petaluma: with the tolsons


When I went back to Petaluma for summer vacation this year, I ended up spending some time with my friend Mike, who I hadn’t seen in twelve years. We were best friends from third grade up through high school, but after high school I went off to university and Mike moved down to southern California and we didn’t see each other as often any more. The last time I had seen Mike was in Laguna Beach — I don’t remember what his job was, but part of it involved driving his boss around in a 70s-era red limo that had reputedly been owned by Farrah Fawcett, which was pretty cool (although I have to admit that Kate Jackson was always my favorite Angel).

Mike and I became fast friends on the first day of school in third grade. We had both moved to Petaluma from different cities (he moved from Pike’s Peak, Colorado, and I moved from San Francisco), and we were the only kids in the class that hadn’t known each other since the moment of birth. We were also wearing exactly the same blue-and-red striped rugby shirt, except mine was long-sleeved and his was short-sleeved. Soon after we became best friends, we also discovered that, in our nine-year old hearts, we had a crush on the same girl. She had blue eyes, and blond hair done up in ringlets, and she wore white dresses with frilly collars, and bows, and things like that. Now that I think about it, I realize that, except for the length of the hair, my third-grade crush looked disturbingly like Shirley Temple.* I suppose I went to grade school at a strange time — in San Francisco the girls were tough and wore jeans and shirts, and when they wore dresses they were kind of cool, early 70s numbers (that’s because it was the 70s). But when I moved to Petaluma, it was like going back in time — all the girls were wearing little black shoes with straps, and dresses with frills, and lots of them had ringlets. And sometimes they even had pink or blue bows in their hair. It makes me swoon to just think about how weird it was.

In any case, visiting the Tolsons was fantastic, and strange too. Mike’s mom and dad were both there, and neither of them seems to have aged a bit in the last 12 years. Mike’s brother Mark came by with his two kids, and Mike was there too, having moved back to Petaluma recently. We tried to do all the catching up we could do in an hour, and then we spent a little time walking in the yard, which seems a lot smaller than it did when we were kids and camping in the backyard, or kicking soccer balls through the picture window of Mike’s grandparents’ home next door. Mike also kindly recounted the story of when we were both walking down in the creek at the bottom of the hill and I decided to show him that the real way to test whether or not a fence is electric is to stand in the water and grab the metal wires with your hand. Needless to say, the fence was electric.

The Tolsons were like a second family to me when I was growing up — I played my first Atari there, Mike and I started getting into audio equipment and programming Apple computers at about the same time, and we watched Starblazers together after school.

Too short a visit.

“Set the WABAC machine Sherman!”

*I bet you didn’t know that Shirley Temple was the U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989-1992. You’d think that was Reagan’s decision, but them was the Bush years.


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