Ladies’ Hats and Lace-trimmed Gloves

“1-2-3-4-…no… one more- 5!” This was my little sister’s ritual countdown in church before we were shuffled off to our Sunday School classrooms. She always sat next to me, her knobby knees swiveling in position as her ever active legs swung up and down. Her lacy white ankle socks were always a constant flash complimenting her patent leather good shoes. My spunky sibling simply could not sit still for very long. She knew I was much the wiser and older by five years…probably too serious for her temperament. This was the impetus for her finding ways to distract me and attempt to get me to giggle in church. Sometimes it worked and totally blew my quest for being devout on Sundays. The worst timing of said ritual would be when she instigated these shenanigans during a somber hymn solo. We were supposed to sit quietly and stoically, displaying reverence for word and song. As kids, we could only take so much seriousness, and then we just had to explode in some way. If the hat counting didn’t work, then she would try fidgeting with her little purse. She would pose it on her lap and make little movements with the bows or the flowers as if they were animated in some way. Other times she would purposely slide her bum-dee-ay into mine to jolt me out of my mesmeric stupor. But the worst to control would be my sister’s pretending to cough or sneeze. Of course I knew they weren’t authentic! I just could not get past the silliness of it, because without turning my head, I could see and feel her hot red-cheeked, blue-eyed, freckled-nose face crowned in strawberry blonde locks. She was the epitome of effervescence in both visual and deed. Half a century later, I can report that my appreciation for her “apple-cart upsetting demeanor” remains strong and sweet.

 

Almost everybody attended church in our community. At one point we had 14 different denominations calling their flock to their pews. It is what you did on Sunday. Then you’d come home to have lunch or once in awhile go out to eat with family. Following that, depending on how the week had gone, the goals still to be reached, and the health status of everyone; whole families would be commanded by their dad to pile into the car to get going on a “Sunday Drive”. This could mean EVERYONE, from the tiniest baby to the visiting grandparents. It was a way to be entertained together. Once home, mothers would stir the stew or baste the roast, maybe even bake a pie. After dinner had been consumed, the entire clan would converge on the one television in the living room to watch either “Wonderful World of Disney”, “Bonanza”, or the “Ed Sullivan Show”. Sometimes it was the “Jackie Gleason Show” reiterating “How Sweet it is!” But, this piece is not about after church, it is about going to and being IN church.

 

They say church attendance is way, way down in the United States. Lots of reasons are given. Nowadays, with both parents working, children involved in multiple hobbies, clubs, sports and interests; the ritual of going to church at the end of a week seems an exhausting task. Additionally, the time-stealing homework loads coupled with heightened use of social media are also likely culprits. In other words–a lot of competition for one’s weekend time. But, back when I was a youngster we had our own relative “busy-ness.” However, come Saturday night, we laid out our Sunday best ready to wear the next morning. My mom or dad would give me a bath with either my brother or my sister-and wash my very long hair. Afterwards, once I had survived the near violent head shaking from my dad’s expert towel drying of my hair, my mom would proceed to tackle combing it out. Next, she’d roll my long tresses into clean socks from the “socks without partners” sock drawer. I would go to bed wearing probably ten socks all wound up in dampness, which by morning would be dry. Once they were unraveled, the curls would not disappoint. I would skip out the door in a fancy frock, shiny shoes, clean, crisp white gloves trimmed in lace or loosely knit, and a ribbon in my hair. Oh I loved those ribbons! Sunday School hats would come out of the mothballs in time for Easter, and were helpful the whole hot summer.  When I was a tad bit older, I graduated from bobby socks to lace stockings. It was the trend for girls and I sported a Twiggy haircut and mini-A-line shift instead of a frilly sundress from younger days. The point here is: one would not dare go to church without being “dressed to the nines”. It simply wasn’t done. This was how to show our respect to God. We displayed our very best! With our behavior, too! (Now you know why it irked me so to be instigated to laugh whilst being seated in presumed reverence).

 

I wasn’t always a “goodie two shoes”. There are famous reports of me making dramatic demonstrations outside the Church entrance when I was barely old enough  to read. I do remember throwing my Bible down on the pavement in order to get the “giants” surrounding me to pay attention. One girl who was about four years older than me and had a crush on my big brother so she hung around us all the time, she would warn me not to do it again. Then I would! Much to the reactions of the taken aghast masses, this flagrant impudence of mine became evermore enjoyable. I have been told and also recall vividly, only singing the one hymn I approved of: “Onward Christian Soldiers”. It did not matter what the rest of the congregation was singing…I would still sing THAT one. Again, the stares of shock, query and disapproval were high entertainment for this little manipulator. I’m sorry….I think I just liked the marching rhythm of the song…what kid doesn’t love a good march? At least I didn’t venture out of my seat and start marching up and down the aisle!

 

In defense of my reputation, I must uphold the fact that once I was seated in my little circle corner, I was most pious and well-behaved. Now, I did often stare at the paintings on the wall. My first Sunday School classroom was in the church which was no bigger than a minute on a street in our town’s historic district. The rooms were very small, and this is the church where my Bible-throw-downs took place. But, my Sunday School room had windows framed in dark brown wood and white-washed walls. I always liked sitting in the seat facing our teacher directly. She thought it was because I wanted to really be attentive to her, but in actuality, I loved gazing at the painting that hung on the wall behind her. It depicted a youthful Jesus amongst a flock of lambs in a pastoral setting. One lamb was in his arms, his face peering lovingly down at the gentle creature. This painting is the origin of my affection for lambs and sheep I have felt all my life. So if anyone ever says paintings are unnecessary, just don’t believe it.

 

My little sister and I weren’t the only rebel children in our family when it came to church-going dos and don’ts. In my preteens, my older brother now had his “Green Bomb” 56 Chevy. My father would say to him to take one of the kids to church with him in his car. Big bro liked taking me. I think its because I never argued with any of his ulterior motives. I seem to recall several Sundays where we completely never even made it to church. He would turn around after the family was down the driveway, and say, “Wouldn’t you rather stay home and make Bisquick biscuits with me? We’ll eat them up all ourselves!” Of course I’d comply. Biscuits hot from the oven, with slathered butter and dribbled jam? Holy Moley they were good! We did this naughty detour time and time again, and this might be where I further cemented my often times obdurate behavior. But, I must admit I took my “just desserts”. One of the reasons he liked staying home was for the express purpose of watching “Chiller” or “The Twilight Zone”. He seemed obsessed wth scary stuff. (Yet, he would insist I sit right next to him). He was the one with whom I watched “Hound of the Baskervilles” and a most memorable Hitchcock thriller,”The Birds”. I believe he is the one who forced me to endure “Psycho”. I close my eyes and tremble just conjuring up the look that kills made by those Anthony Perkins’s eyes. Well, truth be told, I to this day do not like watching fright movies. They flood my visual way too impressively and the sounds can be even scarier. If I read something terrifying, I can have control. I can snap the book shut and regroup. Sitting in front of a screen I can’t. Forever paying the price, unfortunately. Should have gone in the car with Dad!

 

I too am to blame for at least trying to play hooky from  church. Our esteemed patriarch always came in our room early Sunday morning and would wake us in a sudden swish of movement. He did not beat around the bush. He would throw off our covers, blankets, sheet and all. Simultaneously he’d chime loudly: “Up and at ’em!” One time I would not budge, I kept grabbing for the blanket. I tried telling him my outfit had holes in it. He countered with: It’s good to be holy on Sunday!”. Of course he won dominion over that protest.

 

Our father was raised in the Midwest. He raised us exactly how his parents did. He knew having church in one’s life was wholesome and character building. But, I think he was even more attuned to his Bible teachings than our mom. Granted, she knew her Beatitudes as well. But, my father was the one who would ask if we had read our Bible this week. I might go looking for him in the evening and he would be upstairs in his bedroom chair under a lamp reading and studying. I know it was important to him because his pat answer to almost everything was: “If you can follow all of the 10 commandments, you are doing better than most people.” So, I studied those 10 commandments a lot. And even though much of the Bible is meant to be interpreted, I grew up and still take the Ten Commandments literally. How did I come to be so permanently affixed to this line of faith?

 

My dad. For a good many years, he was MY Sunday School teacher. I was assigned TO HIM. Just as if I were any child in my little class, he expected me to memorize and learn verses straight from the King James Bible and to learn what they meant. I did. I was scared to not do well for him. I knew it was very close to his heart. Dad would also invite us to take turns reading aloud. I learned a lot from performing my best for him. My father also was great at answering questions we would have and they were usually straightforward. From him, I learned the essentials and they still stick with me today.

 

It bothers me that Sunday School is not a huge thing anymore. When my own kids attended Sunday school, the simplicity had already changed. In present times, kids might learn part of a verse or one message and then recreate an art project to remember it by- merely duplicating the teacher’s example.  Over time, will they remember that watered-down message? Sure, my sons loved doing that and they were proud of their little masterpieces, but, it was a lot like regular school. If Sunday School remained focused on memorizing, reading and discussing the Bible, it might have brought better results than we witness today.  These adults now, most likely don’t have the verses safely tucked in their mental pocket. I do, and will pull them out to bring comfort and clarification whenever necessary. It just seems that my own children’s era of church going was less entrenched in the actual study of the Bible. Maybe this is where the fraying has begun, I think. If you don’t have the words held in your heart, then how can you have an affinity for church? A recipe of duty, devotion, compliance, study, toil, angst and glee with a stirred-in sense of honor for something omniscient and loving is what worked for my generation. We need to somehow circle round back to how it was. If nothing else, the community felt safer because most youngsters knew right from wrong.

 

I am very grateful for the times in which I grew up. I thank my parents for accompanying us to church and being good examples themselves. I thank my public schools who thought nothing of putting on Christmas Pageants and calling Spring Break Easter Break. Even in public school our teachers let us have moments of silence when we could pray. The stories we read might have characters who went to church, because these stories were a mirrored reflection of what society was doing. I always knew there were many different faiths. I knew some even attended church on Saturdays not Sundays. I knew some churches varied in their idea of what God is. Never once did I feel it was inappropriate to talk about going to church. Never once did I think my church was better than another. We went because we were obedient. Our elders knew better. They had lived longer.

 

It is quite sad that the modern world has quite saliently advertised the ills of some of those who are in religious power. The result is widespread skepticism and utter dismay to the point that going to church must mean you are a “radical”. You must be close-minded. Worse yet, you must be gullible. You must be oblivious to the fact that churches are institutions who are siphoning your money and brainwashing your mental state. Ironically, churches that take on a psychological focus are more and more popular. Less and less God is in the sermon and more and more “taking care of Me”. These churches are usually immersed in contemporary music which easily draws the public in. Attendees may come in whatever garb they wish. Play clothes, jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, rumply just rolled out of bed looks does not matter. Attendance is all that matters. Is it? Really? I thought learning, giving and pushing oneself to know and do more is what’s important. I thought thanking God with respect-yes- in how to dress and act, I thought those things were paramount.

 

In a world where we have poverty and homelessness I believe we need a resurgence of teaching those same lessons taught in my youth. We need those Bible verses to remind us of what to do and think. We don’t really learn these things from feel-good it’s all about Me “sermons”. We improve the world by remembering to say and follow “The Golden Rule.”

 

I thank my parents for every Sunday they overlooked their stressful lives and took us without fail, to church. I thank my grandma for teaching me to wrap and twist-tie my tithe coins in a hanky. Every time we opened them up and meted out our coins in our Sunday School circle, it felt like we were truly giving to something. I thank my Grandma, too, for “showing us off” at her church, holding us with her suede-soft gloved hands and later driving us in our “Sunday Best” to her local grocery store. She always made certain that we all went to church and loved God.

 

Sunday School.

Where I first defied.

Then tested.

Then listened.

Then spoke. Then memorized, recited and read.

Then ruminated and spoke again, on a higher level.

 

Church, where I came to love God and pay tribute through not only proverb and verse, but also music and song. The enveloping organ chords and music literally shook my soul.  The meaningful lyrics were sung again and again, punctuated by gulps of emotion and are imprinted in my brain…even five decades later.

 

I wish we were still counting old lady hats and fondling our own lace gloves. I wish our legs were still dangling in chairs and pews, as our eyes catch the subtle yet wondrous spectacle before them–the dazzling sheen on our shiny shoes.

 

I hope more “lambs” come back to the fold and smile inwardly,

as they turn the rice paper paged Bible before them,

ready to make real the printed word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Going Coastal

I used to think living by the beach was all about the water, that proverbial patch of blue. The Holy Grail of all water to watch, sense, smell and best of all, hear. But you know…its so much more than that, Way more.

Just the sky as a daily changing canvas is worth the adoration. It is as if a painting constantly in the works is presented for you, from sun-up to sundown. Just in the last 45 minutes, I have noted the clouds go from white to cream to pale blue, and they are on their path toward slate gray any minute. Some evenings, a smidgen of lavender has melded into the closing colorful pallet. Often, this celestial blanket spread above appears soft and textured and elicits one’s imagination to wonder about the tactile feel of it all, if it were possible.

In my semi-circumference of view, are palm trees whose windy waltz interplays against the warmth of golden light that has been a constancy for eons. This bright orb that travels the coastal sky from dawn to dusk has been the subject of myth, folklore, history, science, music, art, dance, poetry, architecture, sculpture, lecture and even fashion. Every single culture that has existed on this earth has paid homage to our Sun and has revered her to the height of appointed Deity. Without our Eos, our beaches and sand, our hills and mountains, our greenery and flora, our creatures who walk the land would just not be. How poignant each day becomes at the behest of our great Star, the star from which our very own elemental existence simply could not even have begun. And what a backdrop for that shining globe- the expanse of shimmering sea!

To live by the beach is to adopt a lifestyle. First and foremost, is attitude. A bit of Hawaii in your every reaction. Is it the roll of the waves, the lull of tide, the hush of the breezes? What is it about a surfside town that makes her inhabitants so relaxed and calm? Take things in stride…”Cazh” is the word, its all cool, it’s all casual. The first person I encountered was a real estate agent. When he heard I was new and looking, he spilled forth: “Well, welcome to town!” Mind you this is a city, but there is a hometown heart here. My neighbors are openly friendly. Smiles, offers of aid, first names shared. Wow. Am I still in Southern California? Even my plumber who came to check out my sink the other day wore Bermuda shorts, sneakers and a t-shirt that read: “Have you hugged a Plumber today?” I mean, that’s just cute. Seriously! Cute. There’s hints that this is an ocean town…Surfin’ Donuts, a tall standing surfboard flanking an outspread hung USA flag in a post office lobby and a taco joint that has a surfer dude riding the waves for the logo. When one contemplates surfers, one thinks of the sort who take the time to ride the curl and hang a ten. These things take finesse, and devoted, carefree time. It seems that’s the seaside lifestyle. Prioritizing one’s life to commune under the Sun and in the water.

Is it coincidence that everywhere I look, I see people wearing Hawaiian shirts, sandals and sunhats as the clothing options of choice? Now, it isn’t easy to lose your temper with someone when either you or they or both are dressed in this manner. I mean really…how can you get angry when giant hibiscus flowers on a field of green are advertising peace, beauty and nature on one’s shirt, or their shirt?! Everyone has one skin tone here, regardless where they are from…it’s HEALTH tone! There’s appled cheeks, kissed from the sun noses, tans and browns of every degree. Plus, as you walk the sidewalks, a scent of suntan lotion drifts about every so often. Only those with a happy disposition spending time in the sunshine could acquire such robust coloring. A women’s clothing shop sign claims how it caters to the “Bohemian Lifestyle” with flippy, swishy skirts and sundresses. There are restaurants entitled with Patio, Lounge, Grill, Bistro, Nook and Corner on their marquees.  All these terms evoke relaxation, no hurrying…tarry awhile. References won’t let you forget you are in a laissez faire setting…there’s cabanas, coves, barbecues, and there’s even dolphin inns and seahorse shanties. The maritime whimsey is all around. It coddles one’s mentality. It navigates the disposition of the people.

Everything about living along the shore is a positive. Who wouldn’t want to live where the weather is temperate, with predictable morning and afternoon cooling zephyrs? But, in my coastal oasis, the desire to succumb to afternoon siestas is an overwhelming  indulgence. I can see how Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy came to adopt this integral part of the day. It is taking time to relinquish one’s thoughts to what naturally feels good. A nap in a sailor’s hammock will do quite nicely, especially if outside in the open air. To appreciate these kindnesses from nature is important. After all, we pay enough attention to the opposite phenomenons in nature- the tornados, floods, and earthquakes. Why not engulf oneself in the sweet gift the ocean offers us every day- those winds from the big blue?

I notice in my new locale, there is a wide variety of people not only from varying walks of life, but from many ethnicities. As I strolled into my new bank the other day,  I saw patrons whom with normal ease were conversing with one another- each quite oblivious to any difference of any kind. This made me stop and think: why did I even notice this in the first place? Have I been living in THAT sheltered of a place in the past? I don’t think so, but there is an added ingredient here. I think it is the forward thinking acceptance. Everyone is just happy to be hangin’. Period. Living in a cosmopolitan place is definitely inspiring. Perhaps, this conglomeration of folk hails from a populace garnered from arrivals by boat, train and plane. Not too far down the coastline is a Marine Base. Some of these citizens might be veterans or relatives of those in service. No matter why people are here- they find themselves along for the wave of ease, happenstance, thrill and adventure!

Then there are the birds. At first, I thought there weren’t any. But, the other afternoon, as I ascended my outdoor stairway, I heard a mourning dove in the distance. When I reached my landing, I heard his mate answer back- and then the conversation ensued for several minutes. Funny, I felt invasive, so I stepped inside and a bit later noticed outside my door, on the closest wire to my home, sat the two birds. They were doing just what everyone else here seems to do…just hangin’ together, checking out the scenery- and perched, facing the ocean. I thought, “Wow, even the birds are romantic!”

There are many, many dogs. They are beautiful. Always on a leash and with a fit as a fiddle owner. Because where I live is quite hilly, people slip on their sneakers and  everyone’s “Best Friend” leads them along, as they trudge up and over the undulating land. The day I arrived, my neighbor in the house next door introduced himself, and his dog felt he must do the same. Maybe the pooch was excited, but I did hear his dog bark quite a bit for several hours. It has been nearly a month now, and I have not heard him since or any other dog. I see plenty of them, just not hear them. So living here are content four legged ones as well? Great! People, birds, dogs…everybody is happy!

Originally, the land that comprises much of this modern-day municipality was owned by a Spaniard. All of it, for miles far beyond what the eyes can follow, was his Rancho. Then, in the 1930s, an out of place Norwegian decided he wanted to build a “Spanish village by the Sea”. He bought la tierra, and immediately set to paper a few hard and fast rules. Mainly, he wished to expound on the adobes with red-tiled roofs that were already a long-time complement to the virgin landscape. Thus, he decided to create a city ordinance stipulating that all new buildings must reflect this historic, Spanish style. Eventually, some infiltration of other forms of architecture dotted the cityscape, but for the most part, the original adobes and the initial builds for his Spanish hamlet have survived and been untampered.

The earliest village “Ole Town” streets are still here, and in fact, my home is on one of those streets. They twist and turn and there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to them. Creating a grid to follow, just did not happen. Authentically, as in the days of past centuries, roads were created more as foot and cart paths threading amongst cottage-size homes; not streets for the modern motorcar. I love this aspect, because it trains my brain to be observant and to imprint pictorial paths in which to go hither and thither. It makes living here a bold enterprise every time one sets out to go somewhere! However, in my travels, I have found a few long, intersecting -across the village- thoroughfares that do help. Out and about, are residents walking, biking, skate-boarding, as well as driving. No matter how you traverse this town, the views of homes clifftop-perched at every angle to catch a glimpse of Sun and Ocean, is breathtaking! In panoramic breadth, contemporary homes somehow harmonize with the echoing of architecturally historic visuals of young California. This serves to entice and entrance those who gaze upon it all- as they pass along. It would seem they are under a spell, perhaps long-ago cast by Neptune’s rolling waves of the sea.

Throughout the city are Spanish detail references. Over-reaching some main boulevards arch wrought iron Spanish frilled street signs and lanterns. Colorful tiled homes and buildings are in abundance.  They often have original ceramic tile as exterior decoration, or in their inner courtyards. One can glimpse painted tile designed as borders around windows and doors. There are crafted large, inlaid mosaic-tile medallions set into low walls along the village main street, while others name beach access tunnels. I have even noticed old “cobblestonesque” sidewalks up and down the rows of shops. There is some stained glass, but it is that familiar red roof tile and crisp white-walled adobe that adds Mediterranean flair to the surroundings.

A colorful brush has painted this seaboard town. Blue, white, red, and the nearly chartreuse green rounded hills with abundant mustard in bloom, create a primary color feast for the eyes. In addition to these rich hues, are the violet spires of Echium Candicans, and the purple clusterings of Limomiun Statice Perizil. Orange beaked Bird of Paradise or Flower Strelitzia are everywhere. Cranberry red Bougainvillea grow prolific and spontaneously along the coast.  Much of it is planted to add rich contrast to the white-washed walls of the adobes. Also, indigenous to the coastal shale soil and climate, and growing with profusion, is the Malva (Lavatera) maritime bi-color blooming shrubs, showcasing pale lilac and deep purple. Just gorgeous! Look closely, as one can see red Calistemon, or wild growing bottle-brush in clusters of ground cover. Remembering childhood, my eyes have zoned-in on the hot pink and magenta Carpobrotus Acinaciformis, a native succulent to the shoreline cliffs and crevices. With such a splash of color on every turn, it is no wonder as to how California became the land of dreams.

Having officially set anchor in this new “berth”, I’m certain there will be a bounty of discoveries in the next upcoming months, after all, summer is around the bend. I have read there are surfing contests, bowlings on the green, street fairs, farmers’ markets, festivals and outdoor concerts in the works. Meeting people and relishing the fine weather are expressions of daily routine. My gratitude for having this new zip code in which to dwell is immeasurable. It all began with the Pacific as my magnet. Yet, living by the ocean is so much more than mere gazing at the azure jewel sparkling out to the south, west and northwest. Knowing this, I still pinch myself to prove it is real.

 

 

 

 

Yin and Yang,Though Mostly Yang

Yesterday, I experienced the yin and yang of life.

Since my life has been teetering on a most abrupt precipice of late, the day began in the new “normal” style: one slated for adventure. I jumped into my Sun Goddess, started her up and took off for the beach. After all, it was a glorious, crisp, California-winter sort of a day! I knew the ocean must be looking spectacular with the skies awash in bright blue. The divergent cloud clustering sprinkled sporadically here and there could only add to the panoramic skyscape. Well, needless to say, I was not disappointed.

I took the 57 to the 5 which is not a route I drive usually. Why not? There’s ocean south of Malibu! Once I reached Orange County in a flight of vehicular fancy only Southern Californians dream about, I spotted a strip of blue just a bit past Los Osos, I believe. Next, I noted the artistic carving of swallows on wing in the freeway side walls as I commandeered my wheels past San Juan Capistrano, down the 5 which courts the coastal lands.

And then- I spotted it! My muse. The Pacific. She lived up to her name, all smooth like a blue plane of glass-an azure shimmer at peace. Not a sailboat on the water, no mark of humankind, just outstretching calm.

I was grateful the freeway, itself, was flowing like a body of water. That allowed me to appreciate the beauty. But after many miles I hit cities that were further inland and the 5 no longer hugged the shore.

But, still, even as cities these people were so lucky to be so close to feel the ocean air. Maybe they can’t hear the pounding surf, but the air is quite different than inland. I knew this was why I was driving on a whim. I was in quest of sea songs carried on sea winds. I think my car has a “Seaward” button to press for immediate automotive splendor.

Further on, the 5 lined up with the coast again. The long stretch from well before San Onofre through and past Camp Pendleton, slicing through Mission Viejo, has that bright blue platter of water-served up as an irresistible feast for our eyes…Oceanside, then Carlsbad, Escondido, etc…a reception line of communities welcomed me all along the way.

Finally, on impulse, I veered off the road taking an offramp to somewhere… I just made sure my trail was headed west. Well, I drove to the beach. Kids were just coming out of school and skateboards were at play, getting riders to their destinations. A friend’s house? After-school tutoring? Music lessons? Grandma’s? The burger joint? Starbuck’s? Home to hug their mom or the family collie?

I then spotted a place that might be a good place to live one day. I zipped into the driveway and had a look around. A realtor was there showing it to interested potential residents. She was very sweet and quite willing to explore any question or concern That popped into my mind. I admired her savvy. She knew her facts and knew what people need to know. After a fairly short look around, I walked back to my parking space. All the while I was thinking… imagine living down by the beach?!

Well I backed out and shifted my sweet ride into Drive. As I moved forward about 75 feet, suddenly to my dismay, the engine turned off. Just shut off like the snap of one’s fingers. This has happened a few times before in the last three months. Same scenario. I go from reverse into drive and then the engine decides to take a hiatus!

Well, the bad thing was, I was in the middle smack dab of the driveway…cars could not leave nor enter as long as I was a sitting duck. Not even a swan. A duck. Of course I panicked! Of course I tried over and over to start up the engine! But to no avail.

Now, the realtor with perspicacity drew lines from point to point with a mental pencil and straight-edge ruler. She determined before I even call for AAA, that I secure myself and my little roadster off to the side. I thought, “Sure, Brilliant! Who has my I dream of Genie bottle? Where did I last pocket my Bewitched magic nose?” I suggested we go ask a neighbor to help push the car.

In a flash she went to elicit help and a gentleman flatly denied saying he had back problems. Well, “Mavis, the Marvelous”, returned to say she was going to push me herself. I told her no, that she will injure herself! She replied, “So what? I’m 78!” I countered with a pleading that was laced with wonder as to how anyone could think so cavalierly about their heart and Health? I implored her to just let me call a tow-truck. I was too fraught with worry for her.

But folks, there are miracles in this world. Mavis the magnificent told me in all of her senior citizen shrewdness, to put my car in neutral. I did. And before I could get out to help, she commanded me to stay put and steer to the right. Her hands placed on my side mirror and door were primed for action. You know, that fierce “I am Woman, hear me roar”, feistiness fueled her to move me and my wheels just a few feet to clear a drive path!

With my jaw dropped and queasy stomach churning in anguish for her well-being, I witnessed a bonefied miracle. She HAD to get to her next appointment- and by golly she mustered the strength to get the job done so she would!

I wanted to thank her and pay her and exchange information— but she hopped into her own car, carefully eeked it past me looking straight ahead, and took off for location unknown… in a dash of time.

My friends, if ANY of you say being older is debilitating, please eat your words. Mavis was Superwoman yesterday as well as Supercitizen. She proved women can do what we set our minds to do. Her determination became my miracle. I am EXTREMELY indebted to her. But most of all, I’m in awe. What a gal! Thank you, Mavis!

After much incongruent cell phone communication, and a time lapse of about 40 minutes…my car simply started up on a first try. I had no choice but to just go- GO!

You can all guess the ending. It took me nearly 3 hours to get home to our snowy San Gabriels. It was pretty much the most horrific, frightening, nail-biting, topper of all driving experiences driiiive home of my long life. But, I’m here, in one piece.

The Sun Goddess? She’s here, and on punishment. Shame on her. I need to solve this problem. But, I will ever be grateful for a Mavis, a woman with Chutzpah to have crossed my path in a HUGE , important way.

 

Our Music Man

Probably, the stars lined up well in advance of the following chain of events. All I know is, when I was five years old, I had the privileged opportunity to ride the Santa Fe Super Chief all the way to Washington D.C. It was part of a month long escape from the San Gabriel Valley oppressive summer heat and to attend the CAN: Convention of American Nurserymen.  My father was in the fine business end of horticulture. He sold truckloads of live plants that would be shipped anywhere across the wide USA. He worked for the wholesale nursery company known as Monrovia Nursery. It eventually became The Giant in the Industry. How fortunate that I was just barely old enough to come along for the adventure with my two brothers and big sister, mom and dad. Many events took place on that trip, but this is not about that. No, this introduction is the springboard for making a connection from one magical night on a magical stage to a decade later: a bevy of magic on numerous stages. It is a connection between the famous role of an actor and a real live, true man.

My family dressed up for the theatre one of those nights we spent in Washington D.C, on that summer vacation. I remember buckling my patent leather shoes, twirling my cascading long curls, adjusting my velvety bow, and spinning 360s in the fanning circumference of my satin dress. I was primed for pleasure of unknown heights. My sister was dressed in a matching frock, looking very elegant, dreamy-fancy and wide-eyed. My brothers were in suits, ties, belts and polished good leathers.  My parents were the epitome of fashion perfection. Not a piece of lint to be found, looking lovely and daper and not at all like parents of a growing family.

We took a car to the National Theatre.  Because we were somehow blessed by the gods, we actually sat in “The President’s Box” and afterwards were invited to go backstage and meet Robert Preston, the lead actor.  The show was the stage performance of “Music Man”.  Being able to see from up on high, I could take in the full spectacle; watching the trilling fingers on trumpets, marching musicians, and seeing it all happen at the talented hand of the master himself, “Professor Harold Hill”. My young eyes took in that charisma and hung onto every word that was said or sung. I watched the dramatics, the dancing, the convincing, the swooning…I watched love unfold and story outcome evolve. I rejoiced along with the audience with the boisterously jubilant final act. It was sheer, captivating entertainment all wrapped in one big musical bow. I think I fell in love with music itself that wonderful night.

Years later, by the time I reached high school, I had already been immersed in a world of music under the instruction of a myriad of tutors. My uncle taught me basic fingering on our household piano, and my mother would often play piano or organ. I had a public school teacher introduce me to the violin and eventually I had a private teacher to refine what things I learned. In junior high, I had Mr. Ross, whom I could swear was really Beethoven when he would jump up and down on our orchestra conductor’s podium. Mr. Wilshire came later, and I learned to play to please. Both men were taskmasters in their own way. Both etched deep streams of chromatic chords into my soul.

Then, one autumn day in 1970, I came to be under the directorship of Mr. Gordon Norman. He was so many things all wrapped in a Stewart Tartan Plaid suit jacket. To me, he was Professor Hill revisited. He was official. He was sharp, exacting and our sergeant of arms. With either an outward swing of his arms to say, “Instruments up, let us begin” to a more intent tapping on the music stand, conveying “Let’s get it right THIS time, folks”, his leadership would instigate and inspire.

I played first violin for him. I determined to keep my spot in First Violins, and sometimes, had to accept “Second Fiddle”. He discreetly would tell me he needed strength in every section. But, I knew it was because most of my extra-curricular focus had nothing to do with brilliant bowing. You see, I was also in the Plaid Piper Drillteam which marched behind The Tartan Marching Band. Spreading my free time quite thinly, Mr. Norman knew first and foremost I was a student. Therefore, in orchestra class, there would be occasions when he would tell us to stop and put our instruments down. He would allow us to study for an English vocabulary test or go over notes before an important exam. I appreciated his being “in tune” with the kids. Mr. Norman seemed to know what we needed. It was easy to  even have a good rapport with our fearless leader.

Being of extremely short stature, my presence in the parade block formation on the street had only one possible location: front row and the far end position on either the left or right. One’s eyes could see a row of drill team girls lined up and guided up neat as a pin. Following it across visually, was an interruption at the end of the row where a sudden drop would happen. This was where my not quite 5 foot height would boldly attempt to proclaim its existence. Mr. Norman would once in awhile saunter over to me, peer downward, and with a smirk combo of stern, yet kind, ask: “Are you standing in a hole?”. He knew it didn’t take much to make me laugh and just lose it. Thus, his jokes were a good test of what mettle I might possess. After all, when standing at attention before stepping off the competition line, you cannot flinch one bit….not even if a giant blue bumble bee decides it likes your colorful tartan pinned close to your neck and ear lobe. (This actually did happen to me in a competition parade when we were all frozen at attention.) Did I move? Absolutely not! That’s trained fortitude!

Being a Plaid Piper Drillteamer, meant long hours of practice. Daily we were called to the football field to go through the field show routines. Each week we had a new show, so a lot of practicing had to ensue. I vividly remember one 1971 morning, we were called to practice to be there by 6 am. All of us girls had rollers in our hair-the band girls as well. That particular morning, the ground shifted and rolled and it was my first outdoor earthquake I had ever experienced. But, Mr. Norman waited for it to calm down, and we continued on without recoiling from further practice. Even when the regular school day ended, the last period of classes was 7th period. The entire band and drill team practiced until the sun went down. That was the time. We ended after sunset. Every school day. Every week. He was determined to have us reach our best.

It paid off well because, Mr. Norman and his compadre in arms, Mrs. Jean Thompson who specifically oversaw the drillteam, created the finest marching charts and field shows a high school band could have. We won countless awards and were invited to venues not usually associated with high school marching bands. We performed in the Rose Parade, at the Rams Game at the Coliseum, at the 49ers game up in San Francisco. Along the way we slept over in Porterville and Fairfield. Gordon Norman had to be in charge of the whole shebang– each of us staying in homes of families in those towns who had children in their high school’s marching band. That was a truckload of trust back in the day!

In 1972 he took all of us to Switzerland where we spent weeks roaming the Swiss Alps and picturesque hamlets. We rode cogwheel trains to the top of snow-capped peaks, we cleared Mt. Pilatus and looked down on Lucerne through the clouds below. We took a lake cruise, and drove in buses through winding mountain roads. We visited and performed in the towns of Bern, and Interlaken. We stayed one weekend in a university dorm. We marched in the Fetes de Geneve and met the Royal Russian Military Band. We exchanged pins with international bands from all over the globe at that grand celebration.

For the Switzerland trip, we learned new ways to perform. I learned the Black Bottom Charleston Dance. I helped devise and perform a flag twirling routine. We presented these at an amazing band concert hall in Geneva. I’ll never forget the Russians playing the “1812 Overture”. We even heard alpine horns perform. These were memories for life. Rich, storied, philosophical, and educating. What Mr. Norman and Mrs.Thompson gave us goes beyond anything any other teachers could have given.

While competing in our own hometown area against other high school bands, we strove to and often won top prizes…First Place and Sweepstakes. Mr. Norman expected so much from us. But in that message of expectation was the message of “I know you can achieve it”. Thus, we did very well. We loved being winners, travelers and entertainers. We loved being enthralled with the world of music, march and dance. We loved it because he loved us. We believed no task was too hard because he believed.

And this is where my reference to Professor Harold Hill comes in. Gordon Norman was ours. I don’t know if he stepped off a train from Iowa or not, but, when he came to Glendora, he turned up the volume on our quaint, little town. He used his salesmanship to convince our parents to buy authenticity. We wore Stewart Plaid from Scotland, and donned real accoutrements for the pipers and drill team right down to the hackles, amber silver brooches, ostrich feather bonnets, ghillies and kilt pins. I know there already were tartan and British regalia uniforms already in use…but he demanded more exacting finesse; more items from the true sources.

He insisted the band have white shoes for marching and before parades each shoe was on the marcher’s foot in a plastic baggie. Parents scurried about as the bags came off just before step off…and with white shoe polish in hand, checked for any stray marks. Gloves were examined for lipstick spots and replaced if need be. Our drill team hair had to be one style, a pageboy, and it could not touch the shoulders when straight. Tons of hairspray was in use. Every girl had to wear mascara and the exact same color lipstick. It was all about polish. It was all about the smile, too.

Gordon Norman also instigated the booster parents to sew woolen capes for the Drillteam. Our skirts were very short and we often were very cold out on football fields standing in attention. My mother was one of the boosters who sewed those woolen knee length capes lined in satin. He must have been listening to us, because it seemed we always had our needs fulfilled. How fondly I think of that cape. I can almost feel it, smell it and be warmed by the sentimental thought of it.

“Gordy” had chutzpah. Still does. Often, on our way home from an event, he would lead three buses full of growling stomachs and voraciously hungry students. Woe to the fast food chains who would see huge buses of our 300+ children arriving. He would ask if they could take on the challenge. He had a way of making the earth move at his behest. Even as his musicians and young charges, he was not easy on any of us. He would say, “Nobody else picks up your instrument. You bring it, you take it. Nobody will do it for you.”

If he wanted something he asked. He had a knack for knowing whose bread to butter to get permission for us to practice marching down Foothill Boulevard and on the 210 freeway before the Glendora stretch officially opened. You knew if he asked you to do a favor for him, he had full faith you could do it. I recall one day in the band room, he looked at me and said, “Would you mind cleaning up my office? It’s an awful mess.” I was more than proud to help him out.

He made us all revere him, but, not by “Harold Hill” pretend tactics. That is where the distinction lies. We just knew he had scores of ideas and he did not like backing down from them. We knew those ideas always became something great. His power of positivism was his shining mace. He led us in spirit cheers in the gym using lighted letter banners to spell out our High School name. We had spirit sing alongs on each bus and observed a “silent zone” returning to home, driving past our campus southern border, where we inwardly thought of our Alma Mater song “Praise to Thee Glendora”. As we turned the corner, then in modulated reverence, sang the words once out of “the zone”. Mr. Norman galvanized parental efforts to hold raffles, to fundraise, initiate barbecues, host band parties for the kids, hold pancake breakfasts and set up assembly lines in cafeterias for making pizzas to sell throughout the city as a means to get us all across “The Pond” to Switzerland.

If, I think back to winter, 1973, I can imagine myself polishing my black marching drill team shoes. I check to see the small piece of plaid in each square buckle was tightly fastened. Next, I inspect my black knee socks for any miscreant speck. I adjust my short stewart plaid kilt, and pull down my black vest with silver diamond-shaped buttons. I fluff the ruffles around my neck from my white blouse, and have a fellow drillteamer make sure my cap is at the right angle with black ostrich feather hackle pointed upward. I know not to put my gloves on until the very last. I was a Plaid Piper Drillteamer. I marched behind the legendary Tartan Marching Band. My snappy movements are filed in muscle memory, and I only have to concentrate on letting the music lead me, as I accentuate with crisp movements. I’m ready to perform for Band-o-Rama.

Band-o-rama just celebrated its 50th year performance. Gordon Norman started the tradition and was invited this year to guest conduct. The traditions remain from what we did long ago. The band played as the drill team now known as Pageantry, performed “Scotland the Brave,” “The Highland Fling”, and “The Sword Dance.” It ended with our Alma Mater, “Scotch On the Rocks” and “Amazing Grace”. Our Drum Major kneeled on one knee in full Scottish regalia and a lone piper played the tune. The moment was spell-binding. Tears glistened.

Back in 1973, I sat on a drum case of a friend, waiting for it all to begin. I thought of Mr. Norman and what he must have had to go through to start this operation. He had to convince the students, the parents, the school administration, the college whose auditorium we utilized, the city businesses to help pay for the building for the entire week of practices before the show.  But, our “Professor Hill” has that smile. He has a way of winning us all over. I think his smile says, “If not for me, then do it for Music”. Well, we did. We have. I hope we always will.

I get up from that drum case. I don my pristine, white gloves. I’m ready. The curtains rise. The Glendora Tartan Marching Band is sitting erect with instruments poised. The Band Leader, Maestro, Director, our “Music Man”, walks out under the flood of stage lights. Thunderous applause. He steps onto the podium box. He raises his conductor’s baton….the drum cadence commences. I emerge from the side curtains and march out with other Plaid Piper drill team girls performing our “Scotland the Brave” routine. The Pipe Band slowly rises up from the dropped floor and the magic begins….

 

Thank you Mr. Gordon Norman. Thank you for everything.

 

 

The Abounding Sounds of Glendora

A train of thought, worth the ride….

Nestled against the softly shapened foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, is a bedroom community no longer so small. Grown from town to city, it barely retains its quaint character. Those who have been fortunate to be raised in such a place can keep the charm alive in the halls of their memory. A sweet mixture of home and community is what comes to mind.

When I think of Glendora, a series of sounds comes spilling forth:

Firstly, there are musical sounds. Glendora is rooted in music whether in the schools, the downtown district or the homes. Foremost in thought is our marching band playing “Scotland the Brave” with the bagpipes skirl leading the tune. Marching shoes are hitting the pavement marking time with crisp white drillteam gloves slapping palms and thighs in unison. Next, I recall Glendora High School’s orchestra playing an “A” at the tap of Mr. Norman’s baton on a metallic music stand. If I dig deeply enough, I can remember Charles Ross’s plucking of violin strings to tune young children’s instruments. When I used to walk the halls in high school, often, the harmonizing sounds of choir practice in session would showcase those beautiful voices…Indeed, music in school was prevalent.

Music was always a part of homelife. I hear my brother’s sax, his bass viol too, my other brother’s Ludwig drum set pounding the fury, and his Martin guitar gently strumming. I remember the lilt of my sister’s flute and my own violin practicing. Lucky was the occasion when our uncle would come to visit and perform on the organ just about anything on request. He thrilled us every single time. Never forgotten was my mom’s organ and piano playing in our house on weekend mornings. She played with verve and woke us up. I can still catch her rhythmic, clandestine “when nobody is looking” tap-dance in our kitchen and quite fondly, my father’s sweet whistle of tune while tending his roses or loading logs in our fireplace. He’d pull back the metal screen and shift the wood about. Once it began, the sputters and snaps would commence. As my mind ferrets the thoughts of sounds around home, I can hear the tinny sound of my beloved transistor radio and the blasting lyrics to “Oklahoma” coming from the downstairs’ bedroom record player console. Slipping into thought are the strains of Hendrix, Janis, Iron Butterfly, Dylan, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Safaris, Simon and Garfunkel, Glen Campbell and John Denver. Sounds from televised “Sing along With Mitch”, “The Lawrence WelkShow” and specials featuring that swoon worthy voice of the one and only Elvis.

You could say music was rampant in our Glendora household. Often, before a big family meal, a brother-sister duet of “Heart and Soul” would enliven the ivory keys of our family upright piano. When it came to meals together, there was plenty to talk about, too. If I try hard, those voices come to life for me. A sentimental thought emerges of the tiny, yet lively chirping of “Moonbeam” our canary, abashedly interjecting his opinion into the dinner table conversation most evenings. But, specific outdoor sounds are in the halls of my memory as well.

Taking a mental walk outside, I hear the mourning dove’s call in my backyard, a neighbor’s rooster heralding the break of day, a variety of birds chirping cheerfully as if in homage to the sunshine, the crows holding a rambunctious convention several times a year up in the trees, a woodpecker ardently at work, the unique baby-like wail of the local peacocks, and lest I forget, the questioning call of the lone owl who made our tall avocado tree his home. From my upstairs bedroom window, I detect the distant whinnying of the Armstrong’s stabled horse. Either outside or in,  occasional planes fly high overhead humming their beelines; airport bound. A tuned ear appreciates these sensorial details, including the “every so often” sonic boom made from the jets clearing the sound barrier up near Edwards Airforce Base.

Inclusive of this audible menagerie is an infusion of yells with squeals that signaled the splashes of diving, running jumps on springing boards and belly-flops into our family pool. My brain hones in on the tick, tick, clicketing of the Rainbird sprinklers, the Santa Fe train’s wan whistle cry, and carefree siblings singing songs on the swings in our yard. I even remember the muffled giggles as we would literally sausage-roll ourselves down the verdant, grassy knoll up behind and northeast of our back porch veranda.

Imagining being in town, at Finkbiner Park, I hear the melody blaring from the ice cream man’s truck that used to canvass our neighborhoods, and come round to the playground. Walking along our suburban streets, I hear rock n roll bands practicing in their families’ garages, the clacketing of skateboards on sidewalks and at the skate park, the sound of jump ropes slapping the ground as feet hop and voices recite chants, the basketball slamming onto cement– then the dunking sound it makes, whooshing through the hoop. How clever was the repetitive flapping of playing cards placed inside the spokes of bicycles ridden up and down city blocks. All these sounds made Glendora not just a town, but a hometown.

Almost anywhere near the downtown village one could and still can hear at Christmastime, the pealing Christian Church bells. On Sundays, if walking about, the grand Methodist Church pipe organ can be heard uplifting hymns to Heaven, And, most days, the chimes ring from the Public Library tolling out the hour. A more subtle sound is the clear “dinging” of Bock’s Variety Store’s old-fashioned register bell. Carried on the wind are distanced shouts and cheers at the Little League baseball games held at Sandburg and Goddard. From in the village can be heard the crack of wooden bats hitting homers, and the softball crowds rousing support emanating from the Finkbiner Park stands. Amongst the minutiae of memory are the sounds of strollers’ squeaky wheels with babies babbling on board.  Then there is the sound of strong winter gales blowing in the trees and through palm fronds. Happily remembered is the exultant vocalizing of the “Whoas” of passengers and riders in cars going down the “The Dip” on Sierra Madre Boulevard. From the eastern end of Glendora was heard the fireworks popping and crackling on the Fourth of July, and for some, the 4:00 Quitting Time horn blast at Monrovia Nursery.

Whether one was shopping, walking, roller-skating or riding around the various streets of Glendora, there was a plethora of sounds to now remember. I most certainly do! The thoughts fly past quickly.  I recall the sound of water from a hose being sprayed onto cars and kids giggling in playfulness as they soap up the tires. I hear truckloads of carolers rolling through the neighborhoods at Christmas, singing on front lawns or from the truckbed. I can identify the squeaky opening sound of the ice-cream freezer door at Finkbiner’s Market, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves along Sierra Madre, the flapping in the breeze of the elementary schools’ USA flag and California’s flag. I hear their rope and metallic fastener clanging against the tall standing flagpole, and even the school buses’ engine rumble as it is idles and takes off with a load of excited students. My mind hears the spritely discourse or happy conversation downtown along Glendora Avenue. Memory fires up the sounds of different makes of cars and vehicles driving up Glendora Mountain Road, especially, a Diesel Engine Mercedes SEL, a 56 Chevy, a Volkswagen beetle and a Triumph roadster, for they belonged to family. I can think of the sounds of automobiles zooming down Glendora Mtn. Road, down Valley Center, and along Foothill. Sometimes the acceleration was quite obvious! Other times, usually at dusk, lone, territorial coyotes call after the speeding wheels as if to say- “Be careful! We are still here!”

Glendora was a splendid town in which to live. Her sounds invigorated, lulled, and inspired. I hope that the citizens living there today take the time to stop and have a listen, because Glendora’s sounds are testament to her beauty. Glendora is not just roads and  buildings. It has been an on-going symphony of sounds for well over a hundred years. They describe a way of life. They reflect the people. The people of Glendora.

Julianne Cull (2019)