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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

On the Cusp of Autumn

🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂

Autumn in Southern California is an unpredictable thing. Not only is it hard to know when it will finally “feel like Fall”, but when it will actually occur is also an uncertainty. Of course it will happen! We will all rejoice and sigh relief from the oppressive, baking sun we endured the long-drawn our summer. But, when it does indeed make its presence known, everything will seem all the better.

We have already had some precursory signs which both tantalize and frustrate. Obviously, one cannot fight the laws of the celestial heavens. Our sun is seen at a different angle in the sky now, and we are beginning to have shorter days. Thusly, the marine layer is creeping in at night from the coast and its fingered fog is reaching far inland, up into the northern desert nether lands, and burrowing deep into the valleys and Orange County. Overnight, the thermometer in Southern Cal is dipping into the 59s and low 60s, and if you are hunkered down in a cabin up at Big Bear or Arrowhead, you are on the brink of 32 degrees, with a chance of snow. But, none of this noted drop in temps is lasting too long. During the day, there has been a 20-30 degree rise. By 4 pm, it is not quite hot enough to warrant the air conditioning, but it is such that seeking shade and liquids are still priorities. Therefore, tis the season of dangling the proverbial “autumn is approaching” carrot over our heads.

I for one cannot wait to open my front door one morning, and smell that fall has indeed come home. The air will feel wetter, heavier and have a fresh scent to it. Everything will be drenched in deeper colors and a portending mood of promise will linger all around. Even the cement may have a hint of scent of pre-sunrise precipitation, This immediately excites something within me. It is like a trigger. I will soon be reaching for an umbrella and scarf; and none too soon!

When on my walks I first spot that first leaf turned red, or orange, or yellow, I will know Autumn is upon us. So far, nothing. It is just past the first week in October. Patience is important, yet, I know it likely will arrive as late as the last week of the month. Typically, my children would have to wear sweaters or jackets to go “Trick or Treating” on Halloween. There are rare occasions though, when even by Halloween, Autumn is still in the wings. I can remember back to childhood having to tug along my pillowcase jammed with a candy trove, breathing steamy breath through my dime store mask. Eventually, I’d give up anonymity, and push it on top of my head in order to breathe freely and cool off a bit. Having this memory, I know full well that just because September 21st is the autumnal equinox, doesn’t mean immediate glory days.

And how glorious the months of Autumn can be! Once here, we revel in trees ablaze in reds, golds, tangerines, even deep purples. In California, the nurserymen are much to be credited for finding and planting species that do have showy fall color, and are able to withstand the extremes of blistering summer heat. In decades past, far underground have flowed waters that today’s trees if mature enough, can still tap into for resiliency. When Fall has finally stepped up to the stage, you can discover this plethora of different types of trees that will indeed display color galore. I am grateful to all the landscape architects who have designed with a rich palette in mind, for it brings a vibrancy to our environs that is nothing short of spirited. Having green and lush most of the year is definitely soothing, but, also having a demonstrative Fall botanical fanfare for all to enjoy is quite special, if not invigorating.

I love the Fall for the crisp in the air, the bite of an apple and in the brisk of the wind. Seeing that first swirl of autumn leaves evokes cozy thoughts and spurs on promise. It’s the same effect you get when you style a toddler’s lock of hair and as the brush pulls away, the hair bounces enthusiastically into an expressive curl. Even the first fireplaces put to the task, send out a plume of good things to come. Where there is wood burning there is a hearth, and where there is a hearth, there is a home and where there is a home, there is much to be appreciated.

Sitting near the fireplace, for the first time in Autumn, every sense is heightened and brilliantly noted. That smoky scent, the flush over face and hands awash in warmth, one cannot help but feel entranced by the sporadic snapping percussion of spark or the “hushed” glowing of ember. Immediately, this scenario calls for one of several engagements. There, before the hearth, the choice can be made. Either engage in quiet pondering, read an intriguing book or hum a heartfelt tune. Maybe knitting a secret present or whittling a small token from wood are past times of preference. Not everything must adhere to modernity. Perhaps, a sincere conversation or an impromptu tale to be told may fit the bill and savor the experience. Better still, is there a harmonica in your pocket? A dulcimer in the corner? A fiddle upon a hook? A recorder on a shelf? How about a banjo by the woodbox? Any of these instruments put to fine use on the brink of the moment is worthy of performance, remembrance and gratitude. All are fitting ways to rein-in long desired Autumn.

This is what the season of Autumn does, I believe. It brings us back to home, back to the fold. It focuses us near to the most meaningful part of our lives; our family. Even if your hearth is far away from loved ones, just coming in out of the cold, settling down by the fire, and kindling the thoughts of good things either gone by or good things yet to come, is invaluable. It could be this is why the seasons are the way they are. On the third of four seasons, we witness a final profusion of color. Its a last testament to what life can and maybe has been. The celebration and acceptance of change, the gusting of wind with coil and spin, and temperatures calling for shelter all hone us in like the shine on a sickle. We are honed in to home. To hearth. To heart. To Family. To dreamscape and imagination. To prayer and resolve. To praise and guidance. To warmth and peace. To safety.

Is it any wonder that so many of us residing in Southern California love the Fall time of year? It would seem Fall itself is magical. There may be an “Old Man Winter” waiting up in the canyons, ready to take over in a blanket of frost and white. But, in Autumn, we have “Wise Man Wizard”. with the sweep of his invisible wand, he summons moisture and rain. Then, he flicks it again to stir- up the winds. With that mysterious touch, he commands the temperatures to fall, and the leaves to grandstand their dramatic hues. Then, oh so subtly, he gently twirls his wand, capturing crisped leaves in his design to be noticed. Our eyebrows raise. Our footsteps pause, our heads turn to listen, and our heartbeats do a mini bellyflop from within. We know its here. Autumn has come!

There, at home, is the cinnamon in the applesauce on the stove, and the pumpkin bread cooling from the oven. A log just softly cracked in two in the fireplace, and the kitten opens one eye, spots it, shuts his lid again, and goes back to his undercurrent, slumbering purr. There’s the door, the latch is lifting….another pair of boots has come home.

An Afterthought Remembrance of 9-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Scottish Things

When I think of Scotland, I think of its traditional dances. This singular nation has a mighty history that tells  of “her” bravery and emboldened causes. Thus, it clearly is signified by the fiercely executed Scottish “Sword Dance”! The dance goes back to the time of courageous warriors dancing over two crossed swords to the tune of a bagpipe. On the moors and in the highlands, the soldiers would execute their “war dance”, taking great care to not step on either sword in the process. If they did, the belief was death to them in battle.

I also think of the lively dance known as the  “Highland Fling”. Thinking of this, conjures up all of Scotland’s specific beauty~her mountain landscapes, her everflowing waters: those streams, brooks and waterfalls, and her bowers of flowers galore. My mind escapes into the enveloping rich colors of her heather and thistle, and her rainbow of hues found on hillside or deep in the glen. 

Next, my heart recalls the gentle swing one sees in the “Scottish Lilt” dance. Those swishing steps, smooth and musical, remind me its all about the piping. Stretched-out kicks and the horizontal sliding swing of the legs create a visual of church bells pealing, Thus, I cannot help but feel joy over the strathspeys, jigs, reels and even the marches of Scotland’s bagpipes. The finesse of dance with the thrill of tune create a Celtic magic. There is hopeful happiness there, and most of all, purpose. 

Finally, there is the genteel, soft-soled polite sway ‘n’ step of the country dances. Subtle, not garish, alluring, not commanding. Respectful and quaint is how these dances are. 

Perhaps, stemming from such humble dances comes the general feeling of family, honor and history. For me, they elicit the memory of one of the most ancient Scottish traditions, borne first of song, never written, and transformed into musical note. I speak of: Piobearachd, or “peebrok”. This is a genre of bagpiping that is played from a kind of mindful singing passed down, from ear to ear, generation by generation. Its pace is quite slowed down, as if the singer is lost in thought. It evokes what I believe is the core ingredient of what constitutes this thing we call “Scotland”. 

When Piobeareachd is played, one can listen and imagine a lone piper atop a cliff overlooking the turbulent sea or feel the allure in the message, calling the listener to halt and remember. And what do I remember? The wind on the moors, the stone castles of yore, and the warrior who defended them. I can stretch my imagination to envision the goat, sheep and Highland cattle. I also can’t help but remember the majestic red deer,  the bonnie Fresians, the determined falcons of flight, the glistening dragonflies and even fairy-like folk in Scottish lore. A tapestry of images abounds!

This thought rendering music often described as forlorn and plaintive-this Piobearachd-makes me also think of peat-warmed cottages, boiling porridge, bannocks and shortbread, herbs drying in dry nooks and ardent cooks brewing up their savory tastes. The enticing repetition of motif and theme in “peebrok” may supplicate ideas of whisky-induced stories and elusive-themed poetry such as that of Robert Burns; all meant to cajole and charm the listener. Still recalling this “vocal dance” (though it has not a dance-prone rhythm), sung by the lone bagpipe, my innermost depths sense the warmth of hearth in home and gentle rocking of wee bairn in cradle. I can imagine it all as a soft snow wisps at the window pane, and a weary father is making his way back to the fold.

The last conjuring “all things Scottish” is through touch. Just as all dance is a mere threading of pattern and step, so is the tweed and tartan. The warm wool is woven to provide clan identity, protection and utility; three very Scottish characteristics. Scotland is shawl, and plaid. It’s also glengarry, dun bonnet, and kilt. All from homespun origin. In addition to touch, as one’s revered remembrances are polished into a silvered sheen, one can’t help but smile over the shiny splendor of an amber-jeweled brooch. It feels smooth and important, along with its elegance. The glint from the jeweled skein dubh, the flash of a silver buckle and the preserving of things most precious in the sporran, complete the Highland attire ensemble, which is appreciated tactilely and visually.

You asked what I think of, when I think of Scotland? Well, here they are. To visit her shores will be a dream come true for me. Then, I will be able to write about her people. In the meantime, I can ponder what I am already familiar with: Scotland’s valor, her coveted history, her landscape palette, the rousing dances, the mysterious music, and her plethora of wildlife to admire. I’ll hold dear her visuals and treat them as my own. I do not come from a long line of Scots. I had married into a family that did. But, I love Scotland. I truly do.

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!

Christmas Coffee Blend, Anyone?

two giants slumbering

upstairs and down

quiet morning

impeded only
by soft breaths, rising chests,
and the sneaking in of sunlight
when to pierce the air
with the aroma of dark roast
pungent, strong, ultimately invigorating?
why rustle the comfortable mound
enshrouded in blankets, pillows and sleeping bag?
why stir the comfy sprawl of leg and arm
upstairs in bed, that configuration already
depicting a soul in flight?
no, let the undisturbed sleepers remain adrift,
those who lie
in unique dreamworlds,
fantasies in the works,
weaving tapestries
untappable by conscious minds,
designing depictions
of necessary thought
shall the slight sound of sizzling bacon
coupled with the homey aroma of
eggs,
toast,
fresh sliced and powder-sugared oranges
do the somewhat unwelcome duty of
arousing the sleeping sons?
even the sun today is deciding to take
a midmorning nap,
pulling up under it’s chin the voluptuous, white cloud blanket
hunkering down, settling itself
under it’s very own cover
it usually loves to dissipate
in unabashed glory!
tis a fond thing
to think of these men
cradled in coziness
lost in allures galore…
and aloft…
tis a dear thing
to reminisce of
sweet breath,
warm cheeks, torsos,
and tips of toes
kissed pink
by the heat of
undisturbed
rest
tis a fonder thing
to remember those same breaths on my neck,
Cherubic cheeks nuzzling
into a safe cove my shoulder provided;
me knowing
torsos heavy
and infant toes
dangling
spelt
complete, replete,
peace.
Each,
one at a time,
his own story to one day fulfill
after many periods of languid
spells in repose,
immersed in transfixed tranquility
ultimately adding up to creating
wide awake,
individualized
reality.
the coffee will have to wait
to do its deed
of serpentine-like

redolence.

 

Poem: December 2017