In those days when I heard the word Paradise it meant something much different to me than it did to most people. It meant that old house on Sunset Way under the deep oak trees, with the dogwoods blooming underneath and the ground thick with poison oak. It meant Whiskey Flats on a hot summer day and the serpentine rocks. It meant the place where we lived once with the O’Rourkes. It meant the Polivkas and their house. It meant sitting down in the Polivkas house and listening Jaro speak with his thick Czech accent and his slow, deliberate speech. It also meant seeing Betty and her latest art projects.
They lived about an hour and a half away and my parents still owned that house on Sunset Way which they rented out. I think it was Betty that got my mom so interested in art. My mom was what I consider to be permanent beginner when it came to art. Not necessarily a bad thing but certainly not a way to impress others. Always the student and never the teacher. And Betty was her teacher if anyone was. I’m not sure how much of the attraction that surrounded their house in Paradise was attributable to Betty and how much to Jaro. When my parents went to visit their friends they took me and my little brother Andrew along with them…I usually hated visiting their friends. There was the long conversations which did not include us. They seemed to go on forever while me and Andrew tried not to be bored. It was worse if there were kids our age; always that awkwardness being thrown together, even though by the end of the visit we were usually having fun.
When we approached the Polivka’s house we drove up a long dusty driveway with Star- thistle on both sides. There were no other houses in sight by the time we parked in front of their house. On the right side was a large wooden building which would have been a garage filled with cars and assorted vehicular playthings if it had been in Fair Oaks, but here it was an art studio. This was a very intriguing concept. The Art Studio was constructed of a rough unfinished wood construction. But the main house was short and solid looking, it’s color was reddish orange like the soil surrounding it. If you looked closely you could see it was put together with large bricks fitted together snugly with a matching colored mortar. It was an adobe house built with bricks made from the surrounding soil. It had been constructed by the Polivka’s themselves, after they returned from some time in Mexico. Jaro had fashioned a mold, then mixing the mud in a large cement mixer and brick by brick they cast the soil into blocks letting them dry in the hot Foothill Sun. While they were building the house the family of six, two parents and four children, basically camped out on the site. At the time this might not have been that unusual, my parents wouldn’t have thought twice about it. In fact when I was an infant my parents camped out on a site near Frenchman Dam in northeastern California, while my Dad worked as an engineer during its construction. They had three kids at the time, including me.