Credit: Peter Kuper,

My sister and I live in Oakland, and when news about coronavirus began to intensify in early March, we decided to come home to Santa Barbara to stay with our parents. At the onset, we knew this wouldn’t be the typical visit home: summer days spent at the beach, get-togethers with old friends, eating at our favorite restaurants. We haven’t all lived under one roof since my sister and I were in high school, over 10 years ago and a very different time.

Coming home, I knew we needed to establish some ground rules, so we made a family operating model. Nothing too high maintenance: areas of the home that are private so everyone gets alone time, designated work areas since my sister and I are fortunate to still be working, safety precautions we’d abide by to keep everyone healthy, and ways we would all help around the house. Our operating model isn’t always upheld, like when my dad barges into my room first thing in the morning with some idea he has to share right at that moment — old habits die hard — but we’re doing alright.

This experience has been hard and bizarre and rattled us all. It’s put plans on hold, novel concerns in our minds, and put personal belief systems into question. But it’s also put so much into perspective. Like the fact that this is the only time in the rest of my parents’, my sister’s, and my life that the four of us will spend this much time together — period.

So we’ve made the best of it: I’m having real conversations with my mom and my dad about them and their lives, not about me. My sister and I are battling out our different world views and hugging at the end of it. We’re eating together, laughing together, crying together, walking together, building together, and doing this damn thing together. Even though we’ve had to grieve so many things, we’ve gained so much as a family.

The other day my dad shared with me a poem that he wrote. He has been a general contractor in Santa Barbara for the last 35 years, retired last year at 70, but he’s never lost his hippie roots. I humored him by reading it, and by the end, I was moved by what he wrote.

Is Spring Sprung

Spring has come, has it?
Will fruit it bear?
Flowers it always gives!
“Fruit trees you can grow in your backyard”
Paula sent me that ad three years ago
Am I ready to plant more trees, step back,
And hope they produce???
Got plenty already and prayers to the fruit gods hoping, they give bounty
Plum five years old still begging it for gifts to ripen
Apricot 25 years and only a handful
Both these trees are in the brotherhood of stone fruit
Do they talk to each other in cahoots on giving or not?
Had a peach tree once that only fed the gopher colony of squatters
Had an “Anna Apple” produces square apples if you can believe that,
Only saw one apple in 20 some years before it rotted in place and pulled right up.
That apple should have gladly produced in abundance
After all it was blessed and planted over the after birth, from Anna Grace, born right here in our tub.
Maybe the oak tree crowded it, maybe the drought got it, maybe — I just didn’t know how to tend that
“Anna Apple”
But Anna Grace sure has flourished into a wonderful young woman of 29
She was well tended with love and care!
That Hazel Nut — 25 years nothing, had to cut it back to the ground and hope it will fight its way back
My dad is 99 and endlessly gabs about how his have not produced either, says they need a pollinator
orders more saplings and damn “you can’t tell a pollinator from a producer,” can someone, please help.
The loquat and kumquat they’re okay

That weird Mexican lemon produces abundantly sour fruit just to look at, doesn’t even mix well with
The avocado tried for many years before it passed on. Plenty of flowers and buds!
But damn that Santa Ana wind comes every year blowing the babies off before the fruit sets
Joe — Ya, shoulda planted it in a better place, with all these avo growers in Santa Barbara someone
would have gladly given a tip or two. Location, location, location!
And those grape vines on the arbor — 25 years and only a few tiny red bunches and no green ones,
Maybe it’s grafting time?
Our fourth try at an orange tree is giving a little,
At least the flowers are full and perfumed.
The ancient pomegranate, pruned back hard is coming around, Its red flowers, bright with promise.

Has Spring never Sprung — never sprung for us?
Maybe this year
Ya this year is different, drought over, March rains
Well, miss plum sure looks promising
Loaded with flower
Just yesterday I saw in awe, the white explosion and the sunset on her branches,
Shimmering through all those white petals.
Ya, maybe this year
Even Mrs. Apricot is loaded and today the flowers are turning into babies
Oh! please set your bounty this year

We are all home now
Tending the garden
Tending each other
Being our own little village
Why did it take some damn world virus for us to finally get back to the garden?
Maybe mother earth is saying “Well I’m always here for you and spring is here. Just tend my garden” —Joe Campanelli


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