Letter to My California Dreamer: Finding 'Home' in Palo Alto's '70s Counterculture

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Wendy Earl and her son when they arrived in California in 1975. (Courtesy of Wendy Earl)

For a series we’re calling “Letter To My California Dreamer,” we’re asking Californians from all walks of life to write a short letter to one of the first people in their family who came to the Golden State. The letter should explain:

What was their California Dream?
What happened to it?
Is that California Dream still alive for you?

Here's a letter from Wendy Earl to herself:

Dear Wendy,

When you left your wealthy, buttoned-down community on the coast of Fairfield County, Connecticut in 1974, a handyman employed by your family wondered aloud, “Why do you want to go to California? They see birds there.” Knowing he meant that people in California were not quite right in the head, you didn’t know what to say. You blurted out, “I think that’s why I’m going!”

You packed your Volkswagen Squareback with your pared-down possessions and those of your 4-year-old son. You frolicked across the country with an old friend, who took time off from college to escort you. Among other adventures, you stopped to explore the Grand Canyon and you still have emblazoned in your memory the migrating tarantulas skittering across the mountain road as you entered the Golden State.

You landed in Palo Alto at the home of your childhood friend, Gretta. In those days, Silicon Valley was headquarters to only a few microchip makers and the founders of Google were toddlers. Palo Alto was affordable then, and it had a thriving counterculture in which you immediately felt at home.

Home. You finally discovered a world where you belonged. You were on the lookout for birds and — thankfully — there were many. Hippies, seekers of truth, street preachers and alternative medicine practitioners abounded in Palo Alto back in those days. You enrolled your son in an alternative school called Rivendell where you met many like-minded parents. And you screeched with delight when you discovered that the now closed Co-op Market sold sprouts in the produce section.

Over the years, your life became more complicated as you entered the corporate world and bought your first home: A funky house with no foundation in the Barron Park neighborhood of Palo Alto. In those days, the houses in Barron Park were modest and there were no sidewalks. Eventually you fled the corporate world, moved to San Francisco and established a small book production company. You looked for employees who had a propensity for bird watching and who wanted to have fun while working.

Now you're a woman in your later years and your son is a social justice lawyer. You no longer live in California, in part because the tech bros have driven most of the birds away. But you return to California often, hoping that the most colorful birds are still there. Waiting for a chance to reveal themselves to nascent California dreamers.

Peace and love,

Wendy

We’d love to  see your letter to your family’s California Dreamer. Maybe it was a parent, a great-great grandparent or maybe even you were the first in your family to come to California with a dream. Fill out the form here and share your story with us!

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