From the Archives: At Berkeley, a legacy of love

Related Posts

Editor’s Note: We’re republishing this piece as Jim Rainey, one of the subjects of the story, was honored this weekend by the Daily Californian Education Foundation as the 2014 Alumnus of Year. 

There’s a yellow card that’s sat on my mom’s dresser for years. It’s a love letter from my dad — a messily signed poem with pictures of him taken in some old photo booth.

He’s not much older than me in the photos, and he wasn’t much older than me when they first started dating. It’s been nearly 30 years since my dad hacked out his broken verse on a typewriter for her.

My parents met as UC Berkeley students in 1980. My dad was a senior and the assistant sports editor for The Daily Californian. My mom was a first-year grad student who covered the field hockey beat. It was love at first write.

I grew up hearing stories about my parents’ years at Berkeley. My dad once spent the night on the field inside Memorial Stadium so he could get front-row seats at the next day’s football game. My mom had a heartless landlord where she lived near Solano Avenue, and she spent most of her time as a grad student navigating the halls of “Dwinelle Hell,” a term I finally understand as an undergraduate here. During my freshman year, I even had a view of my dad’s old dorm room (103 Ehrman Hall, Unit 2) from my perch on the sixth floor of Davidson Hall. But the scenes of their love story have always been my favorite.

My mom had just graduated from Occidental College, a small liberal arts school in Los Angeles, when she arrived at Berkeley in fall 1980. At that time, the Daily Cal offices were on the third floor of a building on Telegraph Avenue and Dwight Way. She showed up one day after reading an ad asking for sportswriters. My dad hired her on the spot.

My mom isn’t very sappy. My parents usually struggle to remember the date of their anniversary, and my mom often shakes her head in disdain when my dad or one of my two brothers acts too affectionate. My parents also often recount that my dad proposed by saying, “Well, I guess we should get married now.” Apparently, the real thing was a bit more romantic, though I have my doubts.

But their time here tells a different story. Shortly after they met, my parents ran into each other at Doe Library. My dad sort of appeared out of thin air, and when they saw each other, something sparked. My mother, who denies karma and most notions of fate, always tells me that in this moment, she felt they were destined.

Things moved quickly from there.

Like many kids, I could give you a jumbled record of my parents’ early relationship.  My dad was so nervous while meeting my mom’s family that he couldn’t swallow a bite of his dinner. He put the chewed-up food in a napkin and then tucked it in his sock. My mom also privately considered ending the relationship when my dad shifted from chopsticks to a fork in a Chinese restaurant (the horror!).

Another time, my parents were driving on the approach to the Bay Bridge on their way to San Francisco when my dad started rapidly cutting across lanes. He pulled over, threw open the car door and ran to the roadside, leaving my mom in the passenger seat with no explanation. He came back a minute or two later, victoriously holding a $20 bill he had spotted while driving. My mom was charmed.

My family often jokes that my dad got lucky — if the bill had been a $1 or $5, the stunt wouldn’t have played nearly as well.

Another more painful memory is one that my dad has played over and over: The Play. Cal’s Kevin Moen ran through the Stanford band to score the final, decisive touchdown just as the clock ran out at the Big Game in 1982, and my dad was there to see it all. While he enjoyed what he calls “the most seminal event in world history,” my mom was at the laundromat. Still, they stuck together.

A few years after they were out of school, my parents were still living in the Bay. My dad then moved to Southern California, freshly hired by the Los Angeles Times. They spent eight months apart before my mom decided to move south and join him.

They’ve remained there ever since. But for as long as I can remember, my family has been packing up the car once or twice a year and heading up the 5 for Berkeley, where, despite time’s passage, Cal football still loses and the guys serving up Top Dogs are still surly. Now, we do this drive all the time — to move my stuff from one living place to the next, to watch a basketball game, to take me home.

I don’t think I was necessarily destined to study at Berkeley, but I’m starting to question whether I ever really had a say in the matter.

My dad may have left the Bay, but he had me chanting every Cal song and all the appropriate Stanford insults by the time I was 10 years old. Family legend has it that once I sent a pair of elderly USC fans fleeing to the other side of the arena with my screaming fandom at an SC-Berkeley basketball game I attended while in middle school. My brothers suffer from the same affliction.

Still, I’m not really an avid sports fan — though I would never repeat my mother’s laundry blunder — and I was never set on Berkeley when applying to colleges. But when I received the long-awaited acceptance email and called my dad, he took a lap around the LA Times offices he left Berkeley for so long ago, singing fight songs and telling strangers the news. At that point, my options narrowed. I was Berkeley’s, wholeheartedly.

It might be the simple commiseration that comes with mutual experiences (the Daily Cal, grotesque dining commons food, renting nightmares and the like), or it could be more cerebral than that, but my parents’ story has settled like a thin dust over Berkeley for me to uncover, re-create and invent as I please.

My parents, Berkeley and me. A love story I can believe in.

Note: A previous draft of this piece appeared on the website as part of a UC Berkeley DeCal.

Contact Libby Rainey at [email protected]