You Can’t Go Home Again

 By Catharine Cooper.
By Catharine Cooper.

Old-timers, as I suppose I can now consider myself, like to grouse about how wonderful Laguna used to be and how much it has changed.  In the spirit of Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can Never Go Home Again,” it’s interesting to note how the passage of time has both held character and altered it forever.

First, we were The Artists, the mighty mighty Artists! Our sports teams carried the banner of the founders, who brought their canvases to the beaches and canyons and put Laguna’s name on maps. Transitioned into the Breakers – a decidedly more fierce incarnation for our high school sports programs – something was lost. Yes, we suffered rude jokes about paintbrushes when faced with the Wildcats, the Eagles, the Tritons and Oilers, but I think it made us tougher.  We worked harder to prove that we were champions.

Second, I think about the shopkeepers. Nearly every shop was owned by one of my classmate’s parents: Mariners Stationary, Peacock and Marcom Insurance, Atkins Market, Welsh’s Health Food Store, McCalla Pharmacy, Trotter’s Bakery, Stuart Avis Men’s Clothing, Bill Thomas Camera, Warren Imports, Klass Appliances, The Beach House, to name a few. As kids, we knew if we needed a ride or a snack, we just had to drop in to one of the shops, and someone would help us out.

Third, size and scale have both changed and remained the same. While the population of Laguna hasn’t grown much since the early ‘70s, thanks to the greenbelt and the bluebelt, the city has been closed in on all sides.  Dana Point reaches up from the south, Aliso Viejo from the east, and Newport Coast from the north.  One group of my friends said that when Coast Highway to the north was developed, it was time to go, and most fled to Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii and Mexico. We watched sadly when Al’s Horse Ranch was forced to move to the east side of Coast Highway, and then ultimately, shut down altogether so that Newport Coast could sprout in its place. I am grateful that deals were struck with Bren, and the coastlands from Corona del Mar to Emerald Bay were saved. Imagine if that broad swath were covered with red-tiled tract homes.

Anyone arriving in Laguna today can’t help but be struck by her beauty. I still am. The unique coves, the stunning beaches, the chaparral covered hills, the small scale of downtown, and the friendliness of the population persists. Families remain close knit and organizations such as SchoolPower, The Friendship Shelter, Zero Trash now bring us together with common cause.

In conversations with those friends who now live elsewhere, there is always a longing to return to Laguna, the Laguna of then. When traffic wasn’t an issue, parking wasn’t a problem, and the beaches weren’t crowded except for Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day.  Of course, we know we can’t “go home.” As Thomas Wolfe wrote, “The essence of faith is the knowledge that all flows and that everything must change.”  What I know now is that those who are now 10 and 11 will someday remember the Laguna of their childhood and wish that somehow it had stayed the same.

Catharine Cooper’s roots are in Laguna.  She can be reached at [email protected].


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