Mercantile of Mercantiles

They say America was founded one outpost general store at time. The pioneer spirit drove settlers westward, and often, the only connection with civilization were the little “Everything Shops” out in the boondocks. Abe Lincoln figured out he’d learn about this country by working as a clerk in one. He found that the news “on wind” and “word of mouth” always made its way to an over the counter conversation in Mr. Offut’s store in New Salem, Illinois. Amongst the pickle barrels, rope and pitchforks, glad tidings mingled with idle gossip. The latest political and societal topics were debated amongst locals with the “out of towners”. Peddler, traveling salesman, settler: all brought their own colorful brand of noteworthy subjects. Indeed, these country stores bred the American spirit of adventure, inspired by tales adrift, aloft and captured over a cup of cider and conversation.

When one went to the general store it was in mind of bringing back specifics. Perhaps, some coal, coffee, an iron skillet, flour for baking, thread for sewing, seeds, bandages, quinine, whale oil, beeswax, wire, lantern, candles, French soap, feather bedding, shampoo, and, an indian rubber ball for the children, comprised the shopping list. As one packed one’s wagon, lively talk would ensue and perhaps a riddle, song or poem was shared. Then, a sarsaparilla to induce refreshment was in order, whilst picking up a post and reading its contents with clerk and fellow customers leaning on the counter, lending an ear. It would be the last visit until Spring for distanced folk, or the weekly mecca for those who lived close by. It was the supplier of chit chat, newspapers and books. Not everything bought was necessary. These stores had delights for the children as well: they sold candy and kaleidoscopes, jumpropes and tin soldiers, caps and sunbonnets, unicycles and velocipedes, even roller skates and ice-skates. For the precious littlest ones, there might be rattles and teething rings, eventually to be replaced with Porcelain dolls, wooden alphabet blocks and slates, all begotten from the American outpost general store.

In the 21st century, these stores not only have been swallowed up by two centuries of increasing urban sprawl, but the very size of these shops have expanded into what we call department stores and now superstores. The Wal-marts of today, owe their very existence to the humble beginnings of the general store. Despite the citified, modern world expanding commerce in spit-spot, quick-flash fashion, there are still some remnants of the homespun neighborliness to be found in some of the quieter-long-lasting general stores. Just such a store was still keeping its doors and heart open to its surrounding community of Glendora.

Bock’s Variety store had been frequented and truly loved by all, until the owner passed on and his son sold the business. Only less than a decade ago patrons could still walk into Bock’s and buy a last minute Father’s Day gift of Old Spice and Golf Balls or casually peruse McCall’s dress patterns. It was considered a magical oasis for anyone who could appreciate service with a smile and might overhear the next discussion about the mayor and his intentions. You heard what the Boy Scouts were doing, when the next Little League Pancake Breakfast fundraiser was, and what date in December the Town Hall Christmas Tree would be lit. If, one were lucky to have been a child of the 60s, then a trip downtown meant a step into this veritable treasure house ready at one’s disposal; shelf after shelf stocked with imagination inspiring products.

You stepped through two glass swinging open doors and were presented with numerous paralleling aisles neatly organized and thoughtfully planned display shelves. Under some of the shelves were cabinets. The cabinets held drawers full of more items for purchase. One such drawer stored the latest 45s, another drawer kept various kinds of stationary. You kind of knew what was in each but needed permission from the store clerks to open and inspect the contents. Up out of reach from curious, tiny hands was a locked glass cabinet displaying little international dolls – each in its own traditional dress. The list of purchasable goods was endless : Fenton-ware was on display in the storefront window, Big Ben alarm clocks, the sports section with mitts, bats, tennis rackets, croquet sets, the fabric & textiles department replete with corduroys and calicos, paisleys and plaids, the silk ribbons on spools, music boxes, stargazing constellations dial cards, pocket binoculars, the children’s books in the back of the store display shelf, the chemistry sets and telescopes, wooden Brio building sets, the paint by number and various card sets, Etch-a Sketch, Erector sets, Fisher-Price Circus set, jacks and marble sets, 1,000 word puzzles, Silly Puddy, hair brushes and hand mirrors, even harmonicas and castanettes! Bocks always had an ever friendly, helpful staff, the long candy aisle to occupy you while you waited in the register line with friends or siblings, Bazooka guns and Davy Crockett rifles, card sets, Chinese checkers, Ouigi Board games, paper doll booklets, plastic horses, cowboy hats, firefighter hats, doctor role-play sets and costumes,  lava lamps and hula hoops, view master slide viewers, macrame kits and knitting skeins, crochet kits and needles. You might spy Timex watches, Red Flyer Wagons, Mr. Wiggles & Slip n Slides, Slinkies, 1,000 piece puzzles, paint by number sets, art chalk, poster boards, sketch pads, colored pencils, rubber cement, sequins, glitter, Rick a rack, flashlights, cedar keepsake/ jewelry boxes, candles and pine incense to burn inside miniature wooden log cabins, kites, snow globes, leather belts, shoe polish, ties and bandannas… these were all part of the merchandise sold in this creaky wooden floored, shelved ground to ceiling, richly stocked,  mercantile of all mercantiles…the heart of town.

But a mercantile can’t exist without its merchant. If the store had heart, it was because Mr. Bock was the heartbeat behind the operation. Every youngster in Glendora knew him. And HE knew all the kids’ names. He even could associate you with your family and say, “Oh, you must be So and So’s brother”… Mr. Bock had come home from the war missing an arm. But he carried a smile all his days. He listened to the chatter of children and provided merchandise to tantalize. I remember being charmed by mood rings, and torsion pendulum clocks. I introduced my baby brother to a Lionel Train Set as it was set up and working in action on a low table up near the front window ready to snatch the glances of wide-eyed faces. He would hear us talking and the next thing you knew, he was now selling them. His store was his world. A world he shared with everyone. A world of wonder. Yes, the mercantile beyond all other mercantiles…Bocks Variety Store.

Our Music Man

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

Back in 1960, my family dressed-up for the theatre one of those nights we spent in Washington D.C, on that summer vacation. I remember buckling my patent leather shoes, twirling my cascading long curls, adjusting my velvety bow, and spinning 360s into a fanning circumference of my satin dress. I was primed for pleasure of unknown heights. My sister was dressed in a matching frock, looking very elegant, dreamy-fancy and wide-eyed. My brothers were in suits, ties, belts and polished good leathers.  My parents were the epitome of fashion perfection. Not a piece of lint to be found, looking lovely and daper and not at all like parents of a growing family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1972 he took all of us to Switzerland where we spent weeks roaming the Swiss Alps and picturesque hamlets. We rode cogwheel trains to the top of snow-capped peaks, we cleared Mt. Pilatus and looked down on Lucerne through the clouds below. We took a lake cruise, and drove in buses through winding mountain roads. We visited and performed in the towns of Bern, and Interlaken. We stayed one weekend in a university dorm. We marched in the “Fetes de Geneve” and met the Soviet Union Army Band. We exchanged pins with them and other international bands from all over the globe at that grand celebration. How could a mere music teacher instigate and carry-out such an enriching experience for 300+ students?

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

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

And this is where my reference to Professor Harold Hill comes in. Gordon Norman was our “Professor”. I don’t know if he stepped off a train from Iowa or not, but, when he came to Glendora, he turned up the volume on our quaint, little town. He used his salesmanship to convince our parents to buy authenticity. We wore Stewart Plaid from Scotland, and donned real accoutrements for the pipers and drill team right down to the hackles, amber silver brooches, ostrich feather bonnets, ghillies and kilt pins. ***I’m not sure, but he and Mrs. Thompson may have been instrumental in securing permission from Scotland and England to allow us to wear the Royal Stewart Plaid.*** I know there already were tartan and British regalia uniforms already in use…but he demanded more exacting finesse; more items from the true sources. Why not wear Stewart Plaid? That was our Music Man’s motto- “If you can dream it, then go for it!” Of course, this became embedded in all of his musicians and drillteamers’ hearts. I know I think that way. I am as my son once put it: an “infernal” optimist! I got that from Gordon Norman.

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

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

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

If he wanted something he asked. He had a knack for knowing whose bread to butter to get permission for us to practice marching down Foothill Boulevard and on the 210 freeway before the Glendora stretch officially opened. You knew if he asked (you), to do a favor for him, he had full faith you could do it. I recall one day in the band room, he looked at me and said, “Would you mind cleaning up my office? It’s an awful mess.”  I laugh in memory because that was the day he first taught me a term I eventually taught my own students. I asked him that day where to put a pile of papers that looked impossible for me to sort out, not likely knowing what they were…his answer? “Oh, they go in the circular file, Julie.” He saw my quizzical look and then smirked back and shifted his eyes to the metallic, dark green trash can. Even at home nowadays, I’ll say to put something away in the “circular file”. It was a responsibility to help out my teacher. I was more than proud to help him out.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

The Abounding Sounds of Glendora

A train of thought, worth the ride….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julianne Cull (2019)

 

The Toppling of Tradition

Come on, SERIOUSLY? Very recently, I heard a radio discussion as I was driving along in my car, that just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I think it is because it is one of a string of long-time stock-piling incidents building into a fevery pitch; or in keeping with the theme, a bonfire! It was about Halloween and the Trick or Treating expectations. Children were at the very core of the controversy, which kind of got my witches’ brew boiling….

A phone caller into a local radio station was saying how very adamant he was that 17 year old kids had the audacity to still be going door to door in quest for candy amongst all the other kiddies. Now, let’s dissect this issue. First and foremost, one is still a child until 18. Thus, these are children. It’s the lawful stance. I’m of the opinion that if a youth still wants to seek out candy, so be it, unless his dentist has put the kibosh on that endeavor. I say this because it’s actually a good thing a seventeen year old would rather be downing Hershey Bars and Abba Zabbas than a plethora of other worrisome desirables being paraded in front of our offspring today.

I mean, these kids who granted, could easily become glutonous and bully-prone, typically just stand at your open door dressed in black with some funky make-up on. Sometimes they go as far as putting a fake ax in their skull or blood dripping from their eyes, but, nonetheless, they just stand there, peaceably. In black. Quite blank faced, usually. Then because one of the bunch, often is a big brother or cousin with a younger sibling, he or she will come right out with it: “Trick or Treat”. They usually have to because the little “spirits” are famous for ALSO just standing there in costume, gawking. That’s when I bring out the bowl and hint that one or two candies should be enough for each. In recent years I haven’t gotten as many of the scallawagging ghouls, so when they do come, I now say “Take as much as you wish”. Invariably, they are polite, and only take one or two pieces, but, I rather live for the pant and squeal of excitement from the child who just makes a sweeping grab and practically runs away as if in possession of gold. It kindles my own memory of the excitement I felt as a young candy scout on the loose. In all my grown-up years of being a Trick or Treaters’ host, I have only had one occasion where I regretted handing out sugary yummies.

Maybe my experience is an unusual and lucky one. But truly, what is the big deal? Adult life is hard as it is; why not allow the older children to hang on to their innocent existence just a tad longer? Eighteen years of childhood is a small amount in comparison to the 70 to 80 more years spent as an adult. Adulthood is saddled with rules that become laws and consequences that become fate. I say, let the insouciant behavior commence day in and day out until it is legally, afforded no more.

This is why I never scolded my kids when they went out on warm nights and “T.P.ed” their peers’ front yards. (This is another tradition of youth, that is not necessarily tied to any holiday, but it is in the same vein of fun as trick or treating.) Throwing a few rolls of toilet paper up into tree limbs and wrapping up shrubs, lawn furniture, standing flamingoes, mailboxes on posts and hanging porch swings never really hurt anyone. An inconvenient nightmare come morning? Of course. But, if the local kids do it to your yard, your kid was considered cool. When my big brother was voted ASB president of his high school, a battalion of seniors on the cusp of being 17 descended on our property one hot end of September night. They engineered a HUGE mess, and because we siblings saw it all going on, my folks heard about it, and came downstairs to survey the situation. I remember my dad calling the teenagers into the house and telling them that enough was enough, but he knew it was all in fun. My mother, resolved to turn on the oven, and got her homemade cookie batter out of the fridge. She baked cookies for all of them. As everyone gathered round to enjoy chocolate chip cookies and whole milk, my dad made the perpetrators promise to clean up the “T.P. masterpiece” as soon as possible. They did. The next morning, they all came back, erased any trace and then played basketball. Our parents gave those kids the gift of time. They allowed them to still be young and carefree. Now, if it happens today, the local police are promptly called, instead. Not much freedom left for being a kid.

This is what I believe Halloween is partially about. It’s about still celebrating being a child. Playing the traditional game of asking for candy, and disguising one’s looks is all about fun without regulation. It is why on October 31st a good number of grown adults in the USA still drive off to work dressed as baked potatoes, astronauts, Wonder Woman and Harry Potter. It’s why it’s still a prevalent holiday that anyone from any background can freely participate in and “escape” the tribulations of being oneself for just a day, or even part of a day. It helps us all forget a truckload of worries. At the office nobody actually tricks or treats, well maybe in some unique manner they do. Dressing-up in a costume is more about tapping into our “inner child” and unleashing one’s imagination. Plus, there is a breadth of freedom and safety when one takes on a new personna. It feels a little bit mischievous. Anonymity breeds the feeling of adventure and power. Definitely exciting. Additionally, all these adults get just a smidgen of attention more than usual. That’s the kid in them. It’s in all of us. Once a year, for a day, if we decide to play along, our typical self is dissolved. And– just think, its a tradition! Woe to the workplace that deems such frivolity unacceptable!

Just what do mature adults secretly wish they could escape from? Bills, gasoline prices, car repairs, proper childcare, taxes, mortgage payments, divorce settlements, cases in trial, health strategies, worries about illnesses, car accidents, politics, shootings, crime, illegal drugs and war. The long list of impending doom and erratic tragedy is real, unfortunately. It weighs on people’s hearts. Do we really want to rob a seventeen year old of a final year spent in semi-bliss, away from these woes? In truth, by that age they already know what is coming down the pike. Why not let them have one last year to cavalierly, skip down their path to adulthood?

That radio show caller might think back to his childhood and recall how he felt on the brink of college and life beyond graduation. Better still, why not reflect on all the happy memories of being a child. I know it is something valuable we all should do from time to time. There is so much to appreciate.  We ought to be willing to share those remembrances with today’s youngsters. Sharing can mean extending understanding and perhaps reviving some “lost” Halloween traditions. You see, so much today is already pre-planned, pre-prepared, even pre-fabricated, leaving not much wiggle room for unique approaches to celebrating this most festive holiday.

I’d like to start with me. Once upon a time I was a young girl. I was fueled on imagination! It all probably began one rainy day indoors when my little sister and I took our blankets and turned them into “princess capes” by pinning a costume jewelry brooch through the edge just under our chin. There we had it, a long trailing, “royal cape”. When Halloween rolled around each end of October, I had already created a mental picture of whom or what I wanted to be. I wore nothing store-bought except for maybe a cheap mask and those silly wax lips. Everything else that comprised my costumes came straight from the bedroom closet. So I want to be a gypsy? No problem…I’d put together scarves, a swishy skirt, a peasant blouse which was all the rage in the sixties, and dangly, costume jewelry. I would dig around in junk drawers, the attic or trade with my siblings. Half the fun was the challenge to design a costume that looked as authentic as possible. Not only did the planning keep me occupied, but it challenged my creative spirit. Many little girls were doing the same. My brothers put their costumes together, too. Sometimes they would ask for my help, or I, theirs. Maybe, our mother might sew something to contribute to the whole effect. It was a fun, family experience no matter what.

When my brothers and sisters and I went Trick or treating, we went in a group. A few times we broke into pairs, but mostly we went together. It was fabulous exercise. We walked as far as our little legs could go. Our parents stayed home and answered the doorbell, while we “scoped-out” the “good houses” with kind people giving generous treats. A few times we would recite a Halloween poem or perform a little dance, in keeping with the traditional way to trick or treat. Our mini performances were our “ticket” to earning the sought after confectionery, though, not every house demanded we show off. As our pillow-cases grew heavy with quite a trove of candy,  our masks would steam-up as we grew out of breath. One year, we literally were dog-tired, and came home dragging our stash behind us. It was an athletic feat to go trick or treating. But, well worth the effort!

My folks were pretty “cool” parents when I look back in perspective. We could keep our bounty in our secret hiding places. Usually, first thing we would do is dump it out onto the dining table under the chandelier light, and inspect what everyone had. This is where we learned to become barterers and traders, and even “philanthropists”. My parents might ask for one or two of our candies, but it was our stuff, and they knew it. I don’t know how it happened, but, eventually, the sweets would end up in our sack lunches as our dessert. For months we would have one piece of candy per day at school to polish off our homemade lunches. Nowadays, many elementary schools go so far as to ban candy of any kind. Oh, honestly!

There was more than one way to celebrate Halloween. One year, my brothers,  sisters and I were allowed to turn our garage into a neighborhood “haunted house.” We blind-folded our friends and put them through “scary” experiences. One of them was taking clean toilet paper, wetting it, into thin rolls that resembled worms, and laid the wet “creatures” on the arms of our haunted house “victims”, as they sat in the Haunted House “parlor”. The “frightening tricks” we did were as innocent as that, but, when you are blind-folded, and something wet and cold is put on your arms, your imagination runs wild, which can be quite frightening! Needless to say, each sibling had their own station in which to employ a “scary” experience, and of course our enterprise was a success!

Another way seventeen year olds can still appropriately participate in Halloween, is to carve pumpkins. It’s true some killjoys go around after midnight and destroy pumpkins perched on railings and porch steps. Maybe they never had the opportunity to spread newspaper out on their kitchen table or in the garage, and proceed to cut open a pumpkin, extract its pulp, carve a spooky expression, and enjoy placing that first candle in the jack-o-lantern they had made, to see it lit. What was the lingering treat after all this handiwork? The roasting, salting and eating of the pumpkin seeds- a nutritious, delicious treat!

If we just allow people to put their brains to work, they can easily come up with fun ways to make Halloween an enjoyable occasion. I remember one year, long past 17, tapping into my “creative self”. I was living in my first apartment, and had a melodeon pump organ in my living room right, by my front door. When the doorbell rang, I decided to open the door ever so slowly with a pull tie rope and with my other hand, playing chords on the instrument, while one foot pressed a pedal. I did my best to sound as musically terrifying as possible. I remember little ones would either run away, or bravely hold their ground on my doorstep, to which I rewarded them with candy bars. This is the creative spirit of Halloween, folks. A day to tap into the recesses of our imagination. Not store-bought. Not commercial. Not blood-curdling horrific. Just a modicum of mystery to add color to life.

I’m of the opinion that the American traditional way of celebrating Halloween has succumbed to the toppling down of some fundamental building blocks that are not only foundational, but, necessary. Children and adults surely need to be reminded at least one time a year, that they were once very, very young, and very, very unadulterated. Child’s thought was just that, his or her own thought. Original. Unique. Having Halloween in 2018 be diminished down to a mere, tolerable date at the end of October is really sad. Imposing a cut-off for what ages can don costumes and make believe who they are, while trick or treating is cynical, pathetic control. To shield one’s kids in only a church carnival where everyone is monitored to the max, is the antiseptic way to celebrate this holiday. I can see why parents feel forced to make this choice, but why not simply at least accompany your children door to door? How can there be a trustworthy society if we don’t utilize trust ourselves? I did with my kids. They knew we couldn’t visit “everyone”. But, they had fun checking out the different homes, their decorations and guessing who were their neighbors behind the masks passing by on the sidewalks. It was a social event to say the least!

Why pour over the internet or the department store flyers to find the best deal on pre-made disguises? They are probably being crafted in countries where the workers’ wages are far less than the “bargain price” they are being sold for. For heaven sakes, why purchase plastic tote bags when a decent old pillow will do? Does everything have to be a “cute contest” to keep up with the Joneses? But you know, even I can relent on this and say that if it makes it truly fun for the child to have a tote or bag to remember Halloween the rest of the year, then so be it.

It seems the point I wish to make is that if we tear down the traditions of Halloween, we are eradicating some simple joy we all still really need. A holiday that allows people young and old to play the same way, tap into their creativity, and share the experiences with others, is one worth not ruining. Let those 17 year olds beg for sweets, please. And do get that pirate hat out of the trunk in the garage. Go for it! Live childhood another day!

 

 

 

 

Those Eyes

A while ago, a relative of mine, posted something that caught my attention on social media. It was a very fine photograph of a VERY fine lady she and I both have loved our entire lives. Our grandma. Seeing that photograph got my synapses firing. I clearly remember when and how that picture was taken. My grandmother had come to visit me. She was with her only son, my uncle. He snapped a shot of the two of us sitting on my bed with my harp behind us. Grandma had come to hear me play my Troubadour Lyon & Healy harp. I remember absolutely nothing in particular about this “command performance”, but I do recall the walk with her afterward. I lived in a beach city at the time, and it was fitting that she came to see me there, especially since she is the one person who cemented my love of oceanside living.

While on our deliberate and visually fulfilling constitutional, my grandmother chatted about this and that…the trees, the flowers, the baby strollers, the birds we could hear over the din of cars on a nearby main boulevard. As I listened, I drifted off at times, to snatch bits of thought I kept in the ‘hallways of my memory’, always being easily available to ponder and enjoy. My uncle walked along with us, and eventually we wanted to reach a landmark diner to have a delicious meal. Grandma was in her mid-eighties but, didn’t really seem to be. She stood and walked straight. Her upright stance was as demonstrative as her upright attitude. She exuded quiet confidence, and could flatten a naysayer in their tracks within a matter of a phrase. It wasn’t malicious, just setting the record right, that’s all. We all knew that. Thus, our conversation was often punctuated with these characteristic pieces of wisdom. Oh, if only I could hear her say more….For now, it’s those remembrances waiting in the wings of my mind that will have to suffice.

How sweet those hallways of thought can be, with her in them! Most of my memories of Grandma center around her darling duplex home in Southern California. It looked just like a bungalow with a sloping wide A- line roof. It had front criss-cross paned windows bedecked underneath with cheery window boxes spilling forth her favorite, red geraniums. Her home also had prolific, lush front and inside gardens that most certainly were prize-worthy. Her house was painted a soft, deep tan; the hue enriched by a tad more brown tone, than a yellowy tone. This was such a pretty color that made a perfect backdrop to all of the foliage and flora on display. Her small plot of lawn was continuously vibrant green. It was a rich color that beckoned you as a child to lie down on it and feel the coolness below your skin. This natural “carpet” brought soothing relief on even the hottest of days. Bordering the grass area were plantings that brought delighted smiles to anyone who took the time to inspect. My favorite plant was the Fuchsia, or the “ballerina bush” as I would childishly call it. Hers had vivid purple and magenta flowers that danced in the breeze like ballet gowns swishing across a stage. She had several species of Azaleas, and they yielded a feathery, almost gossamer-like accent of pinks and lavender. Tantalizing to the eye, for sure was this beautiful bounty out in front, but the magic continued up the walkway and back to her inner side-yard oasis.

In my grandmother’s inside garden, were serious plants that seemed to command respect due to their sheer size and vigorous presence. Two of these were the trumpet vine and the honeysuckle vine. They had been borne from her gardening enterprises; from cuttings dipped in Root-tone F to the magnificent adult climbers on fence and post that they were! She loved her vines and would let us taste the honeysuckle from the blooms, which made us feel quite cavalier! There were several massive vines at work, having set their tendrils out in quest for further heights and expanse. The trumpet vine was really one for fascination. I never saw it devoid of a profusion of flower. They would hang down almost as if they were a string of musical notes in a composition. Though all the names of her vines escape me, I am positive she had flowering shrubs as well.

At one’s shoulder-level, I recall the showy camellias. There were at least three varieties, some double petaled, even! I could never mistake the signature scents of the lower-thriving gardenia and her night-blooming jasmine. She had heliotrope and hydrangea, spires of goldenrod and giant, statuesque gladiolas. If that weren’t enough, bordering her flower beds were lobelia and begonia. It was such a thickly endowed garden, that there was just enough room for her glass picnic table with wrought iron matching chairs. Grandma loved serving us lunch out on the patio, amidst all the greenery, fragrance and dazzling color.

To sit at a transparent glass table impressed us as children. We could watch our feet dangle and play footsie with one another. Grandma always thoughtfully set the table in style. Placemats were a must, and very often they were bright, happy colors and either made of woven cotton or straw! The napkins came with napkin rlngs of course, and our grandmother loved her colored glass! Thus, our goblets were made of glass and usually a translucent color in which to visually enjoy her homemade pink lemonade. Sometimes, we might drink out of her equally festive 1950s style colored-aluminum tumblers. Teal, magenta, red-orange, chartreuse and yellow….a feast for the eyes every gulp of the way! The “pieces de resistance” were the unique sipping straw stirrers. The tippy top of them had a tiny round ball with a hole in it for a mouth piece to sip on.  It was lavender colored and infused with silvery speckles,. The ball shaped mouth piece was connected to a thin silver metal straw, which joined at the bottom to a matching lavender/silver speckled and slightly pointed well of a spoon. We thought this was the best invention next to our dad’s Osterizer! We each had our own sipper straw spoon and we probably spent more time stirring and giggling and sipping and bubbling than she probably would have liked. But what are summer visits at Grandma’s in her beach cottage garden for? Being silly and carefree of course!

Further back in our grandmother’s inner sanctum was a narrow walkway flanked by her clothesline. That’s where our bathing suits and damp towels would end up. We would also line-up our pails filled with claimed seashells and starfishes, for surveying and comparison, later. We would walk all the way to the back gate. This led out to where Grandma’s garage and tiny plot of green alongside it opened up into her back alley. Now, here, quite nonchalantly placed, so as not to cause too much attention, was the prize of all prizes.

Her fine horticultural specimen sat indiscriminately all year long. Then, once a year, this jewel of a plant would have its moment of glory. In the night, well past sundown, Grandma would take us in our pajamas, robes and slippers out to see her secret. She would tell my brother to hold the flashlight to mark our path as it was quite dark. We would follow single file, in stealth-like, soft footsteps. Once we were exactly there, stooping down in hushed, fragile patience, she would shine the light on her epiphyllum oxypetalum; the “Queen of the Night” flower! As if worshipping the nocturnal luminescence, it would fully open its bloom to the moon. All white itself, and surrounded by blushed at the base slender, pronged petal adornments; it had lacy stamens and pistils which seemed to float upward from inside the blossom. Her petals appeared to glow as they spread wide with frilled edge…a most dramatic exhibition! The “oohs” and the “ahhhhhs” could not be kept at bay. Our eyes stared in wonderment, and I absolutely know this was the solidifying factor in all our lives that made us become stewards of the Plant Kingdom. Having us partake in this annual event speaks volumes as to the kind of person our Grandma was.

Looking back at that picture posted on social media, I reminisce fondly. My Grandma and I were sitting in tandem. shoulder to shoulder on my bed, with my harp prominently in the background. You see, I believe my grandmother brought many splendid things into my life. She was the one who played her piano and accompanied my violin playing. She once walked me to a neighbor’s house who was a member of the Philharmonic to have him hear me play, (even though he was gone that day). Never fear, she let me read books for children about Beethoven and taught me to play along with her, Mozart’s “Minuet in G”. This attentive lady believed in me, and I believed in her.

Beyond that, there is something even more. Philosophical, really. Grandma’s eyes that were caught so well in that photograph ~~ say it all. Her soul behind her eyes was a Knowing Soul. She knew life was music. It could even be a symphony! Not only was music the expression of tune and rhythm, but, it was an essence we could all “see” if we just looked hard enough. Music is in the curling “melody” of growing vine, the “toned” fragrance of flower, the “dancing” curve and shape of leaf and patterned petals. Music is not reserved for just our ears. Our eyes can “see” Music, too. This is what I learned from my precious, sweet Grandma. This is what upon occasion, brings little ‘dewdrops’ to my own eyelashes; when I see the gentle beat of a butterfly wing, a hummingbird’s blur, or a medallion-shaped silver dollar Eucalyptus leaf twitching in the breeze. Thank you Grandma May. I love you.

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”.

Chasing Down the Past

Just when life seems to be fairly ho-hum, a snippet of one’s past zips by into view, sending you into an emotional tizzy. Such is as follows:

“Oh! That’s my car! My VW bug! 1974! It HAS to be! Nobody else thought to have Earl Sheib paint it an aquamarine-blue back in the day! It was one of a kind! Oh, my gosh, I have to follow this guy!”

Well, I had just exited my garage in a quick quest to purchase some potato bread. I love potato bread almost as much as I love egg bread…thus, when the whim came over me, I hopped into my Red Thrill and zipped out and down my driveway. Thankfully, out of sheer habit, I stopped at the sidewalk to press the garage door down to close. That’s when in my rearview mirror, the Blue Wonder put-puttered on by…

Is there anything so fun as a Volkswagen Beetle’s engine sound? It’s just plain “cute” sounding, although I suspect some other descriptors must be famously held in place because a large cross-section of society loves their Volkswagen Bugs. By the way, we are talking the original engines, not the newly revised, this last decade, engines. Uh uh. Not the same animal. Or insect.

Vintage VW owners tend to personify their idea of what the Volkswagen sound is to them. Almost any age person and gender might call it a sporty, spunky, “in yo face”, sweet, cool, funky, upbeat, humble, nostalgic or California-surfer-free-spirited-unfettered “athlete’s life-style”… sound. Certainly there’s even more! Obviously, this is because the era the Bugs took flight was the 60’s, just when Creativity was King.

Since the earlier decades up to now, VW owners have gotten involved. THEY “personify” their car’s sound by “fulfilling” the role. Thus, you might STILL see little old ladies wearing a sunhat and shades with hippie beads dangling from the mirror. Daisies might be spilling out from the front wing windows, too. One might see male drivers of all ages, wearing Hawaiian shirts, with their own set of sunglasses and, of course, donning scruffy, willy-nilly beards. But the aura doesn’t stop there.

It used to be: to have a Volkswagen; must have a rack on top. Though today, the racks seem to be used more for bicyclists, rather than the two surfboard minimum, considered “hip” and “with it” back then. Today, if you keep your eyes peeled, you might STILL catch VWs en route with Indian Bells tinkling and incense swirling in time to the rhythm of the put-put sound or the sitar strains emanating from the 8 track cassette player on the dash. You might also spot those owners who still love anything from the ’50s, so you’ll see pony tails and greased up waves in the profiles of these drivers. The point is, owning a Beetle is often a thematic experience.

Now, to love your car, is to drive your car. There is the group of owners who know the TRUEST joy of a VW Beetle, is not to hug the curvacious bends of the PCH, but instead, the whiplash mountain roads, where the Volkswagen automobile itself, was born. These exultant travelers are merry, a tad fierce and blazingly adventurous. They are the ones who can be seen tossing the map out their window in reckless, carefree abandon. They WILL follow the ROAD LESS-TRAVELED. This is how VWs became loved by all of America. They have put-putted over hill and dale across this widespread country; careening ’round the curvy switchbacks of elevated mountain peaks in Montana, to the leafy, lackadaisical swish of the Smokey Mountain Range in the South. As they do, they bring with them their owners’ own views on life.

It’s that driver’s spirit that has driven this fine bugger of a car all over Creation. The love of our planet and the fresh outdoors has lured the VW enthusiasts to motor their car right up to the ski lodge, rather than take the cogwheel train, or village shuttle. This is what “cool” Volkswagen owners do! Why be a passenger, when you can be a DRIVER? Even more fun, is the work involved shifting the gearshift or nailing your foot to the floor, as you try to eek out a few more mph from the buzzing little bug’s engine. Anyone who has driven a VW up in the altitudes, knows it takes sheer chutzpah to get that sucker up over steep inclines. Once you’ve made it– there is a moment of cheerful accolade, always involved with congratulating the adorable little contraption you love to covet so immensely.

And that’s the thing- the impetus for why this entire piece got started. I DO love to covet memories of my Volkswagen. After all, my ’74 aquamarine “Blue Bit of Magic” had a way of perking up my day. It felt uplifting to get into my car, turn the key, and hear her start up. If I must put gasoline in her tank, well, it was quite inexpensive. I knew I was always paying a third less than everyone else. It was my own kind of “elitism”. Once I was going, the wind wings in the front seat were the best! They were a natural air conditioner that I relied on way more often than I did the actual heat and air system. It was really fun to drive my car for a variety of reasons.

In retrospect, I think the put-put sound reminded me of the sound the roadsters make at Disneyland’s Autopia Autobahn Ride. Maybe, that’s what taps into our inner-child and makes so many of us love that sound! Hmm? Another point is the fact that when someone was driving a VWBeetle, you knew it. If you were in your house stirring the spaghetti sauce, you knew a V-Dub was driving by, because your ears would catch its signature half purr, half rumble and your brain would conjure up all kinds of ideas. If you were awaiting the return of someone using your own VW, then it was a lilting feeling to hear that car come into your driveway. In all these ways, my ’74 Volkswagen sounded happy to me: that is simply the crux of it.

That Volkswagen “Iridescent Blue Beetle” I drove, had quite a “life”. It all began when my brother brought home his own vintage VW that was a stick shift model from the early ’60s. I tried to learn to drive it and kind of failed miserably. My dad tried to teach me how to do all four steps at once, but this pea-brain just couldn’t handle it. After my younger brother accidentally drove my older brother’s car into the avocado grove, in reverse, my folks started to think about purchasing an automatic.

When I was truly in need of a car, and for me it was after my first year of college, my folks surprised me. They drew up an agreement to partially fund me with a $3,000 Automatic-Stick Volkswagen. I had to first work that summer to pay my half, which I did, gladly, and hence, I returned to school in the fall relying on four wheels rather than my Dr. Scholl sandals to get me around. A lot better!

“Beetle Bug” started off her independent life in the very “happening” coastal town of Malibu. The Native American Chumash name means “The Surf Sounds Loudly”, and boy, did my car know what the ocean call was. I was supposed to be living in Malibu earning a degree in Education! Well, I have to say, collegiate life in Malibu with my venturesome little car was really, REALLY “tough!” How hard it was to NOT drive down the hill from “Peppy-Tech University” to go and “study” up the highway at Coral Beach. Many a free afternoon was spent reading on the sand with the waves pounding their song, and my car parked within earshot, surveying it all.

Additionally, I recall how “frustrating” it was to have to incessantly drive my flock of friends down to Malibu Colony and check out the cute waiters at Beecher’s Cafe, while pretending to be engaged in a “Study Group”. Oh, sure👍, we were studying, alright. Still other times, the “poor” VW had to drive up through the canyons to take me to my community service credit locales. Often, her wheels zoomed us northward up the Pacific Coast Highway to Trancas, so we could accidentally “run into” surfers while researching the California coastline and its many inhabitants (ahem: habitats)…yes, very hard to do that “research”… Friends along for the ride, we would make trips to Zuma Beach or Paradise Cove and take in the “scenic” beauty. We saw surfers all the time, and sometimes movie stars. We knew which notables lived in which houses. All this was “fact-finding” material for this “academic” throng. To think of all the work involved, having to drive with best buds in tow, to Santa Monica, so we could look up information at the local library on Sixth Street.  Oh, “the information” we gathered!

Further endeavors led us to Point Dume, or the inspiring overlook spot at Point Mugu. (Such “arduous” tasks to endure as a college student, utilizing the wheels of freedom! So much “responsibility”!) You get the idea. Those newly acquired set of radials burst open my world. It was sheer dazzle and dream. The experiences with friends were treasures, and the gorgeous scenery was unparalleled. When I think of these things, I gratefully think of my zippy, put-putting automobile. And maybe vice-versa?

Not wanting to belabor every detail of my car’s life, I can tell you “she” has been there for me in the best of times. I owned her 13 years. She wasn’t perfect. She needed an entire rebuild after I stupidly drove her into the ground. What can I say, I was a girl who didn’t know much about automobiles. It was a unique car, too. One experimental year, the fine engineers at Volkswagen decided to build a car that looked like a stick shift, pretended to work like a stick shift, but without the extra pedal. . In fact, this one of a kind “automatic shift”  had a set of fuses underneath the glovebox that had one fuse which monitored the transmission. When parked, if it was removed (in a split second action–a quick easy), the car’s transmission would lock in place and make it veritably thief proof! This came in quite handy, I can tell you!

I had a good friend who enjoyed my vehicle to the hilt, would fiendishly make my car “flinch” while I was driving, simply by touching the gearshift ever so lightly. He would crack up every time. He also had a hilarious way of hanging on to the window bar that separated the wing window from the passenger window, by rolling the side window down, and pretending he was clinging onto it for dear life if I reached a maximum speed of sixty. Very funny are my memories connected with this particular “on the road” companion.

If we ever were on an outing making our way home from Ventura or Santa Barbara, and were taking the 101 inland route south, we’d have to tread up the “Great Incline”, or the “Conejo Grade” between Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. He would act as if thrusting his chest back and forth, while grunting in the process would help me “make my car” get enough “oomph” to reach past the maximum speed of 40 miles per hour!

Essentially, …the effort would begin at the bottom of the extremely steep 7% grade with an onset speed of 60; (if there weren’t other cars in the way). Our ascent was tenacious! Gradually, as we drove up the incline, the top speed would DECREASE steadily down to forty, after I had made it to the halfway point on the hill. With foot pedal pressed to the floor, I would hope and pray and pay homage to “Mercury the God of Flight”, while cracking up at my passenger’s protruding and flexing of his Alpha-Male chest! We would not lose any more speed before the summit was reached. It was actually an awful lot of excitement and drama which made for a most “far from boring” ride. Yes, that Beetle had nosed and trudged its way through many a taxing terrain.

This same car has been my “wanderlust traveler buddy”. She is the one who took me to a number of places that have filled my soul with all those memories I have alluded to. I can say that without her, I may never have known some wonderful things about our country and our earth, for that matter. With the “People’s Wagon” wheeling me to places unknown, life has been a richer palette for sure.

One of my earliest adventures was to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. Overwhelming and almost other-worldly, it was. Massively huge, too. The engineering marvel is connected to the sea in an uncanny way. I only drove across, regrettably, though. I know the real magic lies well outside the window. To plant two feet on the bridge itself, beholding sheer panoramic view of the bay- now that is something yet to be experienced! Still, to drive across that immense engineering triumph was very inspiring.

Another excursion, when one of my brothers married for the first time, entailed driving my Beetle up to Idaho. Along the way, I learned that Nevada has a lot of repetitive desert space, with the best parts near its corners and borders. This was a terribly long time ago, thus, my observation may be outdated by now. I just remember one small plant cluster after another on caked, dry, dusty, flat land. I couldn’t wait to see what lay beyond…

Idaho was really a beautiful state. First, was seen golden farmland, acre upon acre of shimmering ripples brushed by the breeze. Then, came the mountains and forests; all a painter’s dream come come true! Destination: Sun Valley. My Blue Bugsy took me to my brother’s wedding and to meet his lovely, sweet bride. The cozy comfort of the chapel in aspen woods replete with natural beauty all around comes to mind. I recall footbridges over ponds, ice-skating rinks (I could not master), and the youthful promises of faith and love pledged heart to heart.

That trip was a gutsy, reckless one, which I took with a couple other siblings. They dared me to drive way faster than the speed limit when we were out in those wide open spaces. Well, sure, of course I did! Youth. Untamed and unchecked. Oy vey! To behave differently or to test the borders of obedience, these can become one’s mindset. The acting on a whim seems integral to being a Volkswagen Bug owner.

How fondly I remember, lest I ever forget, the 8:00 pm decision to “cruise” on up to Sequoia National Park and camp out overnight! My boyfriend and I threw blankets, canteens, an ice chest and a picnic basket into the backseat. Up we went, getting there well past midnight. It was the first time I had ever seen the giant redwoods. They loomed large and majestically out of the moon drenched snow. The Sequoias were tall pillars that had a way of putting one’s existence into humbled perspective. We pitched our tent right on the snow, and “roughed it” like the frontiersmen and pioneer women would have done. Parked nearby was my car “who” seemed to “watch over us” as we slept throughout the night.

Perhaps, most cherished of all, was when “Miss Wanderlust” drove me to my own wedding destination, in a high mountain terrain, up to a waterfall that cascaded not only water, but wishes. That adventure had many aspects–one of them of which was the fulfilling of dreams, and eventually, some were not. But, no regrets, ever. How could I regret experiencing my first snowfall, or hearing the crunch of snow under my Sorrel boots? How could I have not been overjoyed while discovering gem-like colorful pebbles in streams, or feeling what the hush of the quiet feels like when living in a sequestered canyon village? How could I not be amazed at driving through winding mountain highways to get to the next town, after circumventing whole mountain ranges and changing elevation?  My V-Dub made possible cherished memories of hiking up to old silver mines, and hiking solo in the crisp morning air while picking wildflowers for my later in the day wedding bouquet. I could not have experienced all these treasured things, if my Beetle Bug hadn’t taken me all the way from shores of California to the mountain peaks of Colorado!

When I think of my courageous little car, I remember the joyful journeys we made together. Sometimes, my drives would be borne out of despondency, and just to get behind the wheel, have a good think and witness the world flash by was a therapeutic escapade. Escaping the doldrums, I would embark on adventure, my Bug and I. For you see, when you drive a Volkswagen, you are never really alone.

Years later, I  transformed  its original beige color to the personally chosen aquamarine blue. I loved that paint job! The color had a sparkle, as if it were an ocean jewel. It wasn’t long before my firstborn son’s blue eyes were gems to behold as well. He rode home from the hospital in that car. Best of all memories? Perhaps?

Even so, Beetle Bug and I drove to visit my grandma’s on many a weekend for tea and kibitzing, and once in awhile as far as San Diego to surprise my eldest brother- to see what he was painting lately, and what music he was performing. I prized these trips to locales afar, where my favorite persons lived. Isn’t that the real purpose of a vehicle, anyway? They are meant to take us to people and places that add layers upon layers of meaning to our story. Then, for the rest of one’s life, when you see that particular make of car you used to own, you are halted and suspended in memories dear. Huh. Is it you that owned the car, or did it own you?

Getaways, college, weddings, births, pivotal moments, sentimental bliss…these are brought to mind at even the flash of sight of one’s well- loved “V-dub”. Thus, that morning, as I idled frozen in thought at the end of my driveway, the “focal point” made a left turn down the nearest side street and I followed suit. He was being a typical VW driver. He was scooting along as if he were in the Indy 500, careening around street corners and driving with fearless ambition! I shifted gears and took flight after him. I kept hearing in my head: “I hope he gets stuck at a traffic signal, then I can pull up alongside him. Don’t get a speeding ticket! Watch for baby strollers or four-legged animal friends!”

Well, I managed to tail him for another four blocks, upon which I prayed he would make a right turn into a driveway to a gas-station. Yes! He did! And so did I. Luckily, there was an empty filling-up spot adjacent to his. I watched a very young man, probably in his middle twenties, get out of “his car/my car”, to which I proceeded to tell him my business.

“I’m so sorry to have been following you but, I must ask if your car is in fact, my car from long ago? It was an automatic stick.” He replied that yes his car is the same type. I excitedly said, “Well is it a ’74?” He quickly said “No, it, is a ’75.”  My heart sank. “But, it’s the same unusual color I had custom painted back in the 80’s!” He replied, no, he was sorry. However, he did exclaim, “I love this car! It has a life of its own! It drives and drives and drives!” I countered with: “Don’t you just love those wing windows?” And he said, “I sure do!” I finished with, “Well, thanks for jarring my memory, because a sweet one it is. Enjoy your car!” That’s when he concluded our conversation with: “Oh, I will, I’m taking it up to Obispo to go camping under the pines by the sea.”…

Hmmm. Maybe, whom he bought it from was wrong about the year? Maybe, it really IS my Blue Wonder…?