Growing up in Southern California was a bitter sweet experience. My hometown of Ontario is a suburban city that sits in the center of the inland valley; near enough to Los Angeles and the Hollywood area to be stereotyped by anyone who is not from the area when they find out you’re from California; but, far enough away not to be part of that culture. Ontario is a historical city that was built in the 1800’s. It has changed greatly over the years since I was growing up there. Now it is all housing, shopping centers and industrial or commercial properties. But, when I was growing up there it was grape vineyards, orange groves, and historical buildings; surrounded by new neighborhoods, a growing airport, and even a raceway that hosted the Indy 500.
I enjoyed growing up in Ontario. My grandparents on both sides lived within minutes from us, and there was enough countryside to spread your wings, while still being a city girl. The high school I attended celebrated its 100th birthday the year I graduated and had character not seen in modern high schools. The campus was originally a Junior College; one of the first colleges in Southern California built in 1883. Then in 1901 due to financial issues the college was closed and the high school took over the original campus. The college was re-opened later on a new site and Chaffey High School still stands on the site of the old college campus. There have been new buildings added over the years, but the historic buildings still stand refurbished in the 1980’s back to their old grandeur with a few modern amenities like air-conditioning added, but overall the campus is very similar to what it looked like in the 1800’s. As you can imagine going to school in such a place created great pride within its students, and for some like me stimulated their creativity. By the time I graduated I had been published in the New Yorker for poetry, been editor of the school newspaper, and had several of my articles honored in the Kennedy Museum in Washington DC as winners of a nationwide high school journalism contest. This only sparked my love for writing that much more.
Growing up in Ontario wasn’t just about school though. We had bowling alleys within walking distance, the Montclair Plaza shopping center was only minutes away, and there were several ponds and lakes nearby for fishing and skiing. Less than 45 minutes in one direction and you were in the ski resorts of Big Bear, an hour in another direction and you were at the beach. In my teen years my family had sail boats, so I spent a lot of time at the beach; that is when I wasn’t sneaking off to Hollywood with my girlfriends to sneak into clubs and watch bands such as Rat, and Poison play.
Food wise, it was a very eclectic area, authentic Mexican food whole in the walls scattered around town, Bob’s Big Boy burger joint in the center of town, Vince’s Spaghetti just down the road, and of course there was always my grandparents down home cooking that they brought with them straight from Arkansas.
Although Ontario has grown into a metropolis now, growing up there was an amazing journey. My childhood was complicated, but living in Ontario never was. I would compare growing up there to the movie Pleasantville in a lot of ways, but with a modern twist.