It’s late afternoon in Petaluma. The sun hasn’t quite set yet, but the glowing orb is hidden behind the endless hills of Northern California. Granny is driving—I’m the passenger. She is explaining a radio program about Christian economics, her latest hook. I’m half listening. Granny parks the car outside of Shollenberger Park, our destination for an evening stroll. She makes no move to get out of the car, but instead continues on about the Christian Economics program, and how fascinating economics is. A few minutes pass.
I am uncomfortable with sitting in potential energy, with ignoring the magnetic pull towards forward motion. Granny is quite comfortable. She has begun to rehash another radio program, this one about a military soldier who shares his many stories. I begin to open the door, to signal that we do not have to sit in the car when our walk awaits. Granny appears not to notice. I slowly move my feet outside of the car, the door wide open now.
After what feels like ages of sedentary conversation, Granny follows my lead and emerges from the car, completely unhurried and unconcerned. We begin our walk. She pauses often, pointing out red-winged black birds and herons. I halt alongside her, but always with an onward inertia beckoning me to continue my footsteps. I am unaccustomed to respite. My pausing is reluctant.
We approach a patch of unassuming yellow flowers. They hang over the path on long stems. Granny stops abruptly and reaches for—not the flower, but the leaf. She plucks it and takes a bite. I stare at my 82-year-old grandmother with concern. She is eating leaves. How nice.
She extends a leaf to me. I am skeptical. She insists. I sigh, and take a bite. A rush of flavor dissolves on my tongue, so distinct.
“It’s wild mustard,” Granny explains. “A little past the season, but still quite good.”
I arrived to Petaluma one week ago, and alongside the excitement for new beginnings, a bundle of transitions await. For starters, I have never been here before. Sure, I’ve visited other areas in California many times over, but the small town of Petaluma? This is a first, a completely new terrain to which I am becoming acquainted.
Another transition: I have never spent a concentrated amount of time with an elderly person, and here I am, living with my grandmother. Now this is certainly no form of charity on my part—she doesn’t need me and I am not her caretaker. Granny is actually more active in the Petaluma community than I have ever been in any community. My grandmother has graciously opened her home to me, made space for me to dine with her, play games with her, and walk at her side.
But Granny has a much different pace than I am accustomed to. She does not walk briskly from Point A to Point B; she strolls. She does not inhale her food standing up, as I often did in between back-to-back classes this past semester. Granny sits and gives thanks. She tastes. She sets down her silverware and drinks from a pink water glass.
I am living with a woman who takes frequent detours, who stops to visit with anyone willing, who is generous with her wisdom and quick to welcome anyone within range. She is simultaneously elegant and hilarious.
And in many ways, Petaluma is a geographic embodiment of my grandmother, as a town with a slow and steady rhythm. Just like Granny, people pause here to greet one another. They give the time and space necessary for faces to become familiar.
Of course I am excited for future adventures—to San Francisco just 40 miles south of here, to the coast, to the Red Woods. But for now, the vast amount of open land in Petaluma, as uncomfortable as it feels, is an invitation to breathe. It’s like yoga—as much as I would like to not linger in a particularly stretching pose, the stationary inhales and exhales are essential to my practice. I must settle in if I am going to grow.