Mesa Musings: Losing Californians faster than we can grow them

It's as passé as an old Mission Pak wrapper.

I'm speaking of the late, great state of California. I'm a California native — I love the place — but the old gal isn't what she used to be.

Mission Pak was a product of my youth, marketed by a Los Angeles firm. What precisely was it?

It was "Cali in a Box": a large package of dried and candied California fruits and nuts that we residents were urged, particularly around the holidays, to ship to relatives in Logan, Utah; Sioux City, Iowa; and International Falls, Minn.

Commercials ran on radio and television featuring a mind-numbing jingle that, once implanted in your brain, would replicate and crash your hard drive, making you crazy!

The jingle went like this:

"Say the magic word,

Say Mission Pak,

And it's on its merry way.

No gift so bright, so gay, so right,

Give the Mission Pak magic way!"

OK, so the lyrics don't hold up so well six decades later, but Mission Pak fruits were a big deal across America's heartland in the 1950s and '60s. They were a love letter from the Mecca of Sunshine and Citrus.

Mission Pak, I'm told, was bought out by an international firm years ago and, sadly, went out of business.

The same malady that brought Mission Pak to its knees — the deterioration of its brand — is now afflicting the Golden State. That's if you believe a June 27 CNN article, "The California Dream is Fizzling Out." Ouch!

"California isn't what it used to be," the CNN piece alleges. "For average Americans, the state seems to have lost its appeal."

Because our state hasn't grown oranges and lemons for quite some time, I'm wondering when we last even had a peel?

One of my four grandparents was born in California. The remaining three hailed from Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas. They all arrived anticipating a better life.

My mom was born in Kansas, my dad in San Francisco.

"I'm so grateful my father had wanderlust," my 87-year-old mother told me the other day. "He dreamed of California. Had he remained in southeastern Kansas, I probably would have spent my married life in Tulsa."

With my mom in Tulsa, and my dad in Lotus Land — and never the twain meeting — that puts me hovering in a mother ship somewhere above Roswell, N.M.

The CNN article asserts that California is not the destination it once was.

When I was a fifth-grader in 1955, California had a population of 13 million. Today, its population is 37.3 million. The state grew by 53% in the 1940s and 49% in the '50s. But, in the 2000s, it has grown by just 10%.

I remember my first day of school in Mrs. Ballreich's fifth-grade class at Lindbergh School in Costa Mesa. Mrs. B asked all 28 kids where they were born. Four of us said California. The rest came from the Midwest or Eastern Seaboard.

That's pretty much how things were during my school days. California was the Promised Land. Most of my classmates came from elsewhere.

During the past 10 years, 1.5 million more people left California for other states than came here from them. Many middle-class residents abandoned California for Texas, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. Only births and international immigration kept this state growing.

During that same decade, my own daughter, her children and husband, his parents, and his sister and her family permanently relocated from California to North Carolina. A dozen people in our family packed up and left, and eight were California natives.

Why'd they go? They wanted a slower pace, more living space, lower taxes and a more affordable lifestyle.

And they found it!

Now, says the CNN article, the "Coastal Paradise" of my grandfather's dreams has become "stucco and 7-Elevens."

But I find a silver lining in all of this.

Though we're shoehorned in like 37 million sardines, California's weather is still No. 1!

For now, that's good enough.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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