while taking a break at work, I got a tad wistful about the place.  Lamenting the fact that I never asked her, I decided to see if I could figure out where my Great Grandmother went to grammar school.  As I began poking around in image searches, I stumbled upon a Facebook page for The Hastings Natural History Reserve.  On it, there was a post about "The Arnold Cabin" with a few pictures and a mention that it needs a new roof.  

This was the cabin that Henry and Sarah Arnold built and raised their children in (one of them, my Great Grandmother).  And, like most everything else, it was on Facebook!  I could hardly contain my excitement.  

I reached out to the Reserve Director, Vincent, and he accepted my offer to repair the cabin roof!
Cindy and I made a trip out to California last year, and we arranged a day to go and see, photograph, and measure the cabin with Vincent.  I went back a second time with my dear friend, Dan, several weeks ago.

Now, I live in New York City.  Millions of other people live here, and I suppose a billion people have ever lived or passed through here... right?  Wouldn't you say a billion?  I don't know, it's just a guess.  Anyway, you can walk down almost any sidewalk, ride in nearly any subway car... you may know the history of this place or that, but most of the physical evidence of the minutia of our lives has been wiped away.  You can see no shadow of the place where a certain married couple first met on the corner.  The subway car carries no echo of the sound of the guys who came through and sang last night, let alone 20 years ago.  You may have the layers of 100 years of paint jobs on your moldings (which drive you mad with the need to strip them all off and start clean.  Well, maybe not you, but me.  Ahem.).  But you can not picture the people who put those layers of paint on the walls.  Those people are far removed from the marrow of your own life now...

However, this!  This is a rare opportunity to walk where my Great Grandmother walked as a child.  I have Christmas ornaments from her.  They were originally hung on a tree in this cabin!  I have her father's dictionary - the one from which he learned to speak English.  It used to be kept in this house.  The smells and sounds in the air here might have been the same as the ones my ancestors had experienced as they made the walk from the cabin to, say, the out house, for example.  These exact large trees might have been saplings as they witnessed my Nana playing nearby as a girl.  And they would have stood watching as she came and left that cabin for the last time - whether she knew it was her last or not.

I am a pig, and this is my sentimental, ancestral shit.

The Arnold Cabin. 
The living room.
Lory Henning - Generation Five


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