I Didn’t Set Out to Write an Essay…

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

The Toppling of Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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.