The Bell

I think I had just entered the first grade when this boy I didn’t know came up to me nearing the end of recess; “you know there’s no Santa Claus” he proclaimed.  How could he say such a thing?  Of course I didn’t believe him.  Then, tauntingly, he told me parents buy all those gifts for their kids. Laughing at my stunned face, making fun of my clear disappointment, I felt betrayed by him, mostly, for stealing the enchantment.  I remember thinking couldn’t he have waited a few years???  I wanted to hold on to the magic.

My parents each had rich family cultural traditions and sharing them during the Christmas holidays took much effort on their part.  I, appreciating all the coordinating now as an adult, more than ever.

Every year my sister and I had three Christmas traditions to enjoy.  Christmas Eve with my Dad’s Mexican side of the family. Homemade tamales, and, the best part,  staying up late past our bedtime.  After all, Saint Nick had to bless the gifts first before we could open them.  To this day, no presents are opened until after mid-night on December 24th, after the Blessing of course.

Before all us sleepy kids were allowed to open gifts, it was a festive party.  Sometimes we’d even roll up the carpet and dance on the hard wood floor.  Around 1960, the year the Twist became the rage, we were all learning it and doing this new dance craze.  I had to Twist the best, hardest & fastest.  I hadn’t realized I had gotten out of control until my Aunt Queta said “look!  you can’t even see Karen’s face”.  Then as we settled down to watch each gift revealed, the anticipation at it’s height, my Father would insists my sister & I sing Silent Night for my Grandma Frances, her favorite Christmas carol.  Now, a tender memory.

Christmas morning was just our family of four, in our jammies, and our dog or dogs.  The best, or most anticipated gifts were reserved just for our morning family tradition.

My Mother’s Italian side of the family would gather Christmas afternoon where along with the holiday turkey, ham and side dishes, the meal included the mandatory pasta dish, usually lasagna.  With six siblings, this gathering was much bigger, louder, and on occasion a verbal fight would ensue, where our Grandma Ann would cry.  At the time I didn’t understand.  However, now, with the wisdom of motherhood, I understand just wanting for your children, and their spouses, to just value one another, and get along. Treasure the short time we have together.  After our elaborate dinner, always served on the Asian themed green bamboo leaves with gold edged china my Father had shipped to my Mother from Korea when he was in the service,  there would be card playing and adult conversation. Once the meal finished with desert, us cousins were free to move from the kids table and join in a hand of poker and the latest family gossip.

I can’t be certain, but it must have been that same year that mean boy came up to me on the playground. We were at my Aunt Christina’s house and my father had been drinking. Which at that time was typical.   It happened in slow motion, right at my eye level, seeing my Mother trying to put the bell in my Father’s fumbling hand, not stealth in receiving it at all. Both giggling, she trying to get him to behave, and cueing him “it’s time”.  I then remember waiting in line as each of us kids were brought to the window by our aunties, one by one, as I had every Christmas Eve before, waiting eagerly to talk to Santa; This time clearly recognizing my Father’s voice.  I continued for many years after that playing along, never letting on, keeping the tradition for my younger sister, and cousins, as well as my parents, aunts and uncles, and especially my Grandma Francis.  Appreciating the treasure that it was my Dad, our Father, and my cousin’s uncle,  who was our special Santa.


The Christmas Bell ~ Santa’s Bell PHOTOGRAPHER: Annette Alvarez-Godbout

Turns out my cousin Denise has kept that bell all these 60 years.


Lotus Land

Scene of the crime.  No wonder I wanted to take pictures

Scene of the crime. No wonder I wanted to take pictures

When I was 19, still the innocence of a baby lamb, I was dating a surfer whom would become my first husband. We were hanging out at his rental at La Conchita beach, somewhat board, when he invited me to go to Lotus Land.

Upon arriving, Grant instructed me to park my car by the wall, away from the entrance. Grant proceeded to say “Come on’ ” and over the wall he went. I was shocked!  Under the impression we were going to a legally “open to the public” paid garden exhibit, otherwise I would not have agreed.   The parking situation should have clued me, but no; I peeked over the wall and the entire length was littered with beer bottles & cans, so I surmised, although uncomfortable, this must be a common occurrence.  There I was, falling in Love, and I hoisted myself up and falling over the wall.

We didn’t get very far when we happened upon 87-year old Madame Genna Wilaska.  We were caught! (I always get caught if ever doing something out of character) I tried to act outwardly calm by asking her if I may take some pictures.  She turned slowly, looked at us, raising her cain yelling  GUARDS – GUARDS!!!!.  Right then I heard dogs barking, in my mind I just knew a pack of dobermans had been released & headed for us to take us down.  Grant took off, leaving me – omen. I, running in a different direction, came upon the huge metal driveway entry gates.  A quick exit stage right, & I was able to follow Grant back over the wall, hearts pounding, speeding off before the entire Montecito police surrounded us where we would be booked, forever a stain on my family, a slammer statistic.

In retrospect, Madame was frightened herself.  Her reaction was quite shrewd and effective.

Years later, with my wonderful husband that deserves my heart and hand, we made reservation, and visited legally for our 20th wedding anniversary. I asked the tour guide about the guard dogs. She said the Madame didn’t have dogs. I guess my negative imagination was on overdrive…I could have sworn I heard them chasing after us.

The grounds are stunning. If ever near Santa Barbara, take the time to enjoy walking in a botanical wonderland…Lotus Land.

A Good Neighborhood with a Few Bad Apples

My parents purchase a brand new home in a soon to be constructed tract that was a former citrus grove. We moved from two rentals awaiting this house to be built. Moving to 19051 Tranbarger was exciting, and although everything was spanking new, in true form, Nancy and Joe customized and added to this home with trending details; vivid in my mind, like subtle gold glitter sprayed into the popcorn ceiling treatment.

Dad often worked in upscale neighborhoods, sometimes in opulent mansions where he would salvage classic pieces to bring to our home. A client in Beverly Hills was replacing their marble goddess sculptured fireplace facing. Dad tried chiseling the marble figures himself to reclaim them, but one slip of the hand tool and she was ruined, leaving to the owner’s demolition plans.

He did successfully dismantle a bold wooden antique banister. We figured it was constructed between 1790-1890 because of the square nails. Dad sanded and tooled each spindle, finials, and the railing, stained and re-assembled it replacing the metal original banister that came with the house. Once complete, my sister and I were allowed, under supervision, to slide down it only once, which was amazing. Just like in the movies.

There was the time when my parents were gluing tile backsplash behind the stove. I guess my parents forgot to read the label as the glue, and it’s fumes where flammable. The entire wall burst into flames. They still completed the design after much yelling, and managing to keep the home from burning down.

Dad also built an elaborate waterfall and pond. He was mesmerized by the black light water falls at Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attraction, so he bought a large outdoor black light which illuminated the pond. Found and purchased florescent tablets to put in the pond water, and also painted the outline of some of the rocks with florescent paint (which could not be seen during the day, only with the black light illuminating the rocks). By now, one can tell my father had a flare for panache. The five-tierred lighted pagoda in the front yard, quazi-Asian landscape, Romen themed furnishings in the formal living room (bust of Caesar had perfectly shaped lips so I practiced making-out with him when no one was around), the music room, the dazzling deep rich blue carpet in our family room, just a sampling of the upgrades, as tacky as they sound, surprisingly worked well, and uniquely made this house their home.

One of the weekend parties/jam sessions, resulted in the band and vocalist moving to the family room for more drinks and card playing. I, walking by the music room, noticed smoke coming from the mattress day bed. I examined closer and a cigarette burned right through the top of the mattress, smoldering deep inside. I ran and notified my father; he, with guests looking on, pulled the mattress outside, stuffing the hose into the bed, drowning out what could have been a tragic situation if we had all gone to sleep developing into my Mother’s greatest fear.

As the neighborhood homes filled one by one, we made friends with some very good people and as with human nature, some flawed, as we each embark on our own personal journey; The Ravens, hard working Mormons. Their daughters invited us to attended their Vacation Bible Study during the summer, which overall was very fun because my sister and I enjoyed singing. I even attended their Bible study at 6a.m. before school once summer ended. However, it was the comment that one of my girlfriends said to me that didn’t make any sense and at my very young age seem judgmental and cruel. She told me that the mark that God made on Cain for the sin of murdering his brother was that He made him black. That all black people were decedents of Cain’s sin. And,”if you notice how black people were getting lighter…that’s because God was starting to forgive them”. My nature was so naive and trusting, but I was able to determine this was total bullshit, and I found myself pulling away from this doctrine and, in time, them.

There were the Cliffs, which turned out Peggy was the younger sister of one of my parents good friends who happen to be an usher in my parent’s wedding. She had four wonderful children, all growing up to be decent, worthwhile, community contributing good adults. Peggy stood up for me when I made my Confirmation in the Catholic church, forevermore calling her my Nina and considered family.

The Peppers were our best girl friends. My sister and I learned to skate because of them and spent many weekends at the skating rink. Diane was always favored by her skate instructor, she would be pulled into his office and when she emerged she always had a present from him, although never a smile. I remember feeling left out, but then learning much later that there was a sinister reason why this instructor favored Diane and found a way to keep her quiet.

The John’s had an adolescent daughter close to my age, Christy. They often babysat for our immediate neighbor’s to the right of us who had two beautiful children Randy and Kimberly; Their parents, Beverly and her husband Chris, were young and very attractive with a black Great Dane dog. I’d never seen a dog that big before . Mrs. Johns often left her babysitting responsibilities of Randy to Christy, and although I never witnessed the abuse; my sister and Diane told me of numerous times where Christy would lock Randy in the closet, or slap him across the face for no reason just to make him cry, he couldn’t have been more than 3yrs. Old! Then they told me Christy would take him to the top of the stairs, hold him over the banister let go of him from the second story then catch him by his ankles. It was too horrible to believe, and I said nothing. I so regret that I was too young and immature to not have said a word. Over the years I have reflected and wondered if Randy’s life has been a tragic outcome because of all he endured and may not even know why.

From the outside the neighborhood looked middle-class and wholesome, and for the most part it was, and then there were the Makkas’. The parent’s immigrated from Greece, nice but ill-prepared for their unruly kids. Maleta was the oldest who became our baby-sitter when my Dad had a late night gig far from home. I was nearly 11 years., my sister 8 when we first started hanging out with Irean, the middle daughter. She was boy crazy and had a slight influence over me. She and her sister Maleta wanted to go shopping with us when they heard my mother was taking us to the mall. Irean told me to bring my big straw purse from Mexico that were very popular in the late 60’s, so I did. I watched her put the purse up the the bow and jewelry counters whipping out the entire inventory into my purse in one swipe. I just stared in shock… dumbfounded. Then Maleta in the dressing room pulled on layers of cloths underneath her skirt as I watched in disbelief. Both putting my Mother, sister and me at risk, let alone it was just wrong! Afterward I witnessed Maleta lie to her mother when her mom asked where she got all these new cloths with tags still hanging off them.

One summer, around dusk, all the kids in the neighborhood where playing in the street, as usual. Irean and I were sitting watching from the tailgate of my father’s truck. One of the older boys, Steve, was getting ready to hit the ball, then he threw down the bat and started chasing after my sister. My father came outside and grabbed the boy to stop him from chasing Julie. Steve said that one of us said “I want to see your balls”, my father pulled my sister and I into the house taking my sister first, spanking her, she admitting quickly what she hadn’t said just to make him stop spanking her. Then when he started to spank me I refused to admit it, nor would I cry because I was so angry that he would believe this boy and not us. When my father realized I wasn’t going to relent, that I wasn’t lying, he stopped and he never spanked me again. I think it was Irean who said what upset Steve and my father, because it certainly wouldn’t have been beyond her level of crassness, but honestly I never heard it.

Finally, my inner strength and morals tested, when Maleta was babysitting as my parents went to San Juan Capistrano for my Dad’s band’s engagement. They felt too far from home to leave us unattended. The doorbell rang and when I opened it a girl sized me up and down and said snidely to Maleta “you said you were babysitting. This isn’t a baby”. Maleta was going to let her in, and the car full of friends. I said no. Maleta went out to the car to party with her sidekicks and I locked her out of the house the entire night. When my parents came home she had the nerve to collect the money from them in spite of the fact she did not do what they were paying and trusting her to do. So I told my Mom and Dad everything. They never hired her again and I stopped hanging out with her younger sister too. We were labeled square.

Maleta and Iren had a middle brother, George. George bought a junker car, then parked it on blocks in front of our house using it for his party hangout. He and his friends would dump their cigarette butts and beer cans in front of our house. My Father had it! He went next door to talk to George Sr., but they nearly came to blows, so the next day our house, the home my parents spent years transforming and spending much of their second job’s earnings, went on the market. The day we moved George Jr. died of an overdose in the bathroom of his parents house. Sad for their family, certainly not the end of their drama, however, it made our departure liberating no matter how much we all Loved that home.

There were many good memories too; all the parties with Dad’s band, our Christmas Caroling around our safe neighborhood, playing in the street, on the stilts my Dad made for us, softball, riding bikes, skateboarding, roller skating, our go-cart, another of Dad’s handmade toys, all until dark. Running through the field and pomegranate orchid, which would become the 60 Freeway. And then there were many of the talent shows my sister and I would put on in our garage, charging the neighbor kids a quarter while we used the Alumium Christmas tree four color rotating wheel light as our spot light. We would coordinate wearing any matching outfit, usually our red poke-dot dresses, adding to our lip singing presentation of “Stop in the Name of Love”. We were a good family, living in and Loving our home, and each other very much.

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Mirror of Life (written in 2001)

Mirror of Life

Concern grows deep mixed in with grief
My Dad is gone and now an even stronger belief
for time to pass without a word, life is too short for loved ones to miss being heard.

Our death is a mirror of our life lived.
To practice honesty and risk, healthy boundaries and forgiveness
the blessings at death are clean closure and deep bliss.

I want that for you, don’t let another minute pass
Reach out to one another and learn from the past.
Relationships are conflict, this indeed will always be true.
Welcome the challenge, gently with respect and requests
Now watch your spiritual evoluation soar, atonement and much more.
To live in the truth is to feel so alive.
Too many people walk this earth who inside have died.

My Dad gave me gifts that are worth more than gold.
The memories we built were those moments of shared souls.
I reflect on a life that was not perfect but so kind.
What will your memories be…What will you leave behind?

The seconds are brief, we only have the moment at hand.
There is nothing like free will, it is a priceless gift from above.
Can you imagine the possibilities when we choose to behave with Love.