Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Island Fever in the Dead of Winter

 What are the most incredible islands in the United States? Discover Blog reveals those today. I'm delighted to see California's own Santa Catalina made the top 10. I've posted the link to that blog at the bottom of this page, plus one if you don't remember the Santa Catalina song by The Four Preps.

And here's my story about my 1955 honeymoon there soon will be published in Yvonne Lehman's anthology, Romantic Moments. 

 He Hijacked My Honeymoon

 Even before The Four Preps dubbed it the Island of Romance, to those of us who grew up in Southern California in the l950s, Santa Catalina was the number one honeymoon destination for those who longed for a Pacific island getaway but could not afford Hawaii. Even in our high school years, my female classmates and I used to daydream about someday snorkeling at Lover’s Cove or canoodling on a twilight cruise on the glass-bottom boats, though the only seaside we ever actually got to was old Tin Can Beach.

So when Bob, my fiancé, first suggested we spend our wedding night at the historic Villa Riviera Hotel in Long Beach, and then fly to Catalina on a Grumman Goose seaplane the next morning, my heart began to pound. Up to that moment I’d been preoccupied with plans for the wedding itself, but now my attention immediately swerved to the honeymoon.

At long last, fabled Avalon! Technicolor images sped through my mind at lightning speed. We’d take moonlight excursions to view the flying fish. We’d hold hands while gazing at the coral gardens. We’d roam the glamorous Avalon crescent with its restaurants and nightclubs. We might even visit the movie theater at the old Avalon casino, in case one of us honeymooners grew bored. Not a likely prospect, I reassured myself with a sly smile. Who actually would resort to a movie for entertainment while honeymooning at a seaside resort? How excruciatingly embarrassing it would be, to be forced to confess to squandering moonlit Catalina nights at the movies!

Thrilled with my delighted response, Bob booked our flight and our room at the Hotel MacRae. I collected and perused travel brochures, planning our itinerary. We’d definitely take the inland tour to see the buffalo. We’d wander through Western novelist Zane Grey’s house, take the tour bus out to Two Harbors. I envisioned romantic tete-a-tetes each evening at such fabled venues as The Marlin Club or The Chi Chi Room.

I shopped for suitable beach attire. A new bathing suit, sunglasses, a beach robe, shorts, sleeveless tops, capris, tennies. I even found a pair of His and Hers beach towels, and a terry cloth tote bag to tuck them in. I was set! We both were!

The morning after our wedding, when we stepped off the Goose, I grinned when a cabbie took my suitcase and offered to taxi us over to the MacRae, though it was only a few yards away. Both
Bob and I looked dapper in our new beach duds, and I was pleased that my “going away” corsage, a creamy hued cymbidium orchid, pinned to my black sheath dress, fitted the tropical ambience.

That afternoon we strolled out to the casino. The movie theater occupied the lower level, with its walls sporting art deco murals of King Neptune and his son, Triton. But Bob had no interest in these, since his eyes had caught the poster in the front, which advertised the current selection. 

"Harems Topple!” it declared, in flaming red letters. “Kingdom’s Fall…Veils Drop!!”  It was The Son of Sinbad in Superscope, featuring Dale Robertson, and the stripper-turned-actress Lili St. Cyr.

“This is a MUST SEE,” Bob enthused. “Listen to this: ‘Beauties by the hundreds, thrills by the thousands, in the land where love knows no law.’  Doesn’t that sound great?”  His eyes gleamed. I started to object, but he looked so happy I couldn’t disagree. I nodded.

So we skipped the early evening flying fish tour and went to the movies. Though this seemed like a typical dames-and-desert opus to me, I could see that Bob was caught up in the visual appeal of the Vegas showgirls who were filling the screen. Especially the notorious burlesque queen, Lili St. Cyr.

Later that night, back in our room at the MacRae, he called me his little harem cutie, and mentioned that he’d heard of harem pajamas. Pity I didn’t have any, he said, raising an eyebrow. I countered by pointing out the many advantages of my baby dolls. He winked, and twirled an imaginary mustachio.” More than veils can drop,” he whispered.

The next afternoon, as we rested after our glass-bottom boat foray, Bob suggested a return trip to the theater. A compliant wife, I agreed. I was determined I wouldn’t be the jealous type.

I admired the domed ceilings, the fire curtain with its mural, The Flight of Fancy Westward. So far as I could determine, Bob admired Lili St. Cyr. 

The third night, after we returned from tracing the bison herds in the interior, I put down my beach-sandaled foot. No more Son of Sinbad. No more Lili. Enough was enough. I wanted cocktails at the Chi Chi, and an abalone steak.

That’s when I learned that Bob, to his chagrin, had been a lifelong devotee of desert adventure tales, and just couldn’t resist. “Just one more time,” he pleaded. “Hey, it’s Sin and Bad!” 

So I set aside my worries about any future embarrassment, and went along. Later he treated me to an Old Fashioned at the Chi Chi and referred to me as his sultry harem queen, eyes a twinkle. It would cost me little to indulge
his mini-passion for swashbucklers, I thought, and it made him so happy.

Once we returned home, I went shopping for some harem pajamas. I settled on two sets, in fact. A rather demure coral pair for sweet and tender evenings, and a racier black nylon set for naughty nights. Though I never enrolled in a belly-dancing course, I did manage a hip swivel or two, and a sultry slink across the bedroom floor.

Over subsequent decades Bob enjoyed endless televised reruns of old movies featuring Gunga Din, Beau Geste, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. I never objected. It made him happy. Through the long years of our marriage, he never stopped calling me his little harem cutie. And when he did, I’d always manage an appropriately demure blush, plus a sultry Lili-like smirk.


 And here's the immortal song by The Four Preps:

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas in Scotts Mills, 1947

This is one of my favorite Christmas memories...waiting for Grandpa Louie to show up with a freshly cut Christmas tree.

A Good Eye

“The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!" – Charles Barnard

Sometimes Grandpa could be as grumpy as a troll.

“Why does it take you so long to get those baking powder biscuits in the oven?  My stomach’s rumbling,” he’d grouse, while Grandma continued to cut out perfect circles of dough with her jelly glass.

“Why do you have to practice right now? You can see I’m taking a nap,” he’d grumble from the green velvet parlor sofa. My big sister, Patti, would glance heavenward, and then give me a wink as she quietly turned the lid down over her keyboard.

If I caught him casting a baleful eye my way, I’d quickly set down my “Children’s Activities” and scurry to the shed for an armload of split logs to refill the wood box.

But I’ll always remember one special December in l947 when we all lived together in an old Victorian house in Scott Mills, OR, and Grandpa began to twinkle like a North Pole elf. He offered to drive us to Salem to pick out a few new Shiny-Brite ornaments at JC Penney. He beamed at Grandma while she treated her fruit cakes to a dousing of brandy and then rewrapped them. He even encouraged Patti to play “Silent Night,” which, he told us, came from Austria, just like him.

A few days before Christmas he announced it was time to bring home a tree. My sister and I clamored to accompany him to choose one, but he refused our help.

“I’ve got a good eye for the perfect tree,” he claimed, tossing on his navy plaid Pendleton jacket. “You can trust me. You just start stringing the popcorn, because I’ll be back in no time.”

We waved goodbye as he nosed his ’46 Ford pickup up the hill towards the woods, then headed for the kitchen. The previous afternoon Grandma had popped corn in a kettle, then let it sit overnight to dry out. Now she helped Patti and me thread our needles, and took a nap herself as we girls spent the afternoon stringing garlands. I slid the berries and popped kernels down each segment of thread, and then Patti tied the segments together. Her long slender fingers were much better at securing the knots.

By the time we’d used every berry and kernel, it was almost dark and Grandpa hadn’t yet returned. Grandma went with us outside to drape a few garlands around shrubs and bushes to feed the jays and crows and chickadees. A few fluttered over for a nibble and squawked out their appreciation.

“Don’t worry, girls,” Grandma said, noticing our worried glances towards the woods. “Grandpa’s just taking his time to find the one tree that will be just right.”

When he still hadn’t appeared by dinner time, Grandma dished up the crusty macaroni and cheese that she knew we both loved, and we all munched together. 

Just before bedtime we heard the pickup sputter up the driveway. We all ran outside. Grandpa hopped out and waved a hand toward the bed of the truck.

“It’s about eight feet tall, and shaped as pretty as a bell. It’s a Noble fir. We’ll leave it here for the night and put it up in the morning.”

“Grandpa, what took you so long?” I glanced up at the sky. I saw it was so cloudy that Grandpa couldn’t have found the North Star if he’d gotten lost.

“It took a little while to find the perfect tree. And this one is. You’ll see when we get it up tomorrow.”

When Patti and I got to our bedroom and changed into our winter flannel pajamas, she turned to me.

“Don’t you know why Grandpa’s in such a good mood at Christmas? And why he stayed out so late today?”

I wrinkled my forehead. Was there some mystery here that I hadn’t known about? I shook my head.

“Christmas is the one time Grandma doesn’t scold him if he drinks a little brandy. Couldn’t you smell him when he got home? Didn’t you notice how red his face was? He’s probably been sitting out in the woods in the cab of his truck singing Christmas songs to himself.”

If a nip of brandy made Grandpa more cheerful, it was just fine with me.

Until Christmas Eve my favorite place was right under the tree. After supper I loved to curl up on the soft scarlet chenille blanket Grandma had draped around the stand, and read my magazines and story books. I’d take in the tree’s rich piney scent. Then I’d roll over my back and watch the lights twinkle. I’d pretend I was a woodland creature, a chipmunk or a squirrel, safe and snug, protected by the fir’s mighty branches. Sometimes I’d even drift into sleep. Grandma claimed she came into the room once to hear Grandpa and me snorting together like a pair of weary reindeer on Christmas morning.

The night before Christmas Patti played every carol we knew while we sipped hot chocolate and admired the festooned and garlanded tree with its topper light, an angel with gold wire mesh wings and skirt. I think Grandpa had added a little brandy to his cup, because his face grew flushed, as Patti had pointed out.

The next morning we opened our presents. Patti and I each received a box of chocolate covered cherries and a bag of peppermints. I got a new baton and Patti a Brownie camera. We both unwrapped a book and a Gibson Girl striped shirtwaist, mine pink, Patti’s blue. Santa had been generous.

Patti and I went to the Christmas morning service at the Friends Church. Then that afternoon, after we feasted on turkey and candied sweet potatoes, Patti snapped photos of us all and of our presents. Then I crawled back under the tree. I read the first chapter of my new book, “Dandelion Cottage,” and was entranced.

I remember how I rolled over and stared up through the branches of the fir. I took a deep breath of its wonderful aroma, and popped a peppermint into my mouth. I thought about the characters in my book as I listened to Patti, at her piano, sing “Away in the Manger” and “White Christmas.” Grandpa snored softly on the sofa.

I realize now that Grandpa indeed had a good eye for a perfect tree. Even though it’s true that he reverted to his old grumpy self after New Year’s, I’ve never forgotten that particular tree. Nor those magical days when I lay beneath its boughs where I saw, smelled, heard, touched and tasted…Christmas. That perfect tree was the best Christmas gift ever.

Chrisrmas 2017

Sunday, December 16, 2018

A Birthday Supper at the White House

When my beau, Dr. Frank Stern, mentioned during our evening goodnight phone call that he'd like to go to the White House for his birthday dinner, I'd been startled. Surely he wasn't thinking about a jaunt to the nation's capital for a Big Mac and Diet Coke with POTUS. Frank certainly loves Coca Cola and long has been an international collector of Coke memorabilia. But still, there are limits to his enthusiasm.

"The White House?" I asked, pausing significantly. Then he confided that this was the name of an Italian restaurant in nearby Anaheim that had reopened earlier this year after being restored following a devastating fire. It's located in a 1909 home designed by Dosithe Gervais, a designated historical landmark. I learned, surfing its website, that indeed United States presidents have dined here, including Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.

Moreover, the Anaheim White House, under owner Bruno Serato, for a decade has ensured that hungry children receive an evening meal. Frank mentioned he'd heard its owner frequently is on the premises, greeting patrons. He wondered if we'd have a chance to meet Bruno.

I glanced at the menu online. Hmmm. They offered anchovies with the Caesar salad. That sold me right away. Plus we could choose among a variety of beef, pasta and other entrees.

"OK," I agreed, "I'll make a reservation."

Frank is well-known throughout Orange County, and a standing joke between us is that we can't go to a play, a movie, a concert or a restaurant, without him running into somebody he knows, either through his two decades as a rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom, his work with Orange County Interfaith Network, or as a professor at Cal State Fullerton and Orange Coast College. But we didn't expect to find anybody on a December Thursday night at this elegant venue in Anaheim.

Frank, me, Donna Wolffe, Bernie Horwitz
We were wrong. Frank's record continues to stand. Just as we were about to be shown to our table for two when we were approached by a woman who shares Frank's December 13 birthday. She'd been very active in the sisterhood at Frank's former synagogue, and his children grew up as close friends with hers. She was celebrating that evening with her friend, Bernie Horwitz, who had been president of the Board at Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Ana when Frank had been rabbi there. We ended up joining them at their table for four, and celebrating the double birthdays together..

Frank and I indeed relished our Caesars, with their accompanying rice "taco" shell, and split an entree of braised beef. As a surprise, the restaurant provided both Frank and Donna with beautifully garnished birthday platters. Since Frank isn't fond of custard or caramel, he gave lucky me the miniature crème brûlée, which I happily devoured while he polished off the tiny cakes.

We also were serenaded by carolers, who asked us if we had requests. The trio of women in Victorian costumes, sang "Joy to the World," and a couple of other songs for us. 

This certainly proved to be a memorable birthday evening. And, yes, we got to meet Bruno.

For more about the Anaheim White House and its history:
The Only Restaurant In The World That Serves 4000+ Free Dinners To Children In Need Every Night! Over 2.9 Million Free Dinners Served To Date In 77 Locations

Two illustrious gentlemen, Dr. Frank Stern and Bruno Serato
 For more on the Anaheim White House and Anaheim history: