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A Daughter Graduates and a Father Reflects

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Friday, June 12, I flew out from Houston to Sacramento to attend my daughter’s graduation at the University of California at Davis. Shortly after arriving at my motel in Woodland, my daughter called and asked if I had arrived. We met up at her apartment on campus.

After she introduced me to her roommates and showed me her room, we headed for downtown Davis. First order of business was lunch at Burgers and Brew. From there, we spent the next five hours on a walking tour of the downtown area and the campus.

With most cities today, downtowns are a throwback to a bygone era. With their crumbling brick facades, boarded-up windows, and smattering of antique shops, attorney’s offices, and banks, such places leave you wondering what they were like when “downtown” was the focal point of the community. Downtown Davis, however, is in fact the focal point for this community: dynamic, vibrant, with hundreds of people milling about on foot and lingering in its shops, art galleries, and coffee houses. With its tree-lined streets, its ambiance is what many shopping malls try to achieve but never quite get right.

While walking along with my daughter, I couldn’t help noticing all the bicycles whirring by. On the sidewalks, more bikes were parked in racks than there were cars parked on the street. Davis is sometimes referred to as the “Bicycle Capital of the United States.” The streets have designated bike lanes, and even a few of the traffic lights are bicycle friendly. The first light to change green will show a bicycle symbol. People on bicycles get to go first. Then the light changes green for the cars.

We visited a couple of art galleries, and then walked onto the campus that abuts the community. After walking quite a distance, I mentioned to my daughter that the area seemed much bigger than I thought. “Biggest campus in the UC system,” she said. I later learned that the campus is spread over 5,300 acres.

The highlight of my campus tour was the UC Davis Arboretum. As we stood on the knoll looking at the green hillside nudging downward to the pond, I could see why my daughter saved this particular place for last. Both a park and a garden, replete with several varieties of trees, plants, flowers, and wildlife, the Arboretum has several pathways to take for an easy stroll. And if you want to sit a spell to indulge in quiet contemplation, you have your choice of benches placed underneath the boughs of the trees, in the flower gardens, and along the edge of the pond.

We spent a few moments watching a small flock of ducks chasing after a couple of students who were tossing breadcrumbs out on the grass for them. At one point a few of the ducks came over to us as if we might have something for them, too. My daughter then looked at me and said, “Come on. I want to show you the best part.”

She led on as I followed her through the Redwood Grove. Among the redwoods, especially along the waterway, are succulents and deer grass indigenous to California. We each took a turn to lean up against one of the small giants to take a picture of each other. We capped off our excursion by walking back to Davis to where I had parked the car. Dinner that evening was at Caffe Italia.

The next morning I woke up early and headed back to Davis. First order of business was finding a place to eat for breakfast. Even though I had spent most of the previous afternoon walking the entire downtown with my daughter, I had a hard time getting my bearings. I kept ending up in certain sections that seemed outside of the downtown area, and not a place to eat was to be found. I walked along 5th Street, and then started walking up E Street. I saw an older lady, stopped, and asked her, “Oh, Good Morning. Ah, you wouldn’t know of any place that serves a really good full breakfast, would you?”

“Café Bernardo’s if you’re looking for fresh prepared and a cup of coffee with a bit of a bite to it.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

She started to give me directions. “It’s on 2nd St. You walk up to 3rd St, take a right…Oh, heck, I happen to be going that way. How about if I just show you?”

She led me right to the door. I invited her to join me. “No thanks,” she said; “But I appreciate the offer. Enjoy yourself in town.”

A more enjoyable recommendation could not have been made. Before sitting down to a table, you have to order at the counter first. At 8 in the morning the line was considerable, but the wait was worth it. I had the Amaretto French Toast with almonds, served with pure maple syrup. The dining area has small tables spaced closely together. You can also eat at the tables outside on the sidewalk terrace. The atmosphere feels more European than American. If I were to return to Davis for another visit, this place would be first on my list.

I knew it would be some time before I would eventually catch up with my daughter again. After our dinner the previous night, she spent the evening hanging out one last time with her college friends. So, after finishing breakfast, I spent the rest of the morning playing tourist. I explored almost every inch of downtown, browsed several bookstores and other shops, and watched an Amtrak train pull in from Sacramento and pull out headed for San Francisco.

It was around 11 AM. From the train station, I walked down 2nd St to C St and made a beeline to the Farmer’s Market. California is world famous for its agriculture. There isn’t any kind of grain, fruit, or vegetable that doesn’t grow in this state, and considering the numerous vendors here that morning from local farms, the abundance is quite evident. Most everything offered is organic and fresh picked. At $3.20 a pound, it was hard to say “No” to a couple of pounds of Bing cherries. I also bought a pint of blueberries for $2.75 and a pint of Santa Maria strawberries for $3.50. I spent the next hour and half sitting on a park bench gorging myself.

The park was filled with people spread out on the lawn with blankets and picnic baskets. I observed a father helping his small daughter get a kite up into the air. Other children were running around in a game of tag. Dogs were chasing after Frisbees and balls. Several small groups of people were engaged in simple conversation. And the music from the live bands playing at the market made it feel more like you were at a festival, a celebration of joining together with family, friends, and even complete strangers. This is a community that likes to hang out together, its people very friendly and helpful.

Liz met up with me shortly after. She asked me if I had had anything in mind for lunch. Considering that I was quite stuffed as it was, I said anything light would be fine with me. She bought a bag of pumpkin bolani bread and a small tub of orange lentil sandwich spread. We headed off to the Arboretum on campus and shared a quiet lunch on one the benches. Later that evening we drove to Sacramento to meet up with her mother for dinner.

Graduation was Sunday morning at 9. I arrived at The Pavilion at 7:30 AM to make sure I got a good seat within viewing distance of the stage. Considering the cavernous size of the facility, which is used mostly for athletic events, getting good pictures proved a real challenge for my digital camera. The lighting and distance made it impossible to get a clear picture of my daughter as she sat with her class waiting for the commencement to begin.

Chancellor Larry N. Vanderhoef gave the Welcome speech, which did not seem very encouraging. He congratulated the students on their hard work and significant achievement, but then apologized that many of them might not be able to find jobs because of the suffering economy.

After the ceremony, Liz’s mother and I joined other friends who had come to celebrate the occasion for picture-taking, with much better results. My daughter is at least fortunate that she will have a job as a reservations coordinator at UC Davis throughout the end of the summer. She hasn’t decided whether she wants to pursue a career in radio or TV broadcasting, but at least she has a few months to consider her options and apply for positions.

Monday morning after getting together for coffee and bagels at Starbucks on campus, my daughter had me walk with her to work. She introduced me to her supervisor and co-workers and then showed me her small cubicle. At least she has a window with a nice view. On her desk is a two-foot-high trophy. “That was here from the last person who worked here,” she said. “I thought it made a nice decoration, so I left it as it was.”

As I walked back to my car after we had said our goodbyes, it struck me how odd this journey through life can be. It was 29 years ago when I graduated from California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. Then, I did not reflect on the past; instead, I looked toward the future. I envisioned myself developing a career as a writer and teacher, and even dreamed of maybe teaching overseas someday. It never occurred to me, though, that I would have a daughter who would one day graduate from UC Davis.

I turned and looked at the building where my daughter was settling in for her day at work. As she shapes her dreams over the summer about the beginning of her next journey, I hope that 29 years from now she will be as amazed with the events that have transpired in her life as I am with the events that have transpired in mine.

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About S L Cunningham

S L Cunningham is a freelance writer and has poems and feature articles published in several small press magazines and newspapers. His column, "Unburned Pieces of the Mind" has been featured in the Village Soup Citizen. A former resident of Belfast, Maine, he now lives in Houston.
  • I had much of the same thoughts as my son graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory in May.

    Time marches on, doesn’t it?

  • klondikekitty

    Nice nostalgic article, Mr. Cunningham, but the thing that struck me the most was the descriptive passages of the town of Davis and the college campus which gave the impression you had never been there before . . . Your daughter has been a student at this college for the last four years, and you never visited her ONCE during the entire time??

  • Yes, it does. Congratulations on your son’s graduation.