Kelly Shire

Wildflowers of Borrego by Barbara Weightman Oil painting

“Wildflowers of Borrego,” by Barbara Weightman

Oak Glen

This week a slow-rolling flood of mud and debris came churning down from the wildfire-charred hills, closing the main road through town and trashing the namesake steakhouse, and a couple years back the old museum burned down, the one with the musty taxidermy mountain lions and deer perched on fake boulders, the museum had sat at the top of a steep hill reached by following yellow bear paw prints painted onto black asphalt and also, when my family visited last — this would be a few years ago, my daughter still in high school — we were hungry and strolled over to the Law’s family coffee shop but it was closed down for good, with a Sorry sign posted on the railing and I was surprised at my grief, small but sharp as a paring knife, remembering in a rush all the years I’d dined with my family as a child, before I had my own family, how the line stretched out the door and while waiting for our name to be called I’d watch through a side window an old machine slowly turning, peeling apples for cider — how the bees buzzed and banged against the window, crazy for that sweet smell — and when the waitress finally led us into the backroom with the big stone fireplace no matter what you ordered for lunch, you’d leave room for that slice of pie, I mean after all, this was why we had come on a Sunday in September or October, driving seventy miles east up into the foothills of the San Bernardino mountains, a couple weeks after my grandma sniffed the LA county air and declared it Oak Glen season, me and my mom in the back seat of grandpa’s green Monte Carlo and we’d park at the Los Rios ranch farmstand to buy apple butter and apple cider and even some apples and then we’d stroll through the village, its small strip of shops, Indian moccasins and western belts and the general store with jams and jerky and taffy bins and the competing pie shops and the Pieloon bakery where we bought apple cookies that came home in a white paper bag and there was that time when my new husband and I, before any children, went on a November day postseason and it was actually cold, with a true nip in the air and Christmas decorations in the quiet shops, you need cold weather for apples to grow you know, and it snows up there in Yucaipa most winters but I never knew that really, only that it must be fall because I finally had a caramel apple and the trees were rustling all around us, small red leaves on the ground as I walked up a hill beside my grandpa, following painted yellow paw prints, excited to visit those dusty dead animals one more time. 

Kelly Shire’s essays and creative nonfiction have appeared in Brevity, Under the Gum Tree, Entropy, and several other journals. She contributed a short story to Palm Springs Noir, an anthology published in June 2021, as part of the popular crime series produced by Akashic Books. Born and raised in Southern California, she holds an MFA from Cal State Long Beach and lives in Temecula, California, where she is completing a memoir-in-essays.