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.

Ladies’ Hats and Lace-trimmed Gloves

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sunday School.

Where I first defied.

Then tested.

Then listened.

Then spoke. Then memorized, recited and read.

Then ruminated and spoke again, on a higher level.

 

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

 

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

 

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

as they turn the rice paper paged Bible before them,

ready to make real the printed word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tidbits of Affirmation

Written: September 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

Little Joys

📚📒📓✏️🖍📚📒📓✏️🖍📚📒📓✏️🖍

Today many teachers went back to school…thus, I was compelled to write this: 

Once in awhile, a reminder of past experience comes at you in the gentle form of a real-life tickle. Now, this is not to be confused with scribbling fingers on your waist or belly, but instead the kind of tickle that “wiggles” your mind into a happy memory. Such an event happened to me today. 

Riding in an elevator, I was aware some youngsters and most likely, their mother, were standing behind me. I could tell some jostling of a lively sort was going on rather quietly, which prompted me to turn around and have a look. I saw two kids, one on each of their mother’s hand, hopping up and down. It was bound to happen… Immediately, I guessed one was a second grader and the other a kindergartener. The little kindergarten-age boy was sporting an enormous grin and he couldn’t contain his joy. I then said, “Well someone is a happy camper this morning!” “I’m starting school today! I’m sooooo excited!”, was his reply. His sister looked full of zeal as well. I smiled at their mom, and I turned back around to face the elevator door. My mind flashed back to the days when I was a kindergarten teacher. I would be excited too the first day, even the night before. But, the real happiness would come once my pupils had stepped under my charge in my classroom. First days were always a mixture of glorious, sometimes fretful and always ever-present discovery. 

I loved kindergarten and taught that grade blissfully for 8 years. 

I have a colleague who is assigned kindergarten this year. This master teacher who has never been at the helm of the “Good-Ship Kindergarten” before is about to take command of a grade like no other. Even the way it begins is like no other grade. Idiosyncrasies and issues only found in THE first year of schooling in all of the “Education Kingdom” make it a grade worthy of being deemed THE most rewarding of ALL grades, in my opinion. A kindergarten teacher acclimates to the plusses and the minuses of being the first adult outside family, to rock the precious world of five year olds. 

Now, to begin with, Kindergarteners are prone to crying the first month or two, (only some of them, not all), and they really do not know how to blow their noses. Nor, until they are taught how, do they understand or employ the act of focusing on one focal point: you, their teacher. Challenging as this may be, a kindergarten teacher will see that the rewards far outweigh the strife. I KNOW kindergarten is still, the most gratifying grade! The “cherubs” are totally unadulterated and are truly a blank slate. All that you do with and for them, is soaked up thirstily, with no apprehension or prejudice. They simply love this new learning place you have provided just for them! They would walk a tightrope for you if you asked them to. Therefore, your power is tantamount in their eyes. Embarrassingly, though, they have been known to usurp their own parent’s word by stating, “No! My teacher said it is THIS way!”. 

Perhaps, the sweetest prize is seeing the affection they have for one another. They are unafraid to hold a hand of a friend in comfort, in comraderie or glee, regardless of gender because of course, they don’t classify others at all. There are no taboos in kindergarten society. It’s a “golden” thing to behold to see their genuine acceptance of peers. And how fine to know this kindly acceptance extends to adults as well. 

In your classroom their wide-eyed look as you read stories to and with them is indeed priceless. It is often that a kindergarten teacher will pause to savor the emotional lump in her/his throat. You can literally feel the devotion toward you, their leader and that ethereal thing we call (learning). An educator amidst a sea of engaged kindergarten faces cannot help but feel the synapses sparking and firing and transmitting and creating that “Dendrite Information Highway”! Any kindergarten teacher will tell you this is no exaggeration. But with that flow of power comes their dear love for you. If one ever seeks appreciation, you will find it in your kindergarten classroom. All the countless and I mean COUNTLESS hours of preparation are well worth it, because in a kindergarten classroom you do get your bang for your buck! Sometimes double! 

Inside the kindergarten classroom, the soft voices, whether lackadaisically singing or intentionally conveying tender ideas are actually little “sound bites of treasure”. For the most important aspect of a kindergarten classroom is this untamed “spilling forth”. To listen to a five year old thought being sung or spoken is a critical endeavor of the kindergarten instructor. The job of the students is to practice communication. Your job as their teacher-facilitator is to intensely LISTEN and consume what they verbally have to offer. There is no standard or price tag on this integral part of a kindergarten. A wise kindergarten teacher hones in on this “vocal window” into her students’ typically diverse expression. 

If run well, affording natural curiosity, explorative play and individualized rate of academic growth, vs. cookie cutter “everyone must be on this point, by this time” mentality, it will indeed be a cheerful place for children and their educator. The thrill of one child’s epiphany can often be infectious to the point of being THE catalyst which steered the whole class toward success. THAT is quite fun to witness. It is one of the many gems in the kindergarten world “jewel-box”. All  kindergarten teachers and their pupils are in for a most unique experience which sets the tone for the rest of their life. 

Even though teaching kindergarten is completely exhausting, it is a special time for the kids, their family and their teacher. One should remember it is a “kids’ garden”…where young hearts and minds sprout and grow. A gardener doesn’t yell at his beans and peas to make them grow. Instead, he coaxes them along with soothing words, sunshine and refreshing water. The same applies to children. You can’t force or pressure them to learn, one can only provide opportunity for learning and growth to take place, coupled with celebratory words along the way. A gardener still appreciates his snap pea with only three seeds inside vs. the ones with 4. No rushing along required! Patient, ardent, attentive weeding, fertilizing and watering is hard work, but necessary. It will tire out the “gardener” by the end of the “growing season”, but the proof of growth is most apparent! The kindergarten teacher will reap the fruitful bounty of her pupils’ success, whether it be in the form of reading, writing, computing math, or renderings in crayon or paint. The realization of culminating achievement is literally art for the soul of a teacher. Truly. 

To my colleague- enjoy the best year of your life. I promise there will be lots of surprises and exquisite “small moments”. Be ready to be charmed.

By Julianne Cull🍎🍏🍎🍏🍎🍏🍎🍏🍎🍏

Review of the 2018 movie: “Christopher Robin”

For what it’s worth: it is my opinion that this was a truly wonderful film. I myself was enamored over the authentic beginning with the viewing and reading of some pages from the actual book by A.A.Milne.  The sweet gentleness and purely childlike start to the story was both refreshing and affirming that children still should be lovingly coddled and cared for. Not every movie for children has to be brimming with wild, loud, in your face silliness. “Christopher Robin” had a much more meaningful and genteel approach. Yes, there were many funny moments, for sure, but this film has a higher purpose.

The scene which transitions from Christopher Robin’s fetterless childhood to one of accepting he must bolster-up and prepare for manhood was incredibly poignant. I believe today’s kids can comprehend this- or at the very least feel the truth and importance of it. Hearing the endearing voices, seeing the creatures profess their allegiance to Christopher Robin, and he to them, was very touching, and a bit angst-filled, as well. Don’t we all long for the free-spirited play of our childhood? 

As the story progressed through the tribulations and quests to be dealt with and solved, the main focus was a very poignant message for these times: Family is foremost and above all in importance. I loved that. Thank God we are addressing this fact! I applaud how the medium in which the story comes to fruition was through ingenuity, imagination, trust, loyalty, perseverance, hope and patient devotion. What more meaningful messages ought today’s children receive? 

I was so glad that in true Disney style the story problem neatly ties up at the end with a good heart epiphany that saves the day, so to speak! Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, Roo, and yes even Eeyore were a joy to see and hear and believe. I am thrilled Christopher Robin not only could retap into his childhood innocence, but, also utilize its power to apply to his present life situation. Bravo

This movie is “anyone who wants it childhood” served up beautifully and poetically. It is a “must see movie” for all children; young, old and especially “adult”. Like the audience who shared with me this sure to be timeless piece of cinema, everyone who goes will also clap at the end!

Where Did My Childhood Summers in Southern California Go?

Okay, I get it. We are in a warming funk. It may only last another thirty years, but, it is a funk. How I long for the days of old…when I was a “Sea n Ski” gal with my white sunscreen nose, floppy sunhat, rubber flip flop thongs (we wore them on our feet, folks), my ruffly bikini and my straw and wooden beaded beach basket tote! That was living in style! My little sidekick sister sported a matching but different color handmade corduroy beach cape with yarn ball trim and silver fancy button hooks. We also had those nifty little plastic eyeball protectors that you’d set atop the bridge of your nose as you lay down to soak up the sun and build that “brown as a berry” suntan. Suntanning was serious business to the Real McCoys that we were: the Little Surfer Girls of Corona Del Mar…The only preliminary was jumping into our big brother’s forest green bomb ’56 Chevy Sedan, and flying down the 57 with “Wipeout”, “The Monster Mash” and “Witchy Woman” blaring out of the radio

This is what all children from the San Gabriel Valley would do multiple times, week after week, all summer long. And our summers were the full three months, baby! At times, the beach was often a different deal compared to where our homes were. We would leave in the mid-morning when the sun was beginning to bake at 80 degrees, only to find the the beach’s marine layer was lingering around until at least noon. That meant double doses of suntan lotion,…for everyone… had learned the cloud refractive process can redden fair skin to a ripe red lobster hue if you dare to lay under cloudy beach skies in the summer. But that was okay, because mostly I remember many carefree days playing on the shore with a cool breeze coming off the waves. It was delightful conditions such as these that borne the creative, gleeful escapades with my little sister and brothers.

We loved doing so many things together, such as beach combing for sand dollars, seashells that looked pretty, and digging for sand crabs as the tide would recede. We loved hopping over the mounds of seaweed being attacked by the fiendish little flies that loved buzzing all over them. As insouciant children can only do, we cheerfully chased the waves and would stop to dig our toes into the wet sand; for this always tickled relentlessly as the water would pull away. These were simple rituals we must do each visit. Every time, we walked the length of the beach with the intention of getting to the jetty. There we would search for starfishes and bring one home in a pail. Climbing over the rocks would be rough and very hard on our toes, but by the end of summer, we were in condition and our feet had toughened from the practice. Perhaps the most memorable summer was the one when we staked our claim at the summit of Pirates’ Cove. We discovered above the cave, if we clambered up to the very top, nearest the edge where the waves would dramatically perform their sea-song of crash and spray, was a strongly anchored pole. We painted onto an old white cloth our own flag emblem, and tied it to the pole as if this beach, cove and cave were our very own. It was OUR mystery to know; OUR realm to rule.

These summers of youth are a blessed memory. I know my siblings and I have heartfelt remembrances of our sweet Grandmother who taught us to love the beach. She is the one who took us literally into the waves as she herself would gather-up her pedal pushers or ruck-up her skirt and tie it around her waist so she herself could wade through the ocean along the shore. She encouraged us to use our eyes and look into the water, to find things, imagine things, to adore and respect the sea. Because of her, I learned to brave the waves, and body surf. She taught us to be strong and smart and to be one with the water. My little sister and I would pretend we were mermaids while we dove and flipped and frolicked as any fabled sea-nymph would do. The ocean was a multi-faceted playground and our affinity for this gifted place was always a huge part of our childhood summers.

The beach-goers of today have a far different experience. It is no longer a spontaneous excursion. Instead, it is a destination often requiring parking reservations. Too often the crowd is indifferent to the beautiful tableau before them. Instead of consideration of others’ and their space, disregard and flagrant selfishness is often made manifest. It is typical for there to be loud, overbearing conversations, blaring music, and unsupervised little ones running amuck kicking sand everywhere and onto everyone. The lack of clean-up is appalling, too. Trash just left indelibly leaves an ugly testament to modern-day indifference. Where is the respect for our planet? Where is the social conscience? Thank goodness not all beachgoers behave in this manner.

How I miss those innocent, oblivious summer days on the beach. My transistor radio softly played “Oh, Sweet Pea come on and dance with me”, while my “sunbathing” Barbie Doll greeted her boyfriend Ken who “drove up” alongside her in his snazzy convertible. He’d “hop-out” to join her in her fun…I even miss my own casual gawking at the surfers and lifeguards, and reading on my stomach so I could scope out the rest of the male population from behind my sunglasses. When I think of all those beach days, I recall delicious picnics comprising tuna fish sandwiches, grapes, lemonade, Fresca or Squirt, brownies and Ruffles Potato Chips. Lively conversation and giggles always accompanied such a meal. The beach was a place where imagination, dreams and giggles were allowed free-reign. No wonder the fondness for such a place kindles strong in my soul. The magic of childhood is a blessed thing to experience in such an unfettered way.

When the sun began to go down, the whole ambience of the place would change. Those beach goers remaining, were hoping to see that sacred orange ball dip into the horizon. They always sat in muted, pensive, still repose. Everyone was in their own thinking world. A hush would fall over the total beach almost as if it were a sanctuary of some sort~a special world requiring honor and afterthought. All sea worshippers would hear the symphony of rhythm persevere; thunderously rolling white-capped waves; pounding evermore.

Childhood summers to me are not memories of the broiling asphalt blacktop and car outdoor thermometers registering 115 F. degrees. They are not the cranky drivers, nor the insanely inflated gasoline prices. Summer is not the watering lawn restrictions or the drying up of trees and shrubbery. Yes, we did have fires back then, but not as many, it would seem… I guess what I am trying to say is, summer meant worry-free times. We don’t have that anymore. I’d like to hope that the summers of yore will return once more.

 

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…?