Journal: November, 2016 — Beginning of December

The sun glows through the trees shining directly onto Michael’s Memorial Tomb that houses his ashes. Mine will be placed next to his when the day arrives. But for now I’m as busy as I’ve ever been with daily chores, writing and activities.

For years I’ve been having a daily conversation with an old literary friend. However his last message was “Oh shut up!” He’s always been rude… We both are. We laugh when speaking of others, but to shut me up pissed me off.

“You started it,” he wrote. Started what? That’s what I used to tell my mother when I was a six-year-old, tattle-tailing on my brother.

I can still feel the sting on my cheek from Noel’s slap, as I sat on top of the stove in our kitchen at 131 Patton Avenue, swinging my legs in a circles like a bicycle. “Fuck it!” I said. At thirteen, I was showing off for one of his rich Princeton Country Day School friends. Did it teach me a lesson?

“Not really” but, in away it did. I learned to always be careful who I say ‘fuck’ in front of. But the older I got the less important it is to me. It’s fun shocking people saying fuck out loud makes people pay attention.

I’ve never been careful about much of anything, just go my own way, singing a merry tune. Having Dad’s approval helped me believe in myself. His words gave me courage to do pretty much anything I wanted and have taken me on a long adventure.

But these days at my age, I realize, I’m almost irrelevant – but I like speaking the truth as I see it, it gives me power. When L told my nephew to read his book, not mine, because his book speaks the truth. Blue Melody true, hmmm? What he forgot to remember is that there are many truths within each episode in life, not just one, not just his. I ignore him. Years ago he bought me gifts to show me off, but never encouraged or appreciated, my talents. Men just don’t get it sometimes. They think it’s either their way or the highway. But happily the sun’s still shining; it’s another beautiful day.

I’m 82-years-old today, it’s hard to believe I got here. I’m waiting for Christmas, which is right around the corner. Where’s the snow? Do I miss it? No. I grew up in New Jersey. Ice and icicles can be beautiful, but not when one gets stuck driving home from the Pennsylvania Railroad Station after completing a day’s work in NYC. Walking home with snow reaching my knees, my feet turning into blocks of ice, I don’t miss that.

No Christmas tree this year. Instead, my friend Jose cuts a branch from my evergreen outside my front door. I decorate it with little white plastic dogs wearing red Santa outfits, I’ve kept in storage for years. Throwing a handful of sparkles, and hanging a couple of bright colored balls with lights, and “voila“, my Christmas tree. It’s pretty and cheerful and smells great.

Isai, Jose’s eight-year-old son, doesn’t seem interested in Christmas much anymore. He’s got his mom’s house reeling with a fiesta given by one of his seven older sisters. Being the first boy he’s spoiled, but he’s still a spark in my life. He enjoys visiting and sitting at my computer and clicking on Youtube. He dances and sings along with his favorite songs. He’s rhythmical….and with me being an old rhythm dancer, we connect. He shows me a new step, and I copy him as best I can. Yesterday, I tried to do the grapevine he was demonstrating, but he hooks his feet back further behind than I’m used to. I twisted my ankle, not bad…. He does somersaults and handstands, things I used to be good at.

Monday, November 28, 2016… almost Christmas. Thanksgiving’s over… I had so much food on my plate: cranberries with orange zest, brussel sprouts, turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes, plus a wonderful green salad with avocado and balsamic vinaigrette. It all got mixed up and I couldn’t finish. Jose and Isai helped create the dinner. In fact they did everything… the dishes, as well as cooking and stirring and clearing off the table. Jose even polished the silver. And Isai poured champagne for each of us.

My sobrina, niece Catherine and husband James drove from Phoenix for Thanksgiving to meet me. Catherine is the youngest daughter of my half-sister Cynthia, who I only met twice. She was 20 years older and had a different mother. My mom was Blanche Bianca Beven from Sri Lanka. Cynthia’s mom was Adelaide from England. She was my dad’s first wife, his landlady when he was studying theology at Trinity College Dublin. I met Cynthia a couple of times so spending Thanksgiving with her youngest daughter was a lark. I’d been looking for relatives on my dad’s side of the family for years. My brother, son, mom and dad are all in heaven.

I’m lucky to have a wonderful young man friend. He’s handsome too, reminds me of Marlon Brando, my favorite. Not only by looks, but by the way he mumbles and acts, kinda macho – dirty torn T-shirts and all. Actually he’s spiffed up these days. But he has that rough and tumble sex appeal you’d never notice unless you look real hard. What’s that saying about seeing life through rose colored glasses? I guess that’s me these days:-)

Six years ago I was invited to a book fair in Guadalupe Valley at Rancho Viejo. Not anxious to go alone, I invited Jose, who was working for me, clearing the yard. We drove to Oscar’s Store across the arroyo, and I turned my car keys over to him. He’s been chauffeuring me around ever since. He doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish, so we get along real well. We both spend time listening and learning from each other when we have the patience. It’s good living in the moment with what’s happening now… not what happened yesterday. I love looking out the window and dreaming about what is.

At Rancho Viejo that afternoon Jose walked me here and there holding my hand, brought me a sausage roll, cake, chocolates and a glass of wine. He was a fine companion. Since then he’s become my loyal caretaker, a warm, kind, generous and loving friend. He feeds the animals: the chickens and el Nino, my horse. Isai collects eggs and fills the water bucket. I feed and care for my four dogs: two strays, Pansy and Chica. Jack, a terrier, and my fifteen-year-old Border Collie, I’ve had Tootsie since birth.

I’m alone except for my animals and Jose. He hangs out taking care of me and my ranch. We watch TV together, listening to the news in Spanish and English. It’s also fun when he goes home. I love being alone. I like getting up running around getting a little exercise before going to bed. That’s the reason I got animals, first out of love for four legged creatures, and then so lazy me wouldn’t sit on the couch and read The New Yorker, all day. By the way that’s how I learned to write my book, The Philosopher’s Daughter, a memoir, from reading The New Yorker. There’s never been a better teacher. To this day I wait eagerly each week for my copy to arrive. There’s a lot of reading to keep me entranced.

Jose arrived moments ago, and is bringing me a cup of coffee. He’s ready to clean the water buckets and since it’s Monday we’ll drive to Santa Anita to the swap meet and pick up a pizza for breakfast…

Tomorrow is the second week of December… time goes by quickly these days… It’s almost 2017… Wow!

Send me a note dear reader, and tell me how you’re feeling about the coming of Christmas, the New Year… Are you ready? Tree up and all?

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The Velveteen Rabbit on Becoming Real

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The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit on Becoming Real

“I am Real!” screamed Hillary Clinton in frustration, throwing her hands in the air from my TV screen.

What does it mean to be Real?

The Velveteen Rabbit, a classic children’s book, a present from my son inscribed, “To my Mother from your loving son, Michael. “ He capitalized the word Mother. I was a capital in his eyes as he was in mine. After much love and suffering, we became Real to each other.

I pulled The Velveteen Rabbit off the shelf of my library.The Rabbit knew what it meant to become Real, I would try to learn how too.

I discovered Meryl Streep reading aloud, The Velveteen Rabbit on YouTube while researching how to put together an audio version of The Philosopher’s Daughter, a memoir. Her words sang with magnetism. To have my memoir presented in such a way would mean my work would get attention and I would become Real myself.

I sent word to Cher via her agent. She’d been a private student in the 80’s, and had that deep smoky voice perfect for reading the narrative… Plus being a star she could gain attention. I sent her a signed copy, hoping to entice her.

I used to wait for her at Dupree’s Dance Studio in Hollywood practicing my steps in front of the mirror; she’d sashay in and off we’d glide. She followed my movements comfortably. Breathtakingly beautiful, we’d watched each other in the basement studio where she copied my moves, I’d interpreted from Soul Train. She mentioned that the amount of white below the pupil in my eye previewed how important I’d be one day. I’d been showcasing the Knockers, wanting them to become known throughout the world. I wanted the Knockers to become Real.

Cher’s driver drove us in her black limo to Magic Mountain to see her then boyfriend, Gene Simmons performing with Kiss. He wasn’t Real, he had a painted white face and a long red tongue he flicked at his fans.

Being a funky street dancer, I was known in those days as The God Mother of Soul after my idol, James Brown. I worked with Clayton Rohner the star of the film, It’s My Turn, teaching him James’s movements. Unfortunately the scene was cut due to the absorbent fee James demanded for the use of his music. But he was Real, as Real as can be.

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Jennifer and James

It took a long time for the LA Knockers to become Real.

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Anxious

We had years of Anxiety and Fear…. painted faces and false eyelashes…. when suddenly

“… a blossom opened, and out of it stepped a fairy.

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A Fairy

She was quite the loveliest fairy in the whole world. Her dress was of pearl and dewdrops, and there were flowers round her neck and in her hair, and her face was like the most perfect flower of all. And she came close to the little Rabbit and gathered him in her arms and kissed him on his velveteen nose that was all damp from crying.

‘Little Rabbit,” she said, ‘don’t you know who I am?’

The Rabbit looked up at her, and it seemed to him that he had seen her face before, but he couldn’t think where.

‘I am the nursery magic Fairy,’ she said. ‘I take care of all the people and playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don’t need them any  more, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real.’

‘Wasn’t I Real before?’ asked the little Rabbit.

‘You were Real to the Boy,’ the Fairy said, ‘because he loved you. Now you will be Real to everyone.’”

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At Last

When the LA Knockers performed and were loved, they became Real. But it takes being tossed about, ignored and feeling unloved which happens to us all every once in a while. But not until the Velveteen Rabbit’s silken whiskers were wet with tears and almost rubbed off did he become Real.

The Knockers danced through love and loss, fell down and got up again. It takes loosing someone and being left in a heap, and thrown out a window, that’s when we came close to becoming Real. When things got tough we became Real. When Hilary Clinton becomes Real she will be a contender. Today Bernie Sanders with his white hair flying like Einstein is Real, as Real as can be! But Hillary still has a chance to stay in the running. Truth wins out… truth is becoming Real.

Growing Old in Baja

stace-31-215x300FROLICKING WITH MY DOGS

L to R – Tootsie, Daphne, Jack, Rufus, and Oliver

 A few months ago I met a friend in San Diego I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. “You’re still a pistol!” He e-mailed after our soiree. At eighty? Good to hear…”a little frail and you seem shorter,” he continued.

“The doctor said I was 5’5”, I used to be 5’8” or pretended I was.”

My mother grew old in a cottage by the sea. “I am not going to move to some damn retirement home with a bunch of old people,” she’d said. I admired her for that. She was born in Sri Lanka on a Coconut Plantation, the 13th of nighteen brothers and sisters. She married my father, the philosopher and they immigrated to the United States. I settled in Baja and as it turns out am growing old here.

Growing old in Baja is okay. Growing old is not, but if you have to pick a community to grow old in — this is a fine place. A charming Mexican village filled with children, teenagers, old-timers and babies, living next to Indians, cowboys their wives and extended families.The weather is dreamy. In the near thirty years I’ve lived here there have been no earthquakes, hurricanes, snow, hail or ice storms, much I faced growing up in New Jersey. We have no major mishaps except maybe the lack of rain, but when it does come I a get a chance to dance and sing. Just hearing the pitter, patter of raindrops on my roof get my feet moving and my heart thumping.

The beach is often empty especially during the week. Horses are tied along the board walk waiting for a rider. Venders sell coconuts overflowing with shrimp and mangoes and freshly squeezed limes with a sprinkle of chili on top, a refreshing treat for a lazy afternoon.

Walking along the shore I dream — memories flood my mind like foam from the little waves licking my ankles. To prevent myself from falling I curl my toes in the sand and grab hold, pulling myself upright, stretching my back, I stand tall. If I do fall, which I have on occasion, primarily after showing off trying to kick a soccer ball like I used to when I was young, the sand becomes a welcoming carpet. Rolling around I giggle at what a sight I must be, my white hair flying like Einstein. It’s my damn waist that’s bigger than I like… but what can I expect? I can’t be perfect at my age, can I? However, being an old show girl, I try my damnedest, which takes time and energy.

I keep getting my brother Noel mixed up with my son Michael. Noel and Michael. Michael and Noel… they blend into each other and become one. They looked alike. Both had a receding hairline and blue, blue eyes the color of the sea on a sunny day. Noel was twenty-six when he was killed, he flew jets off the carrier USS Midway. His Fury Jet FJ-4 crashed into the East China Sea near Okinawa some sixty years ago. His bones have turned into sand by now.

Michael died when he was thirty-nine. Some of his ashes are on the mantle in my living room in an antique silver tea container, but most are inside a small blue tomb in a red Chinese jewelry box on my back patio surrounded by shrubs and flowers. A bush of Floral de la Trumpet blooms fragrant yellow blossoms all year long and clumps of pampas grass with their long creamy plumes swing gently in the breeze. Angels painted pastels lie around the wooden cross on top of Michael’s sepulcher overlooking the sea. Mum and Dad’s ashes are scattered off the Southern California coast somewhere in the Pacific.

Michael was six when Noel died. He was supposed to stick around to take care of me in my old age. As he lay dying he taught me about love. In spite of that terrible tragedy, life’s been good to me. Today I have a kind and gentle young Indian lad with a loving heart and warm hands. He assures me he’ll keep my animals safe after I’m gone. He and his eight-year-old son, Isay, cook and share meals, do dishes and walk with me along the beach. They assist me on my small ranch gathering eggs, raking the corral, repairing fences, trying their best to keep things tidy.

Daddy’s laughter remained until a white light from heaven came bursting through his window and carried him off. He asked someone standing beside his bed to pull down the shade so he wouldn’t be blinded by the light. Was that God? I’ve always imagined it was. Then I read somewhere that when air is cut off from your brain everything turns white. But I like believing it was God.

When that beam of light finally dances through my window and steals me away — darkness will come. I’ve had plenty of laughs and fought hard to always love my fellow man. I have a few regrets, but who doesn’t? It’s been a long and eventful journey finding this hideaway by the sea, and realizing that growing old in Baja is a lovely happening.

 

A Vaquero

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tending horses

 

As you leave Casa Rotunda walk down the dirt road to the dead end, take a right under an overhead canopy of pines and eucalyptus branches covering the bright blue Mexican sky. Climb an incline and you’ll see a spacious corral surrounded by a white wooden fence with a metal sculpted toro inside, an exchange for money due. There in front of you is the trailer where the vaquero and his son lived.

Ismael & Ernesto & Diablo

the vaquero and son

The vaquero’s mother had been searching for him for three weeks. I’d been holding his water money. He’d ridden El Nino to the beach, leading a contingent of Americans the weekend before he disappeared. He’d appeared troubled since separating from his family, not his usual jaunty easy-going self with a wave for every guy and a smile for every girl. His son was still living with him, but the rest of his family had gone.

We’d been friends since before he was fifteen. He’d trip down the hill in chaps so long they dragged on the ground behind him, and his spurs jingled softly scratching the hard surface of earth that led to my house.

He’d helped me with my horses for over twenty years. I’d owned four. Marimba was my first, an old war horse who knew how to dance. Two different vaqueros exercised him twice a week and my friend walked him to his final resting place some fourteen years ago. At the time I owned a handsome big, brown gelding with four white socks above his hoofs. The Mexicans named him Shoes. I changed it to Zapatos. I also took care of my neighbor’s horse, Romeo while she worked state-side. He was a one-eyed brown bomber, well known at the local rodeos as a strong, tireless steed. Then I bought the pinto, El Nino, the baby. I’d always wanted a pinto since the days of Duel in the Sun, the film, do you remember the trick pinto pony ridden by Gregory Peck? El Nino came to me green-broke. After riding him for two years, he threw me off like a bucking bronco breaking my glasses. I was too old to fall. I worried I’d break something more debilitating than sun-glasses.

The vaquero took over his training becoming the sole rider of my tri-color horse. Nervous and high-strung back then, he continually was plagued with shying, sudden turns and bucking, but managing him easily, the vaquero looked grand and athletic in the saddle. The pinto never became completely calm. He was always a handful, shying at every piece of paper on the trail, at every noise in the brush, bucking each time he left my corral.

In his mid-thirties, the vaquero had one son with eyes so big and round and black they seemed haunting. The lad could ride and rope a horse almost as well as his father. Now nine-years-old, he’d been helping his dad since he was three. His cowboy boots never completely reached the stirrups, but never mind. Together they saddled and rounded up horses grazing in the back canyons to lead the Americans on horseback to the beach.

News travels fast. The vaquero was dead. What? I couldn’t believe these words. It couldn’t be true. But it was. They’d found him lying in the arroyo, his arm draped across his face, a gun nearby. He was hardly recognizable. Some said it was suicide, but circumstances looked suspicious. He was too young and vigorous — I couldn’t imagine. Nothing made sense. There was no obvious evidence of foul play. La Mision is a small, tight knit community. There had been trouble. Neighbors didn’t ask questions. Everyone was respectful and quiet.

When I heard the news, I felt some of the old pangs of loss I had twenty years earlier when my son died.

His three brothers living in the area built him a stately mausoleum. They placed a photo of the vaquero and his son covering the entire side of the building. A neighbor who worked at the nursery across from my house brought me an armful of purple and white long stemmed flowers to take to the service.

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memorial service

 

As I entered the building his son stood in the doorway looking up at me, his eyes dark and true were filled with questions. I hadn’t seen him in several months. I swept him into my arms and hugged and kissed him, then lay the flowers beside the urn on the alter. The vaquero’s chaps and spurs were lying next to the podium. My friend lit a candle.

My heart was heavy — what about his son? what would happen to him? Some said he was with his mother and sisters living in an orphanage across the way. Who would ride my pinto now? Who would stumble down the hill anytime I called to ask the vaquero to round up my horses, trim their feet, shoe them, fix a fence, roof my house, bring me water to fill my pila, or build a chicken coop? A loss of a life gone somewhere somehow into the deep blue Mexican sky, leaving many questions…

But as my philosopher father told me long ago there are no answers. And being the philosopher’s daughter my questions remain.

Casa Rotunda

Casa Rotunda

Casa Rotunda

Walk up the hill after reaching Funkytown and you’ll find yourself on the patio of Casa Rotunda. Looking east toward the canyons, purple mountains loom across the horizon from Guadalupe Valley. West you’ll have a view of the sea where the spouting of a whale might be visible if you’ve got a pair of binoculars handy, and the pink and golden sunsets take your breath away. Scanning south across the valley of La Mision there’s a rocky mesa on either side of the Free Road leading to Ensenada giving the occupants of Casa Rotunda a 360-degree vista, undeniably one of the most awesome south of Rosarito. Read more

Funkytown

shack in Funkytown

shack in Funkytown

Finding Funkytown is easy. It was christened by my neighbor when asked where she lived. It runs a mile from the beach community and is inhabited by Mexicans and Americans living side by side. It’s charming in a funky way displaying unruly dwellings continuously under construction. Most importantly it’s totally free from bureaucracy.

To get there pass the famous La Fonda restaurant in La Mision, Baja California, and take the Free Road south toward Ensenada, drive through the tunnel under the Cuota down the hill past the village of Santa Anita, where most Mexican families live. Make a left at the bottom of the hill at the first dirt road just before the La Mision bridge and you’re in Funkytown. Read more

A Miracle

La Mision with rainbowMy neighbor e-mailed the other day, “This looks like a miracle. You found a guy you like and actually have some respect for.” The miracle is my thirty-four-year-old Mexican worker who helps me on my ranch. I live with animals out of love and to keep fit. As a former dancer I know the importance of exercise and have been practicing yoga since moving to Baja to build strength, stretch and work on balance.

This miracle’s features show a strong Indian background, from his bent hook nose that cuts sharply in at his brow to his dark olive complexion and big African-American looking lips. He speaks a word or two of English and although I’ve learned to string a few words together in Spanish, we find hand gestures work fine. He’s macho in the best sense, quiet and caring and totally in charge. I’ve been  on duty long enough. I sit back and let him take the wheel. An honorable young man, a friend–he reminds me of the son I lost.

Working for twelve years in a restaurant, he cooks spicy, tasty Mexican dishes every evening, chopping vegetables, making fresh salsa, washing up and vacuuming while I sit at my computer doing research and writing. He laughs easily, plays with my four dogs, throws them kernels of popcorn he’s created as a snack before dinner and drives me around in my Matrix or his Cherokee, while I watch life flying by beyond the windows. Riding in his old Jeep is like being a teenager again strapped into a roll coaster. I can’t stop laughing.

His seven-year-old son visits on weekends. The boy lives with his mother and seven older half-sisters. As an only son he’s considered special and is like the grandson I never had. I’ve been teaching him the soul-train handshake, I taught the LA Knockers forty years ago. Follow these instructions in italics and try it: #1. Grab your partners shoulder and hip,#2 Then grab your partners opposite shoulder and hip, #3 Slap each others hands – your right hand palm down and left palm up, #4. Turn your hands over and slap each others hands, #5& Double clap each others hands, #6& Double clap right hands front then back, #7& Using the back of your hand double clap your lifted left knee, #8& Partner turns hands behind back, double clap his hands, #9& Turn and your partner double claps your hands, #1-2 Face partner, circle right hands pull back and #3-4 clasp each others hands in a hand shake. Both bow in different directions to the applause.

In the video on my home page you can see parts of the handshake…. #’s 44, 118, 134.

Yesterday it was bitterly cold. My friend doesn’t have running water and took a shower at my house. I brought out my hair dryer anxious to dry his thick black Indian hair before he ran into the night air. My mother warned about catching a cold outside with a wet head, and it is flu season. It turned into a screaming uproar as I chased him around my dinning table in the front room in a fit of giggles., the loose plug of the dryer swinging to and fro.

It’s been a good two years having a friend around to help me while I finished The Philosopher’s Daughter, a memoir. The night I keyed in my last period I walked him to the front door to say thank you and goodnight. I’d come to the end of a twenty year journey writing my memoir. My book was finished — I’d given my son his voice… I was moving on amazed by life’s gifts.