I Didn’t Set Out to Write an Essay…

 

“A wonderful friend actually lives up to the fine quote I heard today”, thought I,  while watching the televised Memorial Service for our 41st President of the United States: George, Herbert Walker Bush. The quote was recounted by a close, longtime friend of our late president. The past Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney quoted Bush as saying to him:

“There are wooden ships, there are sailing ships, there are ships that sail the sea/But, the best ships are friendships, and may they always be,,,”

 

This was a moving moment for me. A chord within was struck, and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the service and all the day. Thus, by the time I took off my mental mourning frock, and decided to chin up and cheer up, I was ripe for the inspiration to just write. I don’t know, the sweet words spoken and the triumphant crescendo of song at the end of the ceremony rather fired up my personal engine within.

This is what great words and music do.  They instigate. They shake mighty oaks and can even move mountains on rare occasion — figuratively speaking of course. But, today, my true blue friend sent me pictures of a child in 1950’s England. What a simpler, more gentle time those photos tell. They are a symbolic view of an era gone by. One picture was of a father crouching down in his garden with his budding brood. The expression on his face, tells how he was quite proud of his offspring.

 

Still circa mid-century, other photos showed darling little girls dressed and prepared to play in the snow. The pair is outdoors amongst a snowfall that matches their tot-size height. They seem oblivious to the encroaching snowdrifts,  ready to embark on unfettered play. But, the one snapshot of my friend when he was a wee laddie blowing bubbles with his bottle of liquid soap and blow ring posed before his lips, harkened me back to those sage words of calm and wisdom. This being a black and white photograph in a sense all its own, requested slow, thoughtful perusal. It also advertised a time of pure childhood. This little guy was quite involved with his bubble making, so much so, that to stop and smile at the camera would have been merely a grandstand. Not an option. This endearing depiction of impeccant childhood caught on camera managed to get me thinking….

 

We were pretty lucky when we grew up. Lucky because we lived in a somewhat blissful state of innocence. Sure, we knew about bombs, and we even practiced in schools and homes for any real disaster. But, the knowledge wasn’t splashed before us daily. We weren’t constantly reminded by all forms of media, of life’s impending perils — with no escape from it — as it seems to be nowadays.

 

Maybe everyone feels this way, but, I think our generation (his and mine), is the last to know of the “old ways”…decorum, respect, patience, self-effacement, kindness to others, honesty, do unto others by the Golden Rule, take little-give more, work to the point of thoroughness, listen and learn, don’t ever give up, face fear with bravery, hold no malice toward others, communicate thoughtfully, hold dear what objects you do have and be grateful for them, cheer others whenever possible, ignore rudeness, be an example, polish one’s shoes– no matter how humble those shoes are, seek interest, teach but also learn while teaching, respect the elderly, have reverence, love the little things as well as the enormous, and appreciate the natural world through practice, living, deed, saving and problem-solving.
We know what it’s like to get excited to see a double matinee or to smell dumplings & stew in a pot that has been on slow simmer all afternoon. We know firsthand what it is like to enjoy the comfort of a grandmotherly hug, a warm sofa cushion, and steamy delicious rice pudding. We felt moved when hearing a beautiful hymn emanating from a plain little chapel choir, or felt affirmation as we witnessed the combined reaction of an eyebrow with the smirk of a smile, when our parents opened our report card to see our good marks. (And it was a little cardstock card!) Just the expression made us feel special, because we knew we had pleased our mother and father. As young tots peering in the window, how amazed we could be by the glisten on the furry hair tips of a black fuzzy wuzzy caterpillar crawling on a windowsill. This is because we were taught to hold preciously things both great and small; best of all, those from family. Yes, pictures of an era gone by are a wonderful testament to a time quaint to the core, but deeply affecting.
We are the generation of The Beatles, Elvis, The Beach Boys, Dave Clark Five, The Hornets, The Rolling Stones. The Moodies, Mitch Miller, Bob Dylan, John Denver, Glen Campbell, Petula Clark, The Supremes, Lawrence Welk, Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops (for me anyway, not sure England knew about them), Burt Bacharach, Sonny and Cher, Streisand, Beverly Sills, Liberace etc. Too many to name…but our young ears grew up in a “garden of sound”.
First, we learned the budding singular notes. Then we noticed how the chords trellised across interlocking latticework creating musical patterns that grew the melodies we heard into diverse offshoots; sprouting motifs new. Once familiar with these tunes, our hearts and minds could tarry awhile in mental recline on a figurative rich carpeted tapestry design “colored in” with music! It seems to me that both our households immersed us in music of many forms and this paved the way to an enriched lifetime.
 I think we were fortunate to be brought up with variety and open-mindedness. I know, in 1979, as a starting out teacher, I didn’t need to “get on the multiculturalism band wagon”, I already had an affinity to any fine music, from wherever it hailed and the countries/peoples that claimed their style. Is it any wonder why he, his wife, his siblings, and myself, as well, are only too happy to have a listen to a balalaika, a sitar, a mandolin, a harpsichord, and pealing cathedral bells? I don’t see this same level of interest in the generations after us. They seem too busy defending their own cultures, taking their own corner, preparing for the next “dukes up” moment.
We didn’t grown up that way. We grew up paying homage to history, tradition and custom. We grew up swallowing pride in order to make peace and let others be wrong, especially if in truth it was something petty or trivial in the vast scheme of things.
We grew up knowing duty means dutifulness and that means doing, until done well. We understood why this was important. We embraced hope in our hearts every day, because hope makes might and might makes right and right casts a shine on Good.
Anyway, our generation saw many things. We sent man to the moon, we trolled the depths of the ocean, and we even communed with the gorillas in the jungles to learn more about humanity. Our generation fought and protested wars; but we still gave men and sacrifice. We tackled prejudice with boldfaced determination. We even legislated against it. Our generation embraced the environment and was really the first generation to begin pro-actively taking on environmental concerns. Through education we matured from “Love, Love Me Do”, to “Imagine”. Not too shabby of a metamorphosis, I’d say!
But, all in all, our generation while in our youth, was still allowed to be innocent.   Blowing bubbles was a magical joy that I’m afraid today’s kids might not even get a thrill from or just get the chance to even experience. We liked our Etch-a Sketches, our Erector Set building kits, play dough, and our simplistic card games. We found zeal in watching a slinky “crawl” and flip down a flight of stairs, or when we made imprints of the newspaper comics with our Silly Puddy.
Our physical skill commandeered our frisbees and skateboards. It powered us down our streets bicycling with a mission. We made abundant use of hoolah hoops and roller skates.
How fortunate are we to be the first generation to sit before the television. We coveted our transistor radios, harmonicas and kazoos. We loved to dress-up and become gypsies, kings and queens, doctors and drum majors. Our playhouses in our backyards were court houses, general stores and classrooms. We solved “crimes” like Sherlock Holmes did and while engaged in undercover detective sleuthing, we clandestinely utilized our snap-shut pocket binoculars.

When ill, we stayed in bed and painted by number and drew pictures. We wrote in diaries and read books. We cut-out paper dolls and told tales to our stuffed bears. Imaginatively, we hid our plastic horses in under the coverlet caves and made them gallop over rolling hills on our quilts and pillows.

 

 

On rainy days we built and hid beneath makeshift blanketed forts. We competed in Chinese Checkers, Parchesi, Clue, Monopoly and let our Ougi Board do the telling. Sometimes we found ourselves devising folded paper riddle tricks, creating scavenger hunts, practicing sewing and knitting. 
In sunny weather we climbed trees and held secret clubs up high in our tree house, if we were lucky to have one. We even fashioned tin-can telephones and flew kites high into the wind. The thrill of a bike ride, making a cannonball off the diving board and a jump rope marathon sent our spirits soaring, too. Such was our childhood.!!!
These things are not flashy, fancy or requiring  multi-tasking. All were pastimes of action and attentiveness, with an ounce of ingenuity on our part. Some needed imagination and a good listening ear. Others warranted motor control, long-lasting determination and seriousness of industry. But, mostly, they required a 3D world.
2020.
Today’s kids receive very little of the above mentioned. Oh sure, their fingering fandango devices have all kinds of digital bells and whistles. But, they experience so much within a touchscreen realm, sending physical reality into the periphery- not to be picked up and held, tasted, felt or smelled. A rose on a tablet is not the rose beckoning the bees on a bush under the beaming sunshine!
Of course there are some young parents who recognize the old-fashioned value. Yet, are there enough? And now with schools all day online–what is to become of explorative play, of dreams begotten by gazing up into the clouds or conjured from a quiet respite on the couch whilst the music enticingly plays on..?
Okay, I didn’t set out to write an essay…just some reactions to such old-time, +10 on the “Richter Scale of Cuteness” photographs.
Glad my friend across the pond comes from the same cloth.

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)

 

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.

 

 

About Those Bobsleds

First written February 20, 2018.

🏔🏔🏔🏔About those bobsleds!🏔🏔🏔🏔

🌨❄️🌨❄️🌨❄️🌨❄️🌨❄️🌨❄️🌨❄️🌨❄️🌨
If you are a true Californian, your favorite Disneyland Ride of all time is the Matterhorn! It seems everyone enjoys the same special details about this childhood thrill ride. The morning your parents would surprise you and say “We’re going to Disneyland!” was a day that meant you were going to get to zip along in a bobsled, yelling your lungs-out in wild-child fashion! And that was something to go nearly berserk just thinking about!

Once your father and mother had settled you down to a dull roar, then you had dressed, eaten a wholesome breakfast and piled along with your siblings into the family car. You would practically salivate in the back seat of the station wagon, in anticipation of spotting the top of the snowy peak from as far as the 5 freeway as you approached Anaheim. It was always the first ride you would religiously pay homage to and then go on upon entrance into the park. (Sometimes you might bolster up initially by eating a treat at the Sunkist Cafe first, then go.)

Disneyland wouldn’t be Disneyland without the Matterhorn. It is an exact replica of the mountain, and hikers gain permission to come into the park, pitons in tow, to scale the beloved landmark. You can watch the mountaineers strategically attain their quest as you mill about down on the ground taking in the park experience. Being a hopeful bobsled rider, as you approach the rollercoaster on foot you detect blood-curdling screams emanating outward, signaling imminent excitement! The Matterhorn Ride runs four-seater bobsleds threading through her inner cavities on mini cogwheel-train-like tracks. As you get closer to the source of action, you will see the two lines of people, winding around the right and left side of the mountain. This usually means it will be an hour and a half wait before actually getting onto the ride. But, you know in your heart it is well- worth your patience. At the ride’s entrance and even piped acoustically all around the perimeter, is Alpine accordion music. It creates a lively, happy welcome that keeps conversation jovial and toes tapping.

Once you have reached the bobsled station, you’ll notice everything is decorated with painted flowers and Chalet-style wood-cut fencing canopied by rooftop overhang details. You’ll even spot the Swiss, German, Austrian, Italian, French and Liechtenstein’s “Coat of Arms”, displayed along the walk to keep you visually busy. You will hear songs being sung with the accordions playing the melodies and it’s all very rousing and cheerful. The view upwards, is of bobsledders gliding along, weaving in and out of the alp, engaged in quite a stimulating adventure! With each minute closer, one’s increasing anticipation sizzles! Grown adults can be caught jumping for joy in sheer elation!

Stepping into your Bobsled brings a gusto-infused greeting from attendants wearing alpine design embroidered shirts, suspenders and lederhosen. The look is finished with feather-capped hats. So cute! They give you a serious peer right into your eyes, then commence to strap and buckle you in, and dutifully remind you to keep your hands inside the bobsled!

Sitting there, in your soon to be swift contraption, you wait your turn to connect to the running track. You are aware there’s a pit in your stomach and think such things as “Will it be as fast and scary as I remember it?” “Do they still have that ferocious, abominable snowman inside giving its monster roar?” Then, suddenly—voila! Next thing you know, you hear the clicking of the track and you are on your way. A blast of cold air whooshes past you and yes—the ride still “flies” at lightning speed! It whips the bobsled around at 45 degree angled turns and the track tips the bobsled on one side to about 35-40 degrees making you think you’ll get thrown out! In some places the track splashes down into pools of water and you even feel the spray from the waterfalls cascading alongside you! This is an added refreshment that is like plopping a cherry on top of an already delectable ice cream sundae! The ride is loud, fast and exhilarating in every way. When it finally comes to its abrupt end, one always says the same thing: “Again, again, let’s ride it again!”

The Matterhorn is a beacon of promised zest. Nighttime rides are just as much fun. On the clock, at 9 pm, Tinkerbell flies across the sky from the Matterhorn summit to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. With the magic touch of her wand, the fireworks begin, much to the thrill of all the people below. Traditionally, spectators look back to the Mount that has brought them abounding emotion and they cannot help but feel alive and well at the culmination of such a grand day….

To Sir Paul McCartney, with Love…

Let’s talk Paul McCartney. Impressive figure in my life. Looming large and brilliant. Paul has done more for me, than any other composer next to, Beethoven. Heady words, wouldn’t one say? Ah, but they are not an exaggeration.

You see, Beatles heart-throb Paul, was who rocked my lyrical, musical soul for the first time in my young, pre— pre-teen life. There was a poster of the band placed oh so prominently, above my bed. The same bed where I would wait anxiously for my dad to come in and brush his scratchy whiskered face across my cheek as he kissed me good night. Those were the males who festooned my childhood world. I loved them all. My father was a god to me. His presence was magnetic. The Beatles were idols, for sure. But Paul, well, he was my very first crush.

Like so many young girls my age, being in grade school was still a time of delightful innocence. I’m talking still living in a fantasy realm of pretending we were galloping horses with our long pony tails being just that, ponies’ tails. We filled our brains with ideas from Scott O’Dell’s “Island of the Blue Dolphins”, the multi-authored Nancy Drew series, and tantalizing images from Alfred Hitchcock’s short stories. It was a young girlhood just ripe for something phenomenal to awash it with dazzling handsomeness, English accent and pulsing beat.

When 1964 rolled around, we were ready to be bowled over, and America was. The Fab Four were just “pinch their cheeks” adorable coming down-step off their plane all the way from across The Pond. To see their cheerful, “cheeky”, effervescent attitude was an uplift and enticement at the same time. When my “with-it” parents allowed us to sit around the television and watch the Ed Sullivan Show introduce this British band to Our Country, my own sphere of existence changed. Of course, the views of the audience packed with screaming girls did much to further the happy hysteria into the living rooms across the country. I don’t remember screaming— just watching, listening and definitely bobbing up and down on my knees in time to the driving melody of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. Our female minds immediately fast-forwarded to school dances and us waiting for one of these English blokes to walk across the gym and pull us up off our chair and onto the dance floor. All of these dapper gents were easy on the eyes, but Paul, well, I spotted something extra alluring.

I didn’t realize it then, but I do now. Paul had a gleam in his eyes and an impish smirk on his face almost constantly. He had something underfoot, surely! Was it a frog in his pocket to release into the audience? No— way too old-fashioned. More like a pack of cigs in his back-pocket to sneakily hand a girl in the corridor. In other words, despite his squeaky clean appearance, he had a tad bit of the diabolical behind that cocky carefree hair-toss. I just knew he was beyond fun…he was an advertisement for adventure. If ever I had been in his company, he might have thrown down that raincoat over a puddle in the grass for ME to step on, but then he would have thrown me backward and zoomed in for a kiss–or so I wished!

Here’s the thing- I was still in elementary school! I wasn’t supposed to be thinking of such things! I was supposed to be clapping the chalk out of my teacher’s erasers and running AWAY from the boys. But, from the fated 1964 day the Beatles swept America by storm, my tumultuous “tornadoed” heart was whipped into life-long, pleasant though often wild, frenetics.

Whether he realized it or not, Paul McCartney set the marker for any great love in my life. Had to be cute as all heck, (I know, I know, vapid was I), and had to be very musical. Just about anyone who ever stole my heart had something to do with music. Even more measurable, was that the “Love to Be” must have an articulate nature. There is simply nothing fun about a person who can’t carry on a buoyant banter. Thank goodness such male company found their way into my life and I have to say I have had some truly colorful characters to sit back and think about in hindsight.

McCartney was and still is McMarvelous! Our generation took every word from every lyric to heart. We poured over the songs and dissected their meanings, We lay upstairs in our bedrooms sometimes with best buds by our side, staring at the album covers, reading the printed lyrics, discussing them at great length. For us, it wasn’t book clubs first, it was album reading clubs. My friends and I hung on to every word and to us, Mccartney was our Shakespeare. Sure they were simple themes. Mostly about sweethearts and forlorn thought. Generally about how and what one loved about another. Never selfish. Never angry. Never mean-spirited. The words of the Beatles rang celebratory bells; chiming cheers for youth and love! A good number of the Beatles’s lyrics were written together by Paul and John. George wrote some great stuff, too. Even Ringo. The melodies were more often than not, a collaboration. I don’t need to give you a Beatles’ 101 lesson, I’m certain of that. What I need to tell you is that the innocent happiness with which a fair amount of Paul’s lyrics contain did a fine job of bolstering that positive spirit in all of us.

Much speculation goes on about how the Beatles became such a phenomenon. My opinion is this; because there was so much strife and controversy ensuing during the year’s of the Beatles’ reign, their youthful spirit spoke to us. The Cold War, The Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, the tragic politics, all weighted heavily on this nation. As children, often we were shielded from these worries, but not completely. From McCartney’s songs, and so many of the band’s songs, we could still celebrate childhood and the particular feelings that accompany it. As the folk song movement trudged along often shackling conscience to the core, the Beatles had us afloat, sailing along, relishing sea and sky, friends and loves, magic and mystery. We were allowed to still wallow a bit longer in fetterless juvenescense. This quality inherent in Paul’s writing taught us to hunt for the positive, and to find the silver lining behind any cloud. We were never taught to think how to do harm or ill will. Never.

Of course the songs progressed with time and the composer’s own personal progression. We all know about the visits with Maher Baba and thus writing songs that had been influenced by self-realization. Again, McCartney took from it, what was, to promoting  kindness and sincerity. We hear this in his songs, even in lyrics that seem so simple. But, reading and learning his songs we learned to read them as if they were proverbial. I loved that freedom of thought, that openness to interpretation, that allowance of individual perspective. To this day I feel McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starr did so much to feed my soul and help me grow as a person through their song writing.

Awhile after the Beatles’ “Let It Be” Album came out, I was readying for college. It was in college when I began to listen to “Wings”, McCartney’s own band. From this body of music I extracted an even deeper affinity for the pensive, for the sentimental and for the hopeful. I believe these passion-induced lines of thought still course through my veins in any endeavor I care strongly about. I know I became a good parent and teacher because of these characteristic ways of looking at life. Favorite songs from McCartney’s band such as “Band On the Run”, “Bluebird”, and “Jet” were just the beginning for his continued song-writing and performing. This was a transitioning time for the Beatles who had dissolved as a group but were shining in their own corners, trying out new ideas. What a great example for any young adult to know that nothing stays the same, and yet, so much is connected forever, no matter what. That connection is the Good.

We could interpret for hours the many faceted eras and genres of music the Beatles and McCartney explored. It was an ingenious melding of technique and music styles…rock n roll, classical, jazz, Eastern and maybe a tiny amount of folk. Off the top of my head, the songs I really love to this day are “The Long and Winding Road”, “Yesterday”, “Norwegian Wood”, “Here Comes the Sun” both which George Harrison wrote, and “Hey Jude”, “Twist and Shout”, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”…..oh heck, I love them all!

The thing that stands out though, about Paul McCartney, is that he is like the “Energizer Bunny” of the group. He is still hanging in, still playing music, still keeping the dream alive. He kept on playing not only bass, but lead guitar sometimes, acoustic guitar, keyboard, piano and whatever! Ringo is too, and he deserves every bit of credit for all his contributions and continued performances. I just have that affinity for that darling Paul who collaborated with Lennon, Harrison and Starr to make it big in England, and when he was just 22, came to America with his mates and literally rocked our world. When interviewed, Paul seemed the most upbeat, truthful and forthcoming. His demeanor was lovable. He was sheer joy. He gave us sheer joy. He taught us there was no shame in begging for: “Love Me Do”.