Mainly I knew Rancho Bernardo was warm. Hey, I was 2 years 8 months old when we moved there in July 1976, and 7 when we moved out late 1980/early 1981 to another part of Southern California. I didn't yet know that not all places have palm trees; they were part of the background, I took them for granted...then I revisited Rancho Bernardo on a 1995 road trip, and was surprised by the trees. Those were here?!
In Rancho Bernardo, I started to learn how to remember. My absolute earliest memory is from there; other flashes from when I was 3 come to me, but just flashes; after I turned 4, I started having the bare minimum of retained, continuous memory. It starts at me walking into Mom and Dad's bedroom, where Mom was working on something, and asking her how old I was. She told me, and I went back down the hall — then later I asked again because either I'd forgotten or I wanted to be sure.
(I'm trying to be careful in this entry. The farther back you go, the more likely you're remembering something that didn't happen. Memory can be messed with; memory can mess with you. If I start explaining that I fell into a bear enclosure, point out that that was a scene in Anchorman.)
We lived in a single-story ranch on a cul-de-sac.
The small backyard had a tree that I sometimes climbed (but had trouble getting out of), and a slope: up to the houses on the next street westward, towards a hill that burned sometimes. (Later, my former neighborhood was spared in the 2007 wildfires that destroyed swathes of Rancho Bernardo and other parts of Southern California.) I sometimes climbed and sat on that slope — my first time seeking out some height. I sat there once when the Goodyear blimp was in town, and I watched it approach from the east and then — then — fly right over me. With my foreshortened view from that vantage point, plus the huge noise from the engines, it seemed the blimp was close enough to grab.
At 4 or 5, I bicycled for the first time. I used someone else's bike; I was so small that I had to roll the bike in front of a driveway, then walk — me rising on the sidewalk, the bike staying on the street — to get the little bit of height I needed to get onto it. I took to bicycling. I could ride more than a Big Wheel! (We had a Big Wheel.)
My bedroom had wallpaper of World War I-era planes. (My brother's wallpaper: jets and rockets.) I had a decent amount of light, with a window facing south. I had a turntable and, eventually, the ability to handle and play 45s and LPs. Legos and Lincoln Logs littered my floor. A large, worn, out-of-tune ukulele was available, and I sometimes took it out and plucked at it. I showed no signs of having the talent to play an instrument (still don't), but hey, it was fun to make sound.
As my folks decided was best, since I have a late-in-the-year birthday, I took pre-school longer (at a church on Pomerado Road) and waited a year, until 1979, to start kindergarten (Westwood Elementary). This meant that for me, each grade's ending year rhymed with the current year: I ended first grade in 1981, second grade in 1982, and so on until 12th grade, 1992. Makes it easier to square memories with years. Kindergarten included getting practice tying my shoes, learning that left and right don't change for you even when you change which way you're facing, and learning that there really aren't a lot of left-handed scissors so I'd better adapt to using scissors with my right.
I swam. A lot. We lived near Westwood Club, and were members. Playground, lawns, and a pool (also, at least now, a miniature golf course, but even if it was there in the Seventies I probably would've been too uncoordinated to enjoy it). Ah, a pool. Where I scared mothers: I had an almost dolphin-style, undulating way of swimming back then, and I'd stay under so long that some of the moms would worriedly ask my mom if she should get me out of the water. He's fine, Mom'd tell them: she knew I was.
Not far from us were amazing things for a kid: Sea World, the San Diego Zoo (I subscribed to ZOONOOZ for years), and the San Diego Wild Animal Park (now the San Diego Zoo Safari Park). The Wild Animal Park was probably my favorite of the three, and still would be; I'm less fond of Sea World now. But the Wild Animal Park's design was a smart, forward-looking idea: more room for animals, with ways for people to watch them that are less intrusive. I was too young to get that: I just knew I could get in a train and see exotic creatures, and that was cool.
There's a selected realism to some of my memories of Rancho Bernardo: some are clear only to a point. Though we mainly grocery-shopped at a Navy commissary to the south, if we shopped in town we usually went to Vons. I remember the 70s-era supermarket (including when it got a single video arcade game in the front), the parking lot, and the other buildings around it, but beyond that...it was, to my memory, like the edge of a set. As if nothing was beyond that, and there didn't need to be anything beyond it. Sometimes the memory is of something more like a void beyond that parking lot, just some kind of bright limbo out towards where I didn't go: more surreal, but young minds can imagine and accept that.
I accepted other things as a kid. I thought, at some point, that the old man living in the two-story house at the corner of Palacio Place and Capilla Road was President Jimmy Carter. I have no idea why I thought that; I just did. I also accepted that mulch, which neighbors used for landscaping and which I wasn't supposed to walk on, was quicksand. At that age, magical thinking works.
Some memories I know for sure are jumbled. I think of both where my brother and I got Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back trading cards and where I got haircuts, and my mind remembers...the same place? Which is exceedingly unlikely. But the area was still memorable.
(The area stayed in my memory another way: in the mid-80s when I first read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, I imagined Guy Montag's city looking like my part of Rancho Bernardo. Almost certainly not what Bradbury would've pictured.)
The more desert-y area we went to regularly was Poway, the next town to the east. Mom's church was there. The town was smaller than Rancho Bernardo, and more defined — almost overwhelmed — by its surroundings. I visited there, too, during my 1995 road trip; I think I found the same church Mom had attended. I think.
In Rancho Bernardo, I can finally remember going to the movies, like the original Star Wars, probably in mid-1978 when it was re-released; I also remember going to the theater for Mary Poppins (its Spring 1980 re-release) and the Robert Altman Popeye. I remember the down-and-up-and-down walk to Westwood Elementary School, the first sort-of long walk I got used to. I remember my first parade, along Bernardo Center Drive, grabbing candy that had been thrown from floats and fire trucks. I remember feeling puppy love towards a babysitter, to the point that I got up from eating ice cream and followed her around the house talking to her for long enough that I came back to find my ice cream melted. I remember thousands of sand-filled paper lanterns lining my neighborhood's streets one night, I think on or near Halloween, and my family walking around to enjoy the sight. I remember one of the few times I've fished, at an event at Lake Poway after the lake had been specially stocked. I remember, in pieces, the earliest birthday party I can recall. I remember not understanding, one time, why Mom wanted me to put on socks when I was barefoot; I asked her why, and she said "because my feet are cold." This was logic I didn't get.
And I remember going to military bases every once in a while, because Dad worked there, trained there, or flew in and out of there to get to aircraft carriers. Mainly Miramar, occasionally Coronado, reached via that high, striking bridge into San Diego's harbor. The military surrounded me. One of those early memories of mine, around age 3 or so: seeing air show footage on television.
My family wound up on the local news once, for a nice reason: at the end of an aircraft carrier cruise, Dad's F-14 squadron returned to Miramar (then a Naval air station; now a Marine base), and a cameraman caught us hugging. This was not covered by Ron Burgundy, because Anchorman wasn't real.
I hope most of this entry is of memories that are real.