My latest story takes place in a fictional town that I named Santa Cristina. The name may be from my imagination, but the descriptions I use are from all around me.
I haven’t traveled far in all the years I’ve been in this world. That’s mainly because I’m such a homebody. I love being at home. I have everything I love within reach at any given time. Cat, garden, books. Mexican food down the street. Ocean up and over the hill. Mountains up the other side. Family and lifelong friends a car or bike ride away.
Road trips and hotels mean waiting, wanting, and the possibility of being stranded in a less than desirable place. (Which, for me, is any place other than my hometown.)
My attitude toward travel could be because I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. That’s not just my opinion. Tourists and transplants say this to me, a person who has been blessed to live in Santa Barbara, California, for over fifty years. I just nod in agreement and think to myself I wouldn’t know. Santa Barbara is all I’ve really ever seen.
And it’s the place my story’s characters get to live.
I chose Santa Cristina as an homage to my mother, whose name is Christine.
It’s a beautiful name.
Cristina is the Spanish spelling, which goes along with the Spanish heritage that Santa Barbara owns and celebrates. Throughout my story, you’ll find pieces of Santa Barbara history woven in. In fact, my research is uncovering many stories that I never knew about my town despite my many years of living here. I’m loving it.
When I say the name Santa Barbara, I not only think about how blessed I am to live here, I also think about my younger sister.
And this is why:
My family moved to Santa Barbara in 1961. We were a family of seven — father, mother, and five children. I was the youngest at that time. Soon my mother was pregnant with a sixth child. My father was serving in the Air Force.
As the beloved story goes, one of my brothers was playing with matches. A curtain went up in flames. Soon our house was burning down. Mom had gathered her children and placed them out of harm’s way. She counted to make sure and realized there were only four in her presence, besides the one in her belly.
Her littlest one was missing.
I remember my mother’s smile as she told me this story years later. She had run back into the burning house and found me in a room, crying but holding on to my bottle.
I was less than two years old.
Mom grabbed me and we reunited with the rest of our family. We lost all of our possessions in that fire, including family photos and other treasures that my parents had brought with them from Ohio, where we had lived.
This is where my younger sister comes into the beloved story.
The City of Santa Barbara came to our rescue and provided a new place to live, clothing, food, and toys for us. My mother was so grateful that she told a newspaper reporter, “If my baby is a girl, I am going to name her after this city.”
She did give birth to a girl. And she kept her promise.
Mom named her Sandra. Her middle name is Barbara. Sandra Barbara.
I never tire of that story. It lifts my heart. My mother saved my life. She gave me a sister with a wonderful and unforgettable name. I’m hoping that my story does justice to the city that I know, love, and take for granted. (I really have to stop doing that.)
Have you ever visited Santa Barbara?