Moments in Menlo Park

Traveling all the way to California for granddaughter Hailey’s 8th grade graduation from St. Raymond’s last May was a good decision, and I will always be glad I went. Barney and I had planned a cross country train trip the year before to attend her brother Harrison’s high school graduation, but Barney’s surgery and then Covid canceled that.

Hailey and most of her 30 classmates had been together since preschool, so this was a special celebration before they head off to different high schools. The Baccalaureate Mass was held outdoors on a sunny Friday morning. With all of the Covid restrictions, it was the first Mass I’d attended in person (not virtual) in many months, so the music and the familiar rituals felt like a homecoming–even on the other side of the continent. The graduation ceremony itself was held outdoors later in the day, followed by a relaxing and fun family gathering for dinner on Kristen’s beautifully renovated patio.

Family patio dinner

As many times as I’ve visited Menlo Park, CA over the years, I always assumed the city was named after Menlo Park in New Jersey where Thomas Edison set up his home and research lab in 1876. Turns out, I had it backwards. California’s Menlo Park came first in 1854 when two men from Ireland created an estate and named it after their hometown of Menlough in County Galway. The “Wizard of Menlo Park,” as Edison came to be called, bought his property from unsuccessful real estate developers who had named their New Jersey project after the town in California.

Gate entry to original Menlo Park, CA estate built in 1854

My trusty old American Heritage Dictionary defines “menagerie” as a “collection of live wild animals on exhibition,” but my personal definition of menagerie is a certain household in Menlo Park on the peninsula south of San Francisco.

To say that Kristen and her kids are animal lovers would be an understatement. They have even done things like visit a pachyderm sanctuary so they could wash elephants!

At various times, this Menlo Park address has been home not only to a few of my favorite humans but also to a bright green, sunflower seed-loving parrot named Houston, two guinea pigs named Penny and Larry who lived out their retirement here after serving as mascots for Harrison’s preschool class, a hutch of rabbits, two adorable rescue dogs, Mildred (now Milfred?) the tortoise who currently occupies his own two-story dwelling in the backyard, and Sally Bacon.

Kristen’s love of animals goes way back. When she came to our wedding almost 30 years ago, we had a morning to kill before getting her to the airport for her flight back to San Francisco. So where did she want to go? To the newly opened demonstration farm out at Oak Mountain State Park, of course. Why? Because she’d seen something on local TV about the potbelly pigs there, and she wanted not only to see them but to cuddle them. Memory escapes me if she ever owned one of those, but these days Sally Bacon is a full-fledged member of the Wells household–potty-trained and occupying her own wire-framed apartment right inside the front door. She’s big, she’s pink, and she snorts. What’s not to love!

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