A little over a week ago, we hosted a Valentine’s breakfast for my sons’ grandparents, cousins, their parents and our dear sitters that help keep this boat afloat and love on our two kids like they are their own. I consider it the season for love and like to celebrate the people we’re most thankful for in unconventional ways all month long.

My husband and I skipped a fancy dinner on the 14th in exchange for pizza with our boys (although we did enjoy a deliciously quiet meal at Dot x Ott on the 15th, noticeably absent of regular shifts bouncing and comforting a newborn and negotiating with an increasingly independent toddler.) Our 2-year-old helped craft homemade love notes and picked out sparkly dump truck favors for guests.

Without the time to make each dish from scratch, our breakfast displayed some of the best local food in this city. We served heart waffles topped with local fruit, Moo Creamery quiches and granola filled with locally harvested nuts. We ordered a kiddo platter with toddler-approved bites from Native Graze Boards and locally brewed roasted coffee.

Remnants of candy conversation hearts and Smith’s Bakery cinnamon thumbprints are still strewn about our house, the aftermath of all the fun. We strung heart banners, blew up pink and red heart balloons and printed Valentine-themed coloring pages for the kids.

In preparation for this party, as I reflected on the many things I am grateful for, I kept circling back to thoughts of my hometown. I write in this column a lot about collections of people in the form of cities, of the image we attribute to this space and idea of contributing to our home base in meaningful ways.

I often mention the idea of “home” and what it means to me, so I thought it fitting to write a love letter to this city, a place that has helped mold and shape the person I am today. Our memories stitch the story of our lives together in moments that we can smell, taste and experience more than we can easily narrate. Most of our memories exist in the space — the city — we call home. We could all do a little better at acknowledging what makes it so special.

Dear Bakersfield,

You know how to come alive at just the right moment — on Halloween with gaggles of costume-clad children roaming the wide streets swinging orange buckets filled with treats, at Christmas with twinkling neighborhood lights, at festive Fourth of July parades or with rare rain clouds on days that I feel reflective and sentimental.

I find comfort in the familiarity, the smell of blooms from citrus groves on springtime drives through the outskirts, to the sight of heat rising on oil derricks from Panorama, to the sound of church bells from First Presbyterian Church downtown.

Only in Bakersfield is it socially acceptable to wait in a crowded room with a glass of bad house wine for a family-style dinner at communal tables that includes pickled tongue, roll your eyes at newcomers asking where the lingering smell originates (wintertime: the dairy farms; summertime: the onion fields), celebrate when the temperature rests below 100 degrees in July, complain about having to walk a block from your parking space to the shop’s front door or whine about a five-minute delay in your commute from a construction backup.

You have always been unique in ways that we are only just now labeling as cool. You do not look or function like any other city in California, and we should celebrate it. You’re full of authentic experiences. You’ve got swagger with the twangy Bakersfield Sound. You’re a foodie’s paradise, pairing culturally authentic experiences with delicious dishes.

There have been many moments when I bemoan your lack of public spaces, the dismal literacy and obesity rates, the hot summer weather and dearth of support for creativity, art and culture. While a lot of these things are improving, I often want change to happen faster, happen further.

Despite all this, I have fallen for you, for this city.

Bakersfield, as I dream about how the next decade will shape you, I hope you can continue to mature in ways that make us all proud. You must know, though, that I’m going to be tough on you ... because I love you.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at anna@sagebakersfield.com. The views expressed here are her own.

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