Zoe has returned to San Diego State this year to earn her teaching credential. She attends classes at both the university campus and Hickman Elementary School, where she is doing her student teaching.
This semester she's working in a kindergarten class and she was looking forward to accompanying the kiddies to a pumpkin patch. Then the fires started. Zoe lives near Mission Bay and that area has not been threatened, unless you count the smoke and ash in the air. And the unsettling experience of being surrounded by fires, and having evacuees fill the hotels and stadium.
The school was safe, she told me last week, but classes were canceled because some students, as well as a few of her professors, had been evacuated. Plus the freeways to the school had fires on either side.
What about the trip to the pumpkin patch? I asked. "It burned down," she e-mailed. She added an unhappy face.
Imagine it. Bales of hay bursting into flames. Scarecrows burned at the stake. Pumpkins engulfed by the inferno while still on the vine rather than being gently heated by the candles they were meant to nurture as jack-o-lanterns.
And think of the children's disappointment that they weren't going to the pumpkin patch with their little friends - and their wonderful student teacher - to pick out a fat orange pumpkin for Halloween.
Of course those children may be experiencing other traumas right now. Disasters in the movies make great entertainment, but catastrophes in real life are mind-boggling. "This can't be happening," we think as we try to wrap our minds around a horrific event.
I first came face-to-face with threatening public tragedy when we were living in Saudi Arabia in the '70s. No sooner had we moved to Jeddah and settled our 3-year-old son into Abracadabra Preschool than the beloved King Faisal was assassinated. The Saudis took their grief to the streets, wailing in sorrow, and we stayed in our apartment, praying the assassin was not American. We soon learned it was a young nephew who had shot him pointblank during a royal audience (he was beheaded in a public square three months later). Offices, shops and schools closed for a period of public mourning, and we kept a low profile, aware that passionate feelings could turn against foreigners.
Back in the States, our lives were only interrupted by the med fruit fly infestation as we moved from San Jose to Walnut Creek in 1985. Each trip out of Santa Clara County meant waiting in a long line of cars to assure the inspectors we had no fruit in the car. A drag, but hardly a tragedy. A few years later, my husband had some moments of suspense when he traveled to his company's Johannesburg office, located across the street from the prison. This was during the struggles to end apartheid in South Africa, and a bomb in the street sent everyone scrambling under the desks. Riot-geared police soon entered to say that often after a bomb goes off, it is followed by "the real, larger bomb." This led my husband to ponder, "Just how much is this job worth to me?"
Fast forward to 1990 and we are living in Bangkok. Iraq invades Kuwait, and the United States bombs Iraq. Terrorists decide to take revenge against American Embassy children at International School Bangkok. So ... the school closed. This was scary, and as time dragged on, some families left. After three weeks, the school reopened.
Then in 1991, the Thai military staged a coup, overthrowing the prime minister and declaring a state of emergency. A 9 p.m. curfew made the city eerie because normally it was bustling 24-7. Our company forbade travel to Thailand (although no one seemed to worry about us!). My daughter's teacher's aide, Mr. Ian, was killed in a burst of violence near the government buildings, as he left the temple where he was living to find food for the monks.
But none of these threatening situations developed into a personal tragedy for me or mine. I've been very lucky. I've never had my house burn down, knock on wood - or even my pumpkin. And, by the way, it turned out the kids had already visited the pumpkin patch.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.