It was in 1875 when the old man sent a letter by courier to his daughter.
The old man had been on a trading ship from New England, the bark Harriet Blanchard, when they sent him to cure skins from the trades at the trading company’s curing site on La Playa in San Diego Bay. When the work slacked off, the old man who was then young took a horse ride out to the Mission San Diego de Alcala. While at the mission, he met a Kumeyaay maiden named Aponi. After a short time together, they were married by the priest at the mission as well as having the Kumeyaay wedding ceremony where they drank out of a “wedding” vase to consecrate the union.
The couple moved into a new house in the new pueblo of San Diego. The old man thrived as a merchant, shipping agent, and landowner.
Ayana, their daughter, married Don Juan Forster’s son, Marcos.
Forster was an Englishman who went to Guyamas, Mexico and became a ship captain for his uncle, a job that sent him to San Pedro where he became a shipping agent and settled in California in 1836. He married Dona Ysidora Pico, sister of Pio Pico the Governor of California. Through that relationship and shrewd business, Forster became the largest landowner in California.
He and his family lived in the old mission of San Juan Capistrano, which the elder Forster had purchased, when his son Marcos met the old man’s daughter Ayana as the Don and the old man worked together on a few land deals. Marcos and Ayana fell in love, and they married in a huge Mexican wedding and fiesta in San Juan Capistrano. Ayana and Marcos moved into the Don’s home, and they had a son.
They named him Armando Buckingham Forster. Buckingham was the old man’s mother’s maiden name who emigrated to the Boston from England right after the Revolutionary War. The old man’s parents had give him the middle name of Buckingham. Ayana, when she found out the origin of the old man’s name, thought it was lovely, and she insisted to Marcos that their son’s middle name would also be Buckingham. By the time he was four, everyone called him “Buck.”
For a while, the couple lived in the Mission San Juan Capistrano with Don Forster. The Don and all of his family later moved to Santa Margarita y Las Flores, which was located in what is now Camp Pendleton. They were living there when she received her father’s letter.
The old man’s letter, who was now a widower, asked Ayana to send his grandson Buck to visit for a fortnight. The old man explained his health was failing, and he would like the comfort of spending some time with the boy, now 14 years old.
The courier delivered the letter to Ayana in one day, a fifty-mile trip. She sent a return letter to the old man to let him know she was complying with his request. She and Marcos, helped Buck pack, and one of the vaqueros drove a small carriage to San Diego. The trip took a long two days.
The vaquero returned to Santa Margarita y Las Flores on the stallion that had pulled the carriage. The old man had an ample stable of horses. He and Buck rode horseback around San Diego and places the old man wished to show his grandson.
The two rode up the hills of Point Loma and had lunch in the lighthouse with the owner and his wife and family.
They went to La Playa and the old man pointed out where he had cured the animal skins when he was a sailor on the Harriet Blanchard.
There, as they looked out the channel past Point Loma, he told of his youth growing up in Massachusetts and the pleasure and perils of sailing on a bark around South America, then up and down the coast of California. He included his harrowing experience of sailing into the storms and turgid waters around Cape Horn.
From there, they rode out to the mission, and he wove the tale of how he had met Aponi, his wife and the boy’s grandmother, as the priest was reaching out to the Kumeyaay tribe to become Catholics. He explained how he and Aponi had escaped from the ongoing feud between the Kumeyaay and the Mexican and Spanish citizens and how the town’s population had decreased to 100 or so after having about 600 citizens in the 1840’s because of the conflicts between the natives and the new residents.
The old man went on about how, because of the conflict, he moved to the east to a Kumeyaay village with Aponi and lived with the native tribe for several years until after the United States had claimed California during the Mexican war and made it a state in 1850.
He told of the life in a tribe’s village and related when the unrest had settled down for a while, how he and Aponi had moved back into the town and how he began to acquire land. He explained to Buck that was when he and Don Juan Forster began to do some business together and how his daughter, Ayana, Buck’s mother had met his father, Marcos.
And the old man took him to the peak southeast of town to the grave at the crest where Aponi was buried with the rites of the Kumeyaay, how she had come down with an unknown disease and, in spite of the spells and prayers of the Kumeyaay shaman and fighting the illness for a week, Aponi passed away. At the grave site, looking out over the Pacific, the old man cried again.
For a fortnight, the grandfather and grandson traveled all over the area, to the Kumeyaay village in the east, to the newly established border with Mexico, along the coast and tidelands, and fished in the bay. The old man with the help of his Kumeyaay family, taught the young lad some of the Kumeyaay language.
The boy could tell the old man’s health was failing. He knew the old man was making an effort to do all the things that they were doing, and the old man was doing it because he wanted Samuel to know all he could learn about his grandfather. Buck was glad he was learning about the old man’s life, but he was concerned about his health.
The day before Ayana was sending the vaquero back with the carriage, Buck packed his clothes and gear. He would be leaving the day after the vaquero arrived. After packing, he walked into the old man’s bedroom to say goodnight.
The old man was wheezing and coughing but stopped when Buck entered the room. He motioned for the boy to sit in the chair next to the bed. When Buck was seated, the old man told him life was fading.
He then said to the boy, “If I make it to tomorrow before you leave, i have a request.”
Then the old man began a chant, a mixture of his native language and that of the Kumeyaay. Roughly translated he said:
Take me to the top of that mountain.
No, it’s better that I walk.
There’s a path I used to take there with Aponi
When we were young,
Oh yes, when we were young,
We walked those hills together,
Admiring the wildness of the land.
Every month or so,
We reached the top of that mountain
To gaze upon the great Pacific
And watch ships like
The bark that brought me here.
We survived hard times;
We walked and worshipped
These lands to acknowledge
Our survival was because of our union.
I would like one more time
To walk to the top of that mountain
And lay beside my beautiful Aponi
The old man closed his eyes. Buck knew his grandfather had died. He laid his head on the old man’s chest and cried for a while.
When the vaquero arrived the next evening, Buck related the events. The next day, he and vaquero put the old man in the carriage. They rode to the top of the mountain. They buried the old man next to Aponi.
Buck looked out over the Pacific and made a decision. He told the vaquero to go back to Santa Margarita y Las Flores.
“Tell mi madre what has happened. Tell her i am staying here in my grandfather’s house. I will write a letter for you to take to my parents. It will explain my decision and ask her and my father to come and visit.
“You see, this is my home with the old man now.”