I often smile inwardly as I drive around the town of Folsom, CA. You see, I have had an on-and-off love affair with this little foothills town that often serves as a way station for those driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to the snows and pines of South Lake Tahoe.
The first time I saw Folsom was during the late 1980s, when the drive here was a Sunday afternoon outing during a trip to see my ex-in-laws. It included slow motion tours of lovely homes, the secret wine country that surrounds it, the lake and even a drive past the sign to Folsom State Prison, whose buildings and grounds sit so far back from the local civilization of the surrounding town, you’d know why it had its own zip code.
When my ex-husband and I decided on Folsom as the place we would move to when relocating from the San Diego area, it was no random choice. The San Diego neighborhoods in which we had lived for the first 10 years of our time together were mostly master-planned. Some were gated, and all were well kept. We weren’t unaccustomed to the patchwork quilt of Sacramento’s neighborhoods, so the newer community of Folsom, with its upscale air, appealed most to us as a younger couple. And it didn’t hurt that it had its own majestic lake and rolling hills, either.
But I was a different person in a different relationship, and it was a different time in my life when I first lived here. Our daughter was tiny and there seemed always to be hope that we could start over as a couple and as a family. Sadly, this lovely town couldn’t make up for the re-surfacing of the troubles our marriage had been plagued by no matter what the change of scenery or resolve to start over. The pretty home we ended up in, instead of distracting from the dysfunction of our marriage, became a breeding ground for events that led to its demise. Places around town became associated with drama and bad memories, and our house never truly received the love I could have injected it with had I perceived it as the place my husband and I would grow old together.
In 2002, the year I left my 20-year marriage, my then-seventeen year old daughter and I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area, my first geographical love in life. I was born in the heart of the City, and once had immigrant grandparents who own a tiny grocery store south of Market Street when the area was vibrant, diverse and not nearly as costly. My memories of childhood there were strong ones that contained my first friend, pink popcorn squares at the nearby city zoo, and foggy days in the middle of summer. The novelty of being back there helped to keep me from constantly mourning the failure of a relationship that was no doubt doomed from the start, but at least resulted in one of the most amazing children on earth.
At the time, I thought of Folsom as a permanent part of my past, even though I visited it often to spend time with my BFF. Over the next 5 years, during a real estate boom like no other, I saw it blossom, grow, and become more diverse. While maintaining its small-town vibe, it became a cosmopolitan burg where people from all walks of life began to recognize its beauty and proximity to the Bay Area, the snow, and the capital. Homes were tripling in value and businesses were establishing themselves here in droves.
Life changed for me as well. Within only a few months of arriving in the Bay Area, I became re-acquainted with a man I had known since before my marriage, but had written off merely as the brother of a close friend – someone who had been a groomsman in my 1982 wedding and shared the same hyphenated ethnic background as mine. A popular San Francisco firefighter, this never-married man had an engaging personality, a love of family, a sweet and unexpected sense of humor and – most of all – an adoration of me that had evidently gone back to 1980, when he first met me and my mother at a San Francisco Greek church festival. I was dumbfounded but delighted to finally receive the companionship and attention I felt I had deserved. Suddenly, life became new again.
Over the next five years, I would lose my last parent and watch as my new love helped to take care of his own ailing mother. Where I lived did not matter, since our relationship revolved around his commitment to his mom. I knew what we had together would take a back seat for a while, but this time in our lives only served to build my admiration for this duty-bound man. We saw one another at odd hours and did what we could to kindle the flame that was rapidly growing between us. About a year after our Big Fat Greek wedding in 2005, his mother went to join his dad. Several months later, we began talking about finally putting down roots and buying a home.
My new husband had been an apartment dweller all his adult life, so becoming a homeowner at last was something he had dreamed of for many years. We began looking in Marin County, where we had rented a home, and found our budget would get us a 2 or 3-story condo with no garage. So we began looking for a home in other parts of the Bay Area. Nothing seemed to work for us after a few months of traipsing in and out of houses for sale. Then my new husband brought up the idea of moving to the more affordable Sacramento area. San Francisco firefighters, who worked only a few days a week due to their 24-hour schedules, often commuted even farther distances to work, and we figured it would only be a few years before my firefighter could retire anyway.
I bristled at going back, but not because I disliked it here. I had, after all, spent two blissful years in Sacramento’s Arden Park as a child, jumping into and out of neighbors’ swimming pools and wearing out the tires on my bicycle before my father moved us to the Midwest, where he was born. My distrust of moving to Folsom was associated with the bad memories that accompanied my last long-term relationship. So I told my new spouse that as long as we did NOT move to Folsom, I was game.
The hunt was on. At first, we looked at homes in towns like Davis, Fair Oaks, and Carmichael, but they were either too land-locked from freeway access or too far from centers of commerce. The most beautiful older neighborhoods of Sacramento were in East Sac, which contained homes that, in our price range, were too small for our needs. The rest of the city contained what I call “spotty” neighborhoods — those where there were enclaves of lovely homes but were plagued by the close proximity of unkempt homes that might even feature sofas out on front porches. After he saw the town of Folsom, however, my husband asked if there would be any way I would reconsider. The bedroom community was not only beautiful, but offered everything we needed: three freeway-friendly on-ramps, recreation, lovely neighborhoods and the small town feel that felt just right to him.
I began to reconsider. If I could detox from the memories of my past life in Folsom, perhaps I could begin to appreciate it in a new and different way. My daughter was now grown and off on her own, my relationship was with a man I knew would stand the test of time, and I could still run into San Francisco for shopping trips, see family and attend events there whenever I wanted. So I told him I would look up listings in Folsom, but should we end up here, he would have to put up with some PTSD for a while.
It did not take long for us to find a home that served our needs. Values had plummeted by 2007 (unbeknownst to us, they would go down even further before returning to the price we would pay), and suddenly our dollar went a lot further. We chose a home in an established but lovely neighborhood close to the local hospital, retail areas and freeway on-ramps we knew would become important. The home lived mostly on a single level, but had a loft for my parents’ grand piano and a bedroom and bathroom for guests. It was a damn-near perfect choice for us.
Suffice it to say, I have never been happier. I got through my first few weeks back in Folsom by pulling off the road and having a good cry once in a while as sad memories surfaced from my previous existence here. After that, they never entered my consciousness again. I was in an entirely new life, and Folsom suddenly became the beautiful place I had always wanted it to be. After a few years, my husband retired and soon we began putting our money into our home, making it more uniquely ours. Every time we return to here after a trip, we feel as if we are back in our own little slice of heaven.
That was nearly ten years ago. Folsom, in essence, had never truly changed. But I had.