The Sweetest Thing

There are many beautiful things in life.

An infant’s responsive smile,

The curled edge of rose petals unfolding

the whiff of brownies baking in an oven…

What makes them quite beautiful is that exact moment when they are “discovered”.

If one truly pays attention, throughout the day, one can spot these beautiful nuances everywhere and in many forms. It’s a simple matter of being attuned to the surrounding world. Thus, just at the very moment when a baby’s dimple deepens, or the third from the center layer of rose petals begin to unfurl, or the second that chocolatey aroma hits one’s olfactory system, is when the exquisite beauty is realized. And what a sweet thing these miniscule moments actually are. For they are gone within a millisecond. Poof. Well, if you are fortunate, there is a bit of lingering in which to fully appreciate these beautiful pieces of reality.

Life can be exalted to sheer loveliness by so many different notes in the symphony of Nature. Maybe you notice a shadow play made from trees’ leaves and twigs cast onto the lawn in a city park. Perhaps, for a moment, you feel a paper-thin, but percussive rhythm as your shoes walk and crunch over fallen autumn leaves beneath an overhead canopy of color. Hearing this, you are persuaded to break into a lackadaisical sing-song kind of march, that definitely leads up to a melody your mind is tempted to begin humming, as you saunter along. In addition to the music from your soul, you might take in a gentle serenade going on above, up in those same trees which gave you the crisping leaves and the flashing color. Out of one eye, you catch a slash of brilliant blue streaking from one perch to the next. It is a surprise and contrast that becomes the climax of this beautiful moment. Frozen in the beauty of it all, you stop, close your eyes, and then the birdcall takes “center stage.” It is a jubilant finale to an ever-so delicate slice of time. You just witnessed music “coloratura”,~ personified…

It is with this very same excitement, openness and gentility that a very sweet love story began.

Long ago, about 1947, in the coastal city of Santa Barbara, a young woman and a young man were about to meet. Their union was a blessing that continued to unfold for 52 years. It was a thing of great beauty because it was borne from effortless love. These two people found that their love for one another was incredibly easy to give and was indubitably meant to be.

The young lady had come from the Midwest, but had grown up in Canoga Park, California from age twelve, onward. She was an Education major in college at UC Santa Barbara. Among her wide variety of interests and pursuits, she also aspired to be a teacher, just as her aunt back in Illinois had also been a school-teacher. In her senior year, Dorothy was just returning from an “over the school break vacation” camping trip she had been taken on, against her wishes with her brother. He was sequestering her away from a young man she had been dating and really liked, but whom her brother did not believe was suitable for her. He even managed to bring her late back to school so she would have no real chance of connecting again with this fellow. For probably the first time in her school career, she was tardy returning to the campus. All the other young women in her sorority were already settled and excited for the semester to begin. Dorothy showed up, suitcases in tow, on the brink of classes beginning. Thus, when a traditional soiree was to take place in the parlor of her sorority house, she had to throw herself together and get all spruced up for the party.  Dorothy went down into town and bought very pretty pale blue material for her formal. Once back at the house, she went downstairs into the basement where there was a sewing machine. She sewed herself a very lovely gown which would prove to be the perfect look for the occasion. Gentlemen from fraternities were invited as guests, and everyone would be introduced.  It was the initial social event of the season, and one nobody wanted to miss.

Well, Dorothy, was very glad to be reunited with her sorority sisters, and the last thing that was on her mind was meeting a man that evening. She was still thinking of her beau that her brother had gone to great lengths to make sure she would not be reunited with ever again. Dorothy was simply thrilled she was one year away from graduation and focusing toward that end was of utmost importance.

In the salon, all the ladies were sitting or standing in clusters of two or three with their forties-style hair framing their demure faces. They wore the most elegant of dresses, high heels with stockings all perfectly arranged, and maybe some were wearing gloves. Dazzling in her powder blue gown, Dorothy scoped out the room after she had made all her reunion hellos with friends, and frankly didn’t see anyone who piqued her interest. They all seemed like nice guys, but, nobody that would give her the least bit of a spark. The only tantalizing development was what she had been told by the sorority housemother. This year was different, a second hasher had been hired. Thus, Dorothy was curious as to who he was. But, so far there was no special moment: no dimpled grin, no blushed curl of petal, no scent of delectable chocolate in the air.

Until….

Across the lounge Dorothy spotted him. In through the service door emerged a flame of bright blonde hair. It was a young man who had handsome, chiseled Scandinavian features. She liked his cute gold-rimmed glasses. He was slim but muscular. He was tall, but not too tall. In fact, he was just right. He was carrying a tray with pieces of delicious cake on it. He was the new hasher! He was hired by the housemother to help serve for the reception. He had been in the Navy and was now earning a degree in Physical Education also at UCSB. He, too hailed from middle America, the farmland, to be exact, but also grew up in the Los Angeles area as a teenager. Now here he was, a bright, happy hasher, stepping into Dorothy’s world. She just simply saw him, and desire was  ignited.

Here’s the thing. Not only was this man the spark for Dorothy to see, but he, too, detected her across the room! His eyes canvassed the rest of the female population, but, who stood out was this darling woman also with toe-head blonde locks. Her curls and waves tastefully caressed the outline of her very pretty, finely featured face. She appeared petite, a bit sun-kissed, and with eyes as blue as his. Dressed to the nines in her soft blue, she was indeed, that spark for him. It was romantic magnetism that pulled them together. This hasher, named Clifton, decided to cast typical protocol aside and not work the sitting room from first at the door’s entrance and then move around, guest by guest, but instead, to follow his instincts. He made a bee-line straight for Dorothy, and set down in front of her a rather ostentatiously-sized piece of cake. It was much larger than all the rest, and it was his signal to her, that he was interested.

Thus, the “shadowed interplay of leaves and twigs” began their visual song that would soon lead to their heartfelt, hand in hand March through life.

Sonny and Cher & “I’ve Got You Babe”

One day, while scrolling through Facebook’s newsfeed, I came across a very vintage video, all black and white, of Cher and her trusty companion, Sonny. She is wearing a sparkly pantsuit, silhouetted with bell bottoms, and a simple sleeveless shift top. One half of her outfit is black, and the other half is white. To top off the interesting “look”, she is wearing bauble earrings of generous size, that are plain half black and half white globes, split horizontally right around the middle. Her signature sleek, long black hair with bangs mirrors her signature sway in time to the rhythm of the song. Sonny, steps up onto the small platform stage beside her, in blatant black and white checkered pants, wide leather belt, and a funky floral black and white shirt. The presumed odd contrast of design works surprisingly well to pull off a “nerdy-cool” ensemble for him. He of course, has his bowl haircut without one piece of hair out of place. In fact, he looks adoringly into Cher’s eyes and notices one teensy hair caught in her thick eyelashes. With a loving boyfriend-like sweep of his fingers, he brushes it away, she not flinching for one second. The song they are singing is “I’ve Got You Babe”.

Indeed he does. She does too.

The simplicity of this song video actually speaks volumes. It tells me, that the two of them know who they are. A duo. A team. A union. And each one is unique to the other. I think the wearing of black and white reiterated this fact. Not because one is female and the other male. No, its because Cher was and still is, the epitome of svelte, chic and cool all in one. Being very statuesque, with elegant, elongated features, her hair, her bangs, her eyelashes, her nose, her long torso on a set of “must be a mile long” legs. And as she sings, her body is a modest, yet totally engaged continuance of movement, flowing and accentuating the drive of the beat. She even improvises an “air tambourine” with her slender, long fingered hand. Sonny, on the other hand, is shorter, maybe somewhat stocky, perhaps not, it is hard to tell by the voluminous pants and shirt. Making out any kind of physique is impossible, so what one learns to visually cherish are his expressive eyes, sly smirk and exuberant body language. Clearly he loves this woman beside him, and looks up to her, figuratively and realistically. Where she is somewhat reserved in her singing at first, he comes on strong and nearly boastful. His demeanor is without thought to pose or style, he just portrays himself, in the now, being in love. Hence the black and white. Two very different auras, but both a fine melding at the seam or line of meeting.

What I become enamored with, is the chemistry that flows across that line of demarcation. As they sing their loving song to one another, messages volly back and forth, telling of complete respect, gratitude and promise. That’s right, as their modern-day (1960’s) musical sonnet spills spontaneously; its apparent they are obviously making overtures to one another. It is a blatant, unabashed pledge to give, to care for and never take for granted the other partner in this fantastic twosome. They are singing a ballad, each the minstrel and the recipient. It’s a genuine, beautiful thing to hear and behold.

It is also atypical.

Today’s music seems rife with so many negatives. When did disgruntlement become cool? Lyric after lyric is a pondering of the unsavories in life. The words of today seem hell-bent on parlaying what is discordant. I suppose composers feel if they are in a state of angst, they must be intellectual. Thus, all we tend to hear is accounting after accounting of what brings dismay, shame, worry, failure, trouble, poverty, contamination, distress, ill-will, ignorance, thoughtlessness, irresponsibility, fretfulness, disease, crime, irony, and ill-fated outcome. Of course these things do exist, and ever so more today than before, perhaps. But, is it the answer to have music become the posterboard for pessimistic opinion and incendiary activism?

I suppose if some of the music out there waved these banners, that is alright; after all art is meant to reflect life. But, in truth, today’s world does have some pretty fine things to sing about! Beauty does abound! Love can be found down every corridor and in every niche on this earth. Why not allow the music industry the opportunity to capitalize on optimism? We know when thinking positively, circumstances do proceed better. I don’t quite know how, but they do. Why not send a salient shout out to the composers of our time, that we are ready to see the light, the sweet, and the pure; for indeed, they do exist!

The love ballad of Sonny and Cher, proclaiming their lucky stars they have each other is a far more wholesome way to deal with being human, in my opinion. It’s not because they both donned rose-colored glasses. It’s because they made their choice to focus on good. Youth take the meaning of lyrics seriously. They hang onto every word. If all that they read is an overwhelming truckload of doom and gloom, then is it any wonder that we have children bullying their peers, feeling suicidal or teenagers shooting children in their schools? I believe the time is now to switch gears and change the degradation and the proclaiming of ruination. Do not most of us still have our spiritual belief systems and our Higher Power to whom we intrinsically entrust our lives daily? Are there not such things as dreams, wishes and hope? Why do the lyrics of today dash these to the side as if they are no longer important?

This is critical.

Once and for all, only “seeing” the downfallen and writing of how the world is full of suffering is not in any way, shape or form a productive approach to bringing music to our planet. Our continued widespread use of music for politically charged or extremely morose themes could prove to be dangerous, and even frighteningly cataclysmic. People need to be reminded where there is yin there is yang! Each coin has a flip side. Behind the dark cloud there is the Sun. Why constantly dwell on what is wrong, when indeed, there is a Wealth of Wonderful out there, right now, needing to be expounded upon? People need peace in their pockets and hope in their heart. There’s a lovely, grand world out there to discover and explore musically.

Sonny and Cher sang of appreciation for another human being. What might happen to this rather “insecure at the moment” realm in which we live, if it were to mostly hear songs of the kind-hearted, uplifting theme? I would like to think it could change lives. It could save lives. It could even save our society.

What else would be more “cool” than that?

To all the songwriters and musicians out there. Don’t stop championing your causes. They are significant. They are dire. Of course. But, please, find it within the deepest recesses of your soul, to extrapolate the impetus to also write of what is truly fine. Please be a beacon of all that deserves to be lauded, praised, detailed, treasured and esteemed. There’s plenty of material to write about. It’s all around, we just have gotten so used to zooming in on the bad. Songwriters, your pen is definitely a mighty sword. Your choice of words can instigate sharing, applauding, encouraging, and expanding positivity in our midst. Grab a “brush” and “paint” your lyrical canvas with words that generate warmth, healing, love and enlightenment. Free yourselves from the tyranny of the downtrodden. There are far more inspiring sagas to tell in song. Be a modern-day balladeer! Write odes to Love, for Love is everywhere. Find it, and write about it. We know there are beautiful moments happening every day. Make them known! Change the destructive attitude with your intuitive, written voice. You will be heard, and life will gradually become a better, happier place. We need you, the time is now. Sonny had Cher, and Cher had Sonny.

Who will you be there for?

 

An Afterthought Remembrance of 9-11

Remembering 9-11 is always an emotional experience for us all. That morning, 2001, I recall driving to work in a state of ignorant bliss. I was listening to classical music on KUSC. But after about the first two miles, an unusual feeling came over me. It was strange because I didn’t know what it was and couldn’t put my finger on it. All I knew was, everyone was driving oh so calmly and not in their usual mad rush to work or school. I thought: “Is it a holiday? Oh, dear! I could have slept in!” Then, I thought, “No, maybe there was an earthquake and somehow I didn’t feel it in the shower before breakfast. But, no, that couldn’t be. If it were a big earthquake, enough to slow people down, then surely I’d know it. No… I guess I’m just imagining things.”! Thusly, I resumed my listening to the music that roused my soul, and really thought nothing more about the odd feeling and the way people were behaving.

Once I zipped into my parking spot at school, I gathered up my usual accoutrements; coffee mug, purse, satchel and a stack of books. Into the office I went, ready to be greeted by either the secretaries or the principal. I immediately noted a spectrum of looks on the faces of a handful of colleagues gathered around the secretaries’ main desks, which ranged from empty stares to anguished frowns. Still, I thought, “Oh, Silly, you are thinking so dramatically. Stop it.”

As I proceeded to exit the office door to go stride up the hallway to my classroom, someone said to me in a monotoned voice, “Your brother called you and said to call him right away- here’s his number”. Instantly, my worrywart brain ran the gamut of fears: “My brother? Which one? Why? Oh no, not my mother! Is she okay? Are my kids alright? Did something happen to one of my family members?” At fiber-optic speed every frightening scenario synapsed throughout my mental network. In this case, it was unfortunate to be blessed with a vivid imagination. Well, I spun around on my high heels, and high-tailed it into the teachers’ lounge. There was a phone I could use right there. (This was not the cell-phone era). Just the fact that I received a phone call at work from a sibling, was a riotous event. Why I didn’t think it was something good or joyful, I cannot say, except for maybe, those zombie, mesmerized drivers I encountered city-wide on every road this morning.

I then looked at the note. It was from my baby brother. (I’m fifteen years his senior, and he is the cherry that topped the ice-cream sundae when he completed our family.) I started dialing…and made a last ditch effort to figure out what this was all about. I pulled out the positive, and thought it was either a prank or he was going to swing by for a quick, impromptu social call. You see, I was and am so proud of him. He lived and worked in Los Angeles. His present job was Head-hunting in business. He had a way with people, and was excellent at matching the person to the right occupation. But what could he want?

“Hi…”, he said. Pause. “Did you hear the news?” I responded with no. “Well, it’s very bad, very serious… a plane at 9:00 am New York time, drove straight into a tower of the World Trade Center. Then another plane did the same thing to the second tower.” “What? How could such an accident happen? Really?”, I responded. “We don’t know, but the president has put a freeze on every airport in the country. There are other planes- and they think we are being attacked.” As he told me these things, he stated them in a firm, soothing voice. All I could do was think and then say, “Our beautiful America? Who would want to kill us?” “Why kill our citizens?”. None of it made any sense. Lastly, my brother went on to tell me there was fear the White House was a target. Then… I just lost it. I began to cry, my face became hot and flushed and my heart seemed to beat out of my chest. Finally, he said he would talk with me when school was out, and to keep in touch. He said I should feel safe in school and that the boys were safe in theirs. How did he know I wanted to just go grab my kids from daycare? He knew I had a job to protect and care for my children where I was teaching. His thoughtful gesture in reaching out to extend an informative comforting hand, reminded me I needed to be stoic, resilient and level-headed. I needed to not discuss the unfolding events unless point blank questioned about it. I needed to be a brave, wise, protective, professional. The call to arms had sounded.

The rest of the day was as if I were living in a mist. I honestly recall very little about what we did in class. I believe I simply went through the motions. It must have been surreal.

On my drive home that fated day, I reflected on the phone call. I was impressed with the stewardship my younger brother demonstrated. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. He acted in faith, taking on the role of our father, our dad who had passed away two years prior. My sweet, giving, steadfast “littlest” brother, assumed the paternal responsibility. I heard later that night he had called all my siblings and had driven out to our mom’s to be at her side. He gave us his love. He made sure the family would not be stricken or broken apart. He made sure every single one of us was connected and in the know. He was a fine American that day. He showed “the enemy” they wouldn’t succeed because he emboldened our strength of family.

My zany scallawag, “Goodnight Moon” loving, Little Tykes green tractor farmer, Little League pitcher, Atari champion, computer-wiz, thespian extraordinaire, violist magnifique, USC Trojan, business entrepreneur, racecar driver, shrimp scampi chef, baby brother —proved to be “The Solidifying Factor” in what was inarguably, a quite fretful, disillusioning perhaps even dangerous day. For that dedication to family was surely a rise to honor. I will always be very, very grateful that he loved us as our father.

Tidbits of Affirmation

Written: September 10, 2013

I am so happy. I received my first intrinsic “gift” from my class today. I learned, even after ALLLL these years of pedagogy, something wonderful about little students. When they fall in love with something you have done, and leave a few subtle “breadcrumbs” along the way…one had better pay attention and appreciate their communicative hints. So, it goes like this. The first day of school, I presented my obligatory (my own set goal) a capella singing of “America”. I have a book that portrays the lyrics through superb photos…waving amber grain, spacious skies and shining seas—excellent for ELLs. (English Language Learners). Well, I was fortunate enough this year to actually sing on as close to “spot on key” as possible (for me): believe me, I am no singer. But, I did okay, no cracks and I somehow picked the right starting note that would allow me to reach the upper register notes and the low ones, too. The kiddos really liked it. They said “again, again!”. I did, and thus began their love affair with learning it. 

Over the next few weeks they requested I read the book and sing it each time I tried to instigate a read-aloud on the floor. No relenting. No changing of the guard, either. They’re just barely coming to accept the beginnings of the “Johnny Appleseed” song. Today, we were especially too busy for a read-aloud, and despite the fact that we got to work in our first art project tied to literacy and writing, my little scallawaggers took the proverbial “bull by the horns”, themselves. 

As is the rule. when finished with their project, all cleaned-up and fancy free, their next task was to choose a book to read independently or with a buddy. So, as I am helping mend circles that were supposed to have been made from a square, engineer a few glue bottles, and subtely advise a few logical choices, I realize most of my 23 charges are completed with their “Goodnight Owl” projects. I know this because I start to hear a wafting gentle melody…it continues on with a few more voices chiming in, oh so naturally. I don’t think my pupils even knew they were embarking on a genuine enterprise, not for show or even affirmation, but for the simple joy of singing that song. 

My one boy who has been the most enthusiastic champion for the reading of that book daily, was on the floor turning the pages as the song leader, if you will. A cluster of about four or five children had heads bent low hovering over every word, singing with complete childlike essence. Then, I noticed others still at their desks, in a non-chalant spontaneous way, were one by one joining-in by humming or singing along. I tell you, it was a magical moment. A present all wrapped in unadulterated love. Thank you class. I love America, too.

Allegory and Irony

Imagine…

Stars falling upward, floating toward the beyond,

Waves singing songs, dissipating back to sea

Echoes in conches silenced and the seagulls are gone.

Why have these senseless ironies ensued?  Was there ever a purpose?

Can oddities reverse?

Think about it? What if we woke up one morning to find that everything was doing the opposite of what it was supposed to do? What if things once ordered, suddenly were not? What if the very stuff we depend on seemed to laugh in the face of constancy and just mess with reality? What if crazy became sane?

We know it would be surprising, annoying, upsetting…even frightening. And, the repercussions could eventually be devastating…

How might we react? Dive back under the pillow? Get out the camera? Call the police? Pinch our skin? Cower in fear? I’d run to the mirror to see if I looked the same.

But you know, such an oddity could possibly bring humor for just one day, before it all changed back. I mean, don’t you think you would laugh if you started to see:

Birds with wool on them. and animals sporting feathers.

Bears who’d run from people, or just give them a hug!

Upside down houses rocking on the apex of their rooftop!

Fruit squeaking at us each time we took a bite!

That definitely would result in some laughter!

This could be quite fun, you know? Maybe, the ironies we’d find therapeutic, once realized nobody was getting hurt. The true philosophers would either find this nonsense comical or puzzling. Scholars might be inclined to sit for a spell and try to discover if there were some hidden message in all this madness. Perhaps we would conclude the silliness was a game for us meant to hint at the hidden meaning. Henceforth, all interested parties would commence to set forth inspecting the wild mayhem, document it and pencil tip to lip, ponder the purposeful point.

We may find that the absurdity revealed truth. If the sun bounced and danced in the sky we would have trouble with our eyesight, the plants would confusedly get entangled while trying to follow its path and the clouds might turn gray in consternation and even yell at it saying, “Just stop! We don’t know whether to cover up the sky today or not! Hey there Sun, your rambunctious ricochet is discombobulating our plans! Now, QUIT it!”

If the rivers kept spilling up and out and over the banks, it would look pretty ridiculous and even cause massive flooding! This in turn would uproot the trees and plants, and they would fall to the ground blocking the roads or busting up houses. The roads would be washed out with their street signs standing in a widespread pool of water. ~~Though, none of that would ever be funny. It even happens already.

Simply imagine if everything you did seemed to have the unintentioned effect:

You would brush your teeth only to find that all of last meal’s bits of food were back on your teeth. They’d look all mottled and scary ugly! What if as you attempted to skip down the stairs to breakfast, but the stairs only led upwards, then, you could never get downstairs to have your pancakes! How frustrating! Plus, you’d eventually starve! Goodness gracious, what if:

Visualize if chalk on chalkboards refused to grip to the board and everything the teacher wrote would slide right off the second she wrote it!

How about if cars, buses, taxis and trucks only drove up and down in the sky, never moving forward? They’d all ping pong up and down and probably crash into each other. Or think about if the wheels on all trains were now square! Nobody could get to their job! ~~Again, none of this the least bit comical.

How nightmarish it would be if flowers thought they were underwater sea plants and behaved like sponges, coral, urchins and anemones by eating the bees and butterflies that would land on them? Oh no! Eventually no more re-seeding. No more farms. Rural commerce would end!

How ironic it would feel and iron hot too, if snow came down in hot flakes instead of cold ones? And what if the rain came down like needles, or worse, what if it rained skyward? What would happen if the wind blew only up and down? Never sideways…

So many absurdities…

In your house, contemplate the difficulties of a refrigerator that warmed food, the air conditioner blew heat, and the vacuum spewed dust and dirt everywhere? Imagine dealing with it all!

Are you starting to regret playing this thinking game? The possibilities of destruction and insanity are endless.

You turn on a light and things become darker.

You tap on your iPad and what ever you touch disappears.

You turn on the television and the picture is nothing but miniature squares all swirling around like a tornado.

You go to the movies and the picture on the screen stays in “Freeze Frame Mode”. So much for the “Blockbuster MOTION Picture”!

You try to open a book to read it and it slams shut and starts to cry. Though a fun twist might be if it read itself aloud to you…

You go to the bank and find out they only have sticks of gum in the vault. No money! The coins are cookies, and the clerk says, “That’s how the cookie crumbles!”

When you try to shoot a basketball into a basket it pops right back out of the net, refusing to go through! What? Never a slam dunk, ever? The score stays 0 to 0 forever!?

Every single time you swing the bat to hit the baseball it sways away from the ball to avoid hitting it. No more homeruns to cheer about!

How about when you try to get away from this wacky world you find that your bike’s tires constantly go flat. I guess there is no chance of escape. It is a world of sheer, deranged lunacy. Even the people talk in mixed-up fashion.

There just would be no fixing it, righting it; and there’d be no rhyme or reason to any of it. However~~there might be a truth to rise from all the illogical rubble.

****************************************************

You see, in ACTUAL Life everything does have a plan. It is all in working order-most of the time. When a musician plays a pipe organ, musical sounds with distinct notes come out of the pipes, not floating color or wafting scents.

All  the workings of life are regulated, it seems. Thank goodness clocks tick tock evenly, and your computer factors in (Daylight Savings Time). I’m thankful “on the ground mail” reaches its destination, much more often than not. I prefer to hear Classical music played on KUSC, and I can count on that station to provide it! I’m glad my professors taught me first, then tested~~well, at least the pre Post Graduate School professors did.

It’s nice to know we can count on the moon to glow, rather than strobe light its beam. I’m relieved to know my shadow does follow me and not someone else! Thankfully, when I exercise I do strengthen my heart as well as build-up my bones. How blessed I am to know my children run to me, not away from me.

Perhaps, after all this bizarre banging about of causes and effects, we have come to know gratitude. I for one am extremely grateful for:

That incandescent glow of mellow Autumn moon.

The beautiful scent of simple rose.

The calming comfort of the swishing sound a household broom conveys.

The tender little dimple that appears when a baby smiles, or you find one on the his/her knees and elbows.

Yes, the World was created, planned, ordered and produced in the loveliest of ways. It puts the concept of dependability on a grand pedestal.

And when something truly extraordinary, truly exquisite, truly accidental does transpire~~we can  hold dear the spontanaeity of the moment.

And neatly place it in our own treasure box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monrovia Nursery Pool

“Put your ankles together! Feel your toes at the edge of the board! Legs straight! Bring your arms up over your head, fingertips touching to a point, and elbows touching your ears! Now, chin down to your chest…and when you jump, be sure to bend at your knees and spring off pointing your toes, keeping your feet and knees together! Okay!-take a DEEP breath…Ready, set…DIVE!”

WHooooooossshhhhh!, into the water we’d go, and if it hurt your head, then you did it all wrong. The flat pointed hands and fingers were supposed to carve into the water just as a Viking longship’s prow would do in the frontier oceans. These were the commands of our father, our very own private swim teacher.

Having been a Science & Physical Education Major in college, his specialty was teaching athletics. He taught all eight of us, and eventually our own children, how to swim. For my own boys, it was when they were barely three months old. But for us siblings, sometimes it wasn’t until we were about three, four or five years old. I can honestly, to this day, still hear his voice calling out the directions. It was very special to learn with him by our side, in the water.  He would hold us up with his big daddy hand, and insist we kick our feet with rapid vigor, keeping the knees stiff and straight. He would tell us our legs represented our powerful motor. He told us to hold onto the side of the pool, laying on the water on our stomachs, kicking energetically. He taught us how to use our arms to glide across the surface- this time our hands were cupped for scooping the water past, as we torpedoed across the pool. The hardest part was learning to just tip the head sideways to catch our breath.  He’d say to keep our head down and just swivel one cheek upward to gulp in that oxygen. These were the hallmarks of fine swimming, perhaps Olympic medal earning, one day! Our dad would often challenge us to race each other and from this I learned to become quite the competitor in many things, not just swimming. You could say all my siblings have that competitive spirit.

This instruction would take place at the end of a long workday or sometimes on a Saturday. The pool was adjacent to the main office where my dad earned a living 6 days a week for 44 years. He was employed mostly as a salesman and eventually became the Executive Vice President in charge of Sales. However, my family knows the fantastic story of working his way to the top, from having first been hired as a field hand outside in the nursery fields. He began humbly watering plants and after a couple weeks was invited to join the sales team of the company. We grew up respecting the story of his humility taking that entry-level job despite his four year college degree. All he knew was the plant industry fascinated him and he wanted in on the action.

Like many others deserving of a nice respite when the day was done, my father enjoyed a good swim. At the nursery pool after the 4 pm end of the work day horn had sounded, any worker in the company, whether it be field hand, maid, delivery truck driver, clerk or salesman, could go and swim in the pool. They could bring their children and wives and make an outing of it. In our case, my father would check to see the pool wasn’t too crowded for a family of eight kids, and my mom would get the call to drive us on over. We’d be thrilled 100%. Anything we were doing was put on hold, because we knew two things: we would get quality time with our father and we would have a blast playing with each other.

With mother behind the wheel, our family’s red and white Dodge station wagon would roll up to the impressive Spanish gates, and two lane entrance into the wholesale nursery. Purposely planted along the edge of the southward and northward lanes the palm trees would be standing proudly in flanking rows, creating “Romanesque columns” that seemed to beckon and salute as we drove up to the driveway to the Nursery Office. Our eyes took in the panoramic sight of acres and acres of plants all in rows and grouped according to specimen and care. There were hot greenhouses where new plants were germinating. We could detect lathe houses which sheltered plants that needed mostly shade. Halfway up the drive we would cross over the railroad tracks that ran through the enormous property. Then our view would take in the huge mac trucks waiting for their next shipment to be loaded from the dock. They were parked toward the west end of the property, where a large circular reservoir stored much needed water. Once we had crossed the train tracks, we knew we were almost to our destination. The lane would continue straight up to where a jungle oasis appeared to be. All kinds of green foliage seemed to spring out of the ground and the circular drive would stop right in front of Monrovia Nursery’s main office. Lining the driveway were round stones pointing upward and defined a border between the driveway and the verdant habitat. It was brimming with ferns, an abundance of flora and sequestered far out of sight flowed a small stream canal that was a concourse for fresh water.

Going to “The Nursery Pool”, also meant many expeditions in this little mini forest; for you see, sometimes we would end up getting out of the pool to go and play along the footpath in hopes of making a discovery. A major part of the time we would assign roles and make up pretend  “movies” acting out our parts. This rich garden was a veritable petrie dish for imaginative play and dreams dramatically coming to life. We just rolled with it and made up stories spontaneously as we pretended and explored. But, we only played in “the jungle” if we truly had our fill of the pool, or if we were made to wait a half an hour before being eligible to go swim. My parents were very strict about “the half hour rule” to avoid any of us getting stomach cramps from swimming too soon after having eaten.

Another point of interest for us, was to have a look in the windows of the main office. It wasn’t a building, per se, but instead an old, yet stately, converted hacienda. My siblings and I would gawk and peer in the windows either before we went to swim, or afterwards. Once in awhile, we were lucky enough to actually walk inside with our dad. Stepping up onto the front veranda, you could see it was floored in a woven dried grass mat that was carpet-like and covered every inch of space. I always thought how exotic!

In the low-lying bay windows, one could see in to a chic, beautiful Spanish decor room. Once inside, the floors were a creaky, dark wood that spoke of history, presence and professionalism. There were carpets placed in designated areas for conversation or perhaps reading. The rich, supple, deep-red leather heavy furniture was a child’s sheer delight to touch or maybe dare to sit on. The coffee table was also a weighty Spanish wood design that was plain yet, elegant. The configuration of all the furniture; the sofa, easy chairs, tables, even the secretary’s desk—was a smooth, chunky Spanish style— all sturdy and widely curved. The entire room was both shady and sunlit, and evocative of a gentlemen’s salon, serving as a perfect lounge for waiting customers about to solidify big business deals. I always wished the furniture could be in my house one day. I think though, I loved the place because my Dad worked there.

On occasion, we would follow my dad through the glass double doors into the inner Spanish courtyard. All the executive offices were situated in a square around this small but, colorful area. There were pillars of wood carved in a myriad of rounded ripples swirling around them. These swirls were all painted Spanish tile tones…peaches, turquoises, light greens, dark blues, chile red and bits of yellow, which were decorative and complimenting to the smooth terra cotta color painted portions. To me, they were works of art and I would give anything to see one of those pillars again!

Each office set of doors was paned and looked out onto a trickling fountain in the center, with bromeliads and tropical green plants surrounding it. The water feature was the focal point and Mexican tile flooring squares surrounded it. The tiled flooring went throughout the patio up to each office’s set of paned double doors. Our father’s office was on the north side and to the right of the inner patio square, if you entered from the front main office. Because this small, central “sanctuary” was actually an outdoor patio, the sunshine would cascade down onto the fountain and speckle flecks of sunshine on the palm and fern fronds, the bubbling water and the floor and posts. It was a tranquil, lovely, romantic spot that tended to make one think any moment a mariachi band would casually stroll through one of the doors and serenade via violin, viola, guitar and trumpet. Indeed a special place.

The real excitement though, was that swimming pool! It was adjacent to the main building. Surrounding the pool stood a variety of ultra tall trees, quite established, that looked completely majestic to me while swimming and gazing up to the sky. Another small path went from the driveway and wended through some shrubbery. A tall bottlebrush plant was growing up against the south wall of the main office. Every time I walked on that path that I felt compelled to stop and feel the tickle of the soft red with gold tipped bristles that made up this most unusual flower. It remains one of my favorite bushes in the plant world.

The gate clicked open and there it was- Eureka! The huge rectangular swimming pool! Rule abiding as my family was, we headed straight for the bath houses to take a quick shower which was always terribly cold. Then, the proverbial “cannonball jump” into the deep-end would commence. One by one, we’d each try to outdo the size of our siblings’ splashes as we ran up from the showers to the redbrick perimeter path, to jump and grab our knees as we hurled ourselves into the “great blue” with all our might. My baby brother Christian became quite adept at this ritual and often was named the “winner” in this particular contest.

Once we were in the pool, there were so many fun ways to play. First and foremost we would make friends with various kids from other families. There was one family in particular we always hoped would be there to swim with us. They were always a highlight. In addition to the social aspect, my little sister and I loved being “mermaids” and we would swim underwater and come up for air pretending to flip our tails as our feet and legs remained locked together. Typically, we wore bathing caps, but on occasion we would let our long tresses freely flow as if we really were those legendary sea nymphs of lore. This was a delight we enjoyed for many years of my youth. She and I would include our brothers and deem them “Mermen”, and eventually one of them would vie for the title of Neptune: god of the sea.

Other times we were all engaged in a long-lasting game of “Marco Polo’. As everyone knows, someone had to be “It”, and someone had to be “Marco”. The rest of us would swim about echoing the Marco call with the “Polo” answer. Marco had to keep his eyes shut because everyone would tattle tale if they caught just one squint of an eye starting to open. It was silly and at times nearly hilarious. How we loved that great American swimming pool game!

It may be that the best way to enjoy swimming was to join in the races across the pool. Now, I really detested getting the water in my ears when I swam freestyle. I much preferred diving down (under) water, testing how long I could swim without coming up for air. My younger brother enjoyed racing (me) across the pool underwater. We were constantly neck n neck, and the winner always won by a millisecond.  We strove to outdo the other. Initially, I had to get a gulp of air halfway across, but by the end of summer I would be able to sometimes swim across and back without having to breathe. I loved kicking underwater like a frog and propelling myself as fast as I could. I recall thinking if I visualize my fingertips on the wall and physically push my body harder at the last seconds, I will be the fastest! The whole underwater swimming method suited me just fine!

We became quite enthralled with the races and often times we’d announce an “All Family Swim Heat”, lickety-split to the opposite end and back. Mother would be the judge and declare who had finished first. Eventually the older siblings had an advantage over the younger batch, and the races became (little kids versus little kids) and (big kids versus big kids). After the races, Dad would give us pointers and solid athletic advice. This was premium parenting in my book.

Another game we made up for ourselves was the “Drop the Object and Fetch It” game. Someone would throw keys, barrettes, coins, anything that could be detected from looking above the water down to the bottom where they would naturally settle. Diving downward and shooting back upward often did nasty things to my ears and nose, but I didn’t care, it was simply an exhilarating game. When we became well-versed in how to achieve this task, we began timing our efforts. The same object would be thrown and each of us would try to retrieve it the fastest. We quickly learned one diver at a time meant no head-bashing would ensue. When any game ended, there would be “free for all” frolicking and jumping about-often ending in building a tower with the tallest kids standing on the pool floor, and taking in a smaller child on their shoulders. If, we really wanted to go hog-wild, a second child would climb up and sit on the shoulders. The result was a tower of three. You guessed it; we’d turn toward the opposite team tower and play fight with our hands. The goal was being able to knock or pull down the competing team . This was true fun because if you fell, it didn’t matter- you just simply fell into the water-which we loved!

Dad wasn’t the only instigator of  competitiveness, fun and comraderie. Our mother especially encouraged us to “Make Commercials”. She has always loved tv ads and how clever they can be. Being children of the television generation, we sure knew our advertising punch lines and lingo! We would recite familiar favorites. Each person had to think up their own product and sales pitch. The more comical, the better. She would egg us on, pressing us to practice being articulate to a fair thee well. One at a time, each sibling had a turn to stand on the diving board as if it were a stage and act-out a self-made commercial. “Hamming it up” scored extra points, for sure, and if you could conjure up a jingle, then, BRAVO to you! Participants would try out accents of all sorts in order to gain notoriety. After each commercial had been recited, then the “actor” would jump in the pool in a “super-sillious” way, as a perfect punctuation to a moment of fame. Everyone would break out in cheers and whistles and wet, thunderous applause!

A general vote as to whose commercial was the best delivered that day was cast by a majority vote or our parents sat in the seat of judgement. On occasion we might move on to a team contest. The giggles and shushes were rampant as we put our heads together to make the commercial a shared winning endeavor. This is when the “jungle oasis” served as a great place to go to and strategize in secret. Winning with your team was always a happy moment. But, usually, someone would be the obvious “stand-out” star. Hats off to whomever that would be! Winner or loser it didn’t matter, because the laughter and the freeform play were the REAL prizes. I’m just glad we had parents who loved children and relished our individuality. I am quite grateful that my parents fostered our self-esteem in such a celebratory way. I also think it is a priceless gift to have been raised to be open, innovative and bold. These are characteristics that will carry you through life.

When we had played to our heart’s content, that is when we’d finally get out of the water. Our hands and fingers looked ancient and wrinkly from soaking in the pool for so long. Of course we would check out each other’s hands and compare. Then off to the jungle oasis, and especially to go see the stream…

Now, there was one more venue in which to play at the nursery. Since this had once been a fine rancho home, it had been the custom to have an outdoor barbecue area.  Following the herringbone brick lain path leading down some steps on a small incline in the lawn that surrounded the pool, we would find ourselves led to some cement steps. There were just a few, and there you would be, in the midst of what kind of looked like an outdoor kitchen and dining room. There were tables and benches, a massive barbecue, a fireplace and an oven built within low bricks walls that housed cooling cabinets. There was a sink for washing dishes and a myriad of cupboards that were again built into the bricks. If you opened the little cupboard doors, you could see there was white insulation of some sort, that was meant for keeping food either hot or cold, whatever your pleasure. We rarely cooked anything, but instead used them for playing Barbie Dolls. Barbie would have her own “house”, as well as her sister Skipper and Barbie’s Friends: Midge, Ken and Alan. The little cupboards were perfect as their “bachelor pads”, hotels, restaurants, schools or shops. The entire area was a perfect place to retreat into fantasy doll play!

If we didn’t have our dolls, we would simply make up skits and role-play. On the occasion that we did have a meal there in that brick outdoor patio and dining area, it was with picnic basket, tablecloth and blanket brought by Mom.

As one can see, the privilege to have such a whimsical place to spend time with our family goes beyond measure. Having the Monrovia Nursery Pool to go to, made living in smoggy San Gabriel Valley in the sixties and seventies  bearable. The smog was harmful enough to make your eyes smart and sting. There were plenty of days we had to remain confined indoors. That’s when we resorted to television: our shining beacon in a child’s world or reading the National Geographics. Board games such as Monopoly, Parchesi and Clue were other beloved pastimes. But, boy oh boy, did we quickly snatch the opportunity to play outside in our own backyards as well as at the company pool whenever there was no more threat of that awful smog. This fortunate opportunity fostered a wealth of ideas to be drummed up, dreamed of, tested and regaled afterward. Our amusement came from our own brains, not some device placed in our hands to tune (us) out. I am indeed grateful I grew up in this way.

And the memories of swimming with my father at the helm? Priceless. He comforted us if we stubbed our toes on the bricks or the pool steps, encouraged us to get involved in what might seem to be a daunting water polo game, and he would give each and every one of us special “one on one” time.

Definitely the memory I TRULY cherish above them all, was my father telling me to hop up on his back in the shallow end of the pool. He would say, “Put your arms around my neck, just lay on my back, and I’ll take you for a ride.” My body would relax and soften into an inner smile. I’d lift my chin a bit to gaze up at the trees standing like green skyscrapers, looming large and wise. My dad had hair on his back which was ticklish, and he had a certain father scent to his skin. If I think hard, I can still smell that glorious signature scent. He would swim oh so gently, as if he were a calm quiet, mallard ambling about, “owning the pond”. We might have seen a dragonfly whizz by, taken notice of the thrumming of wind in a hummingbird’s wings flitting overhead, or have been momentarily accompanied by a big blue bee. Then, off in the distance, way up high on a towering pine, we might have heard a woodpecker tapping out an oh so subtle rhythm. Because the Boston Pops Orchestra was our special musical bond, he would start humming the “Blue Danube”, or “The Viennese Waltz”. He even knew the “Merry Widow Waltz”, too. This was a soothing ride that was quite nearly an art form. I loved sharing those times with him. Tender was my daddy’s soul. Invariably, the eventual, “Come on, kids, let’s go home, outta the pool!” would break the pacifying spell. Then, in true sailor-strength fashion, Dad proceeded to rub dry our hair with a towel, to the ridiculous point of losing our balance as our heads were rubbed very vigorously. The end result was always laughter.

Yes, it was good to be alive and a kid who went to the Nursery Pool to explore, to play, to learn, to fantasize, to invent and to perform at the behest of our wonderful dad and mom. Thank you for this blessing.