The Johnston House: It’s the Roof

When you travel south of town, you’ll see the Johnston House, on the hill to the east.  It’s a famous architectural and cultural landmark, Cultural because James and Petra Johnston were of American and Spanish heritage (1850s.)

When I arrived here, the Johnston House was deserted.  Its wood was gray and weathered. It was over 100 years old. The neighbor kids told me a ghost lived there; it was definitely a scary place.

Truth be told, hardly anybody drove up there although there was no one around to stop them.

As I recall–and I admit that memory distorts as we grow older–Deane & Deane/Westinghouse/Half Moon Bay Properties purchased the Corral de Tierra and the golf course near the Johnston House. Earlier, the house and surrounding land had been owned by the Cassinelli family. Through the decades many plans were floated for this property: San Francisco County Jail, College of San Mateo and as a possible home for the Giants baseball team.

When I was doing research (satisfying my own curiosity about the mysterious Coastside) at the county history museum in the 1970s, I came across historic work  that had been done by someone working for Deane & Deane. It’s not often that land developers produce impressive  historic materials but Deane & Deane did exactly that.

Via their historic research, a decision was made to “develop” the historic potential of the old farmhouse south of Half Moon Bay. The Johnston House. Renowned cultural historian C. Malcolm Watkins was brought in, and he lifted the dilapidated Johnston House out of obscurity. Mr. Watkins was fascinated with the idea of the Johnstons, James and Petra, and their origins, Ohio and South America, the perfect marital union that epitomized old California. Until bad times hit the Johnstons, the farmhouse was painted white and was visible to passengers in sailing ships That was the cultural historical part.

On the architectural front, Mr. Watkins noted the unusual roofline, and how time and again he had seen it on the East Coast but rarely on the West.

Back east builders called that design  a “salbox roof,” which means the roof extended downward from a second floor to cover a first-floor addition. This was an inexpensive way of connecting two sections of a house without having to create a gutter between them.

I’ve always known the Johnston House as a “saltbox” but there’s another name for the roof: CATSLIDE ROOF. If you visit the Johnston House, let me know if you think a cat could slide down the roof.

C. Malcolm Watkins authored an excellent publication (1972) for the Johnston House Foundation called : The White House of Half Moon Bay: James Johnston’s Homestead, 1853. It is available at the San Mateo County Hitory Museum in Redwood City (650.299.0104.)

I know firsthand how long it took, from fundraising to restoring the house, not because I was personally involved; I was not, but because I watched the Johnston House virtually rise up after rivers of heavy Coastside winds blew it down. The farmhouse completely collapsed.

The Johnston House was rebuilt, and, while under construction, I remember visiting, amazed at the restoration, including period furniture in the rooms. There may be pieces that the Johnstons actually owned when they lived in the house. Petra Cooper, a descendent of the Johnstons was living in Redwood City at the time, and she was extremely helpful and excited about the restoration.

Today the Johnston House, once home to an early Coastside family,  is an historic landmark. The saltbox looks out at us from the hill it stands on.

But what happened at the farmhouse  during the years it was “down in the dumps?” Those are the stories we may never know.

Just Michael Parkes: An Upbeat Reason to Visit Montara-by-the-Sea

The Borsini-Burr Gallery (1.877.712.2111/ or, for the website, please click here ) has invited master painter, sculptor & llithographer Michael Parkes to Montara-by-the-Sea the weekend of November 7, 8, 9.

Three days he’s going to be on the Coastside, visiting the historic artist’s colony.

A one-man show, says gallery owner Dianne Borsini-Burr. You’ll see his old work, his new work, and learn things you didn’t know before.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday will feature a different creative event, all WITH the master painter Michael Parkes, AND, chances are, you can talk with him, one-to-one. A weekend of fine art; a good time to invite friends and family to the Coastside.

Burt says, “Ask him about the economy.” but Burt asks everybody that. I say:: “Ask him about the future of art in our culture.” Business and art seem like two universes, don’t they?

I own several wonderful, mood-changing, sometimes mind-stretching pieces of Mr. Parkes’ work. I admire his attention to detail like the balloon-sleeved, striped shirt one character wears, the magical themes, the details within details. Maybe he needs to guard his imagination in a creative vault!

For his beloved daughter’s wedding invitation, the artist drew a plump lotus flower with a very long stem. A couple of feet long, that stem was. When used as a fancy card to be mailed, the work of art was folded to fit. Who doesn’t love receiving original art in an envelope?

The titles of his older paintings (“The Swan King,” “Girl on the flying trapeze”) may give you a hint of Michael Parkes’  vigorous artistic spirit and humor.

One last thing: Let me remind you about the history of Montara-by-the-Sea. In the early 1900s, Montara was home to the historic “Artist’s Colony” founded by San Francisco book publisher Harr Wagner. Poets, painters and musicians–and even a graphologist, better known as a handwriting expert, once lived and worked in the rustic cottages that dotted the rural landscape dominated by magnificent Montara Mountain.

I’m happy to report that the tradition of artists living in Montara-by-the-Sea remains. And I wouldn’t be surprised if master painter Michael Parkes decides to settle down right here.

Maria Demarest: The Birds II at El Granada Beach

Image by photographer Maria Demarest, who, while visiting Half Moon Bay last week, caught this spectacular scene at El Granada beach. One of the birds looks a little large. Is that Maria flying with the birds? Some things never change, thank goodness.

10/19/2008: I’ve been thinking about Maria’s photo. Wouldn’t it make fantastic wallpaper?

On Promises

[I have been looking for a photo of Bryant and me taken on one of my birthdays–but I haven’t found it yet. Also, the note below was not ripped when I received it from Bryant. If I wasn’t home, he was going to leave it at the door. There were some phone numbers I didn’t want to post so what you see is a bad job of cutting & pasting.)

On Promises

Dated 18.March.2008

By June Morrall

A few months ago Bryant Wollman came to visit me. It was an unusual visit because I hadn’t talked to Bryant in many years, decades, actually.

He was wearing what appeared to me to be an authentic Scottish kilt outfit, the knee socks, the whole thing. He looked terrific.

Why the kilt? Bryant was a popular tour guide at the historic Filoli mansion and gardens on Canada Road in Woodside.

Coincidentally, my friend, Mardi, who lives in the Deep South, and was staying with her daughter in San Carlos, went to see the magnificent Filoli estate the same week Bryant visited me. During our chit-chat,  Filoli came up as well as Mardi’s guide, an impressive man who looked exactly like Bryant.

It was Bryant.

Bryant always went “all out,” the Scottish kilt an excellent example. He was enthusiastic, truly, and as curious as a child. He was very smart—but he could be wonderfully silly. It’s fun to look at my “mind’s screen” and forever see the growth of a tiny smile on Bryant’s face turn into contagious laughter.

I never saw Bryant sad or melancholy.

What I may not have fully understood was his extremely poor eyesight. Clear vision is the main way we navigate through life. If you don’t have it, you develop other senses. When Bryant was in his 50s,  laser technology made it possible to surgically correct his vision and he was just delighted with the results.

His corrected, now “better-than-perfect” eyesight was one of the things we talked about the last time I saw him in March.

We talked easily on that late afternoon. I should have asked what prompted him to visit me but I didn’t. It was as if he came over all the time. We talked about how the Coastside had changed, grown so big and some of the friends we had in common. The closest we came to addressing the future was when we talked about where we might move to and Bryant said:

“Where is there to go?”

This is the same question I’ve asked myself many times. I know other long time Coastsiders who have wondered the same thing and come up with same answer as Bryant. There is no where to go. The Coastside is the best place to be–maybe in the entire world.

Bryant said: “Where is there to go?” That was the clue I didn’t pick up on. I should have asked him what he meant. Well, no matter, now we know.

He praised all of his friends. He ticked off their names, told me what they were doing now and how proud he was of all of them. How I wish I had praised him. I didn’t. I was holding my breath, because, obviously, I sensed something but didn’t catch on.

Bryant Wollman was indeed “the model patient,” as Michaele Benedict called him. And that’s what he was doing. He knew his days were limited. Instead of telling us, his friends, he came for a last visit to tell us how much we meant to him.

I wish I had told Bryant Wollman how much joy he brought into my life.

Oh, but this piece is called “On Promises.” I didn’t tell you the meaning of that. On that last afternoon I saw Bryant, he was wearing the Scottish kilt costume because he had just come from his volunteer gig at the Filoli Estate in Woodside.

He was so colorful, I wanted an image at once. The photo was okay but Bryant made me promise not to post it.

“Do you promise?” he said, not once but several times and even when I promised-promised-promised,, I could tell he didn’t completely believe me. In the end I convinced him, however, and got my photo, which I will not, as promised, post in this story.

Who Lived in the El Granada Bathhouse during Prohibition?

Who lived in the El Granada Bathhouse during Prohibition?
Story & photos by June Morrall. Bathhouse photo courtesy Redwood City Main Library.


I didn’t know anyone had actually lived in the El Granada Bathhouse–and used it as a home. When I arrived on the Coastside in the 1970s, the bathhouse was gone but I saw remnants of a road, big chunks of which had been and were still being torn apart by the highest of the high tides. If there had been a road there, then, clearly there had also been a lot of terra firma on the west side, the ocean side of the concrete, land once planted in rich fields of artichokes and Brussels sprouts. All gone now as Mother Nature shows us who rules.

The two-story “Bathhouse” was originally part of the Ocean Shore Railroad era, built in the early 1900s as a place for beach-goers to change into their bulky, old-fashioned swim-wear.

By now you know that the railroad’s “mandate” was to open up the isolated Coastside and provide the farming community with a new economy based on tourism. But Mother Nature, tough competition from the Southern Pacific on the other side of the hill, and a powerful love affair with the automobile took the Ocean Shore down.

Then the funniest thing happened: Alcohol, one of the popular drinks being whiskey was banned by the Prohibition Act, and, the dry law, like any law that says you can’t do something, encouraged the innovation of human nature to quench thirst. The natural response was to figure out a way to beat Prohibition. What the law breakers needed was a place to land the illegal booze, an isolated, secluded beach, recently abandoned by the railroad—and fearless men and boys to carry out the rest.

In the mid-1920s Gino Mearini and his family moved into the El Granada Bathhouse. Gino was just a kid, a teenager, smart as a whip, the son of Alesseio, who left his home in Tuscany seeking a better life in the US in 1914– at the beginning of WWI.

Alessio arrived without his wife and children; when he was doing better, he’d bring the family to live with him. The first job Alessio took was working in the dismal Pennsylvania coal mines before heading west to the Coastside where fellow Italians were farming artichokes and Brussels Sprouts.


(Photo: Gino Mearini stands in front of his bountiful orange tree.)

It was inevitable that Alessio would meet Dante Dianda, the big man in El Granada, the Coastside’s “Artichoke King.” Dianda, in partnership with John Patroni, who ran the Patroni House in Princeton-by-the-Sea owned two large ranches, encompassing Princeton, El Granada and Miramar. (Later, when Dante temporarily moved his family from El Granada to San Francisco, the farmer discovered that he enjoyed working at the busy San Francisco Produce Market much more than overseeing the two sprawling Coastside ranches.)

“Can you cook?” the Artichoke King asked Alessio Mearini.

“Yes!” was the younger man’s reply and Alessio was offered a job cooking for the men at the ranchhouse up the canyon in El Granada.

Alessio Mearini possessed a solid work ethic and business sense. Soon his cooking days were over and he was Dante’s partner, helping to manage the El Granada-Miramar ranch.

Earlier this week I was invited to Gino Mearini’s home in Cupertino. His lovely daughter, Janet Mearini Debenedetti was there, too–the owner of six cats, one of them most entertaining as she wrestled with Jo-Jo, Gino’s 10-year-old irresistible, recently shaved Pomeranian. Janet’s house stands across the street from her dad’s, and she said they bought the property on their street a long time ago, when the area was more rural. The climate reminded them of Italy, she explained.

We gathered at the kitchen table, a light-filled room (Burt sat across from me, with Gino at the head of the table, Janet at the opposite end. Janet grew up on the Coastsider, attending school with well known “Princetonians” Eugene Pardini and Ronnie Mangue.

I noted the small stack of books, all historical: Barbara Vanderwerf’s “Granada, A Synonym for Paradise;” Michael Orange’s “Half Moon Bay: Historic Coastside Reflections, ” and two of mine, “Half Moon Bay Memories: The Coastside’s Colorful Past,” and “Princeton-by-the-Sea.”

Gino wouldn’t like it if I revealed his age, but he has the spirit and curiosity of a young guy.


. (Photo: Gino Mearini looks at a page in Michael Orange’s book.)

Gino and his mom traveled from Italy to El Granada about 1921. At first they lived in a little house near where the El Granada Market stands today. A few years later the Mearinis moved into the vacant El Granada Bathhhouse.

The era belonged to Prohibition–and while the Bathhouse had become a home– when a light in the upstairs bedroom was flicked on past midnight, that was the “come on in, boys” signal–and the rumrunners boated in to El Granada Beach the bottles of whiskey unloaded from the Canadian mother ship anchored 12-mile out in the Pacific.

This was very, very serious business. Big money was involved. Thousands of cases of booze. The product had to be protected.

“There were bootleggers, armed with revolvers, looking for liquor hijackers at Miramar and El Granada,” Gino told me. But if it came down to a close chase with the Coast Guard, headquartered at Princeton, “We’d rather throw the load overboard than lose the boat. They had two Liberty motors, and they were fast engines.”

Gino, a teenager at the time, earned $25 for two hours of work, helping to drag the booze, that might have been tightly packed in gunny bags, across the sand dunes on homemade “sleds.” If John Patroni wasn’t around to pay Gino, “Otto and Anderson,” the Norwegians connected with the Canadian Mother ship, did.

What happened to the whiskey then? Gino said, “It was packed in straw, hidden in a nearby barn, and later picked up by some young guys driving a maroon colored Chrysler. There were velvet curtains covering the windows, maybe seven passengers could fit in there, boy, was it big.”

The drivers of the maroon Chrysler worked on contract, picking up at locations all over the county.

John Patroni was the “padrone,” the man who took care of the local Italians. He had nice cars, first a blue Packard, and then the fancy Cadillac. But who did John Patroni work for? I still can’t answer that question……

During our delightful conversation, Gino would correct things I had written. Clearly, while John Patroni had his own wharf at Princeton, where lots of whiskey was also landed, the El Granada Bathhouse may have played a much bigger role. In one of my books, I mentioned that booze was hidden beneath seawood mounted on a raft and pulled in. No, Gino said, “not possible.”

(Well, maybe it did happen but it sure sounds like nickel-and-dime stuff compared to the thousands and thousands of cases landed at El Granada.)

By 1933, the financial depression was hitting the Coastside hard, and because Prohibition was repealed, there was no more money to be made from illegal booze–but Gino had saved $600, all earned from working for the rumrunners.

The Mearini family moved out of the Bathhouse in February, 1932, and headed south of Half Moon Bay to isolated Lobitos where they rented John Meyn’s big white house. They later purchased land near where the trailer court is located on Airport Blvd., between Princeton and Moss Beach.

WWII on the Coastside is of particular interest to me, and Gino confirmed that all Italians without citizenship had to move from the beach side of the highway to the east side. (The Coastside Japanese had been interned.) In the town of Half Moon Bay, the center of Main Street was the dividing line. Gino had a lot of empathy for the “women and widows that had to move.” Unfortunately, most of the stores were on the west side of Main Street, causing much distress.

The Prohibition years were heady ones for the teenager, Gino Mearini, but one thing sticks out in his memory. At 6 a.m. in 1924, his mom called to him: “We’re going to get washed away.”

When Gino looked out the window he saw it coming towards him: a series of giant, hungry waves, an old-fashioned “Tidal Wave,”… a modern Tsunami. The family got out before the chicken house, packing shed and squealing pigs were swept away (the pigs survived.)

But when it was all over, the Bathhouse had been turned around a bit, and moved into the artichoke field. The beach around the house was gone. Years later as the sea chewed on more of the cliffs and sucked out the sand dunes, the waves finally claimed the Bathhouse as its own.

Occasionally, Gino Mearini visits the Coastside, and amusement crosses his face when he comes to the spot where the El Granada Bathhouse once stood. Actually, there is no such spot.

Over time the action of the waves has so altered the geography of what was here and what was there in the 1920s, that Gino can only smile and point, “The bathhouse, it’s out there, where the ocean is.” KPIX Features El Granada

KPIX’s “Eye on the Bay” program is doing a series on teeny tiny California towns, and when they got to “E,” the producers found El Granada, the jewel in the crown of the Ocean Shore Railroad’s Coastside. I was interviewed and had a great time, the best time I’ve ever had doing something like this.
This show features the DEF of the alphabet, so you’ll learn about Dublin before getting to El Granada. “F” stands for Felton, a nostalgic summer resort surrounded by giant redwoods.

To see the KPIX show, click here

To visit my pals at, click here

Gail Holland: It Takes a Real Writer….

gail-red-jpg2.jpg(Photo: El Granada Author Gail Holland)

Dealing with any type of illness, physical or mental, has to be a difficult project for a writer–because there is no way that a good writer can avoid becoming emotionally involved in the subject he or she is researching and writing about.

The writer tries to play the observer, objective and untouched, but writers are much closer to actors than you may think. Like actors, writers absorb and breathe in the low and the high points of whatever they’re working on. And the “whatever,” seeps into the skin, the heart, and the mind.

El Granada author Gail Holland ([email protected]) took on a very difficult subject in 1985 when she wrote: “For Sasha with Love: An Alzheimer’s Crusade,” the tragic story of the elegant San Franciscan Anne Bashkiroff, whose husband, Sasha, was suddenly crippled with incurable Alzheimers. Anne and Sasha, originally from Russia, had been very much in love.

In the 1980s when Gail wrote “For Sasha with Love,” finding help, resources, and any kind of support for victims of Alzheimers was nearly impossible. Institutions refused patients with the condition. It was a dead-end, a life sentence.

We can thank Anne Bashkiroff for founding the “Family Survival Project, ” now called “Family Caregiver Alliance,” which helped bring Alzheimers into public consciousness– and the insightful writer Gail Holland for telling us the whole story, sparing no details.

For today we know the parameters of this crippling disease– and the desperation of those who live with loved ones that have lost their faculties. In fact, Alzheimers victims frequently have lost their entire life’s history, as if the memory disk has been accidentally erased or wiped clean.


I’ve known Gail Holland for many, many years and I remember attending the “For Sasha, with Love” booksigning. I was proud to get both Gail’s and Anne’s autograph. Anne Bashkiroff was both beautiful and a woman with a presence. gailsautograph.jpg

Publication of the book attracted a lot of attention. The book was reprinted in 2007 by Purdue University Press with a new title: “Forget-Me-Not,” including updated information on caregiving.

When I met Gail, who has a charming English accent, she was working at the San Francisco Examiner, writing long feature articles. On one occasion she shared her bound collection of newspaper stories and I was envious of her talents. She was and remains a “hot” writer. Continue reading “Gail Holland: It Takes a Real Writer….”


(The five siblings, left to right: Collin, Heidi, Kai, Sara and Jan, c 1995.)


THE RED HOUSE: Story by Kai Tiura

I heard that name given to the old family home, on one of Dante Dianda’s many properties in El Granada, last night and remembered that it was actually known as that by many locals. That memory gave birth to an entire train of thought revolving around, in short, simpler times.

The El Granada of my youth (1958 to 1966) was a throwback in many of the fondest senses of the term. The dirt streets, the empty lots – block after block of them, the endless opportunities for a kid to make an adventure out of what most adults saw as nothing. But more than that, it was a haven. A haven for individuality, for expression, for the creative to realize a tactile version of a beautiful thought.

El Granada, in much the same way as most of the San Mateo County coastal towns, was a place where artists and free-thinkers went to be allowed to put their thoughts into some kind of action, so many of them feeling stifled in more urban settings with their somewhat stuffy social atmospheres. Talking with June Morrall, one of Half Moon Bay’s biggest supporters, I have been reminded of the things that set El Granada apart from not only the more urban (i.e. soulless) cities and towns of the day, but from the way life was lived in that wonderful time in most bigger cities. Being somewhat secluded, the Coast (which the family has always said with a capital, like “The City” for San Francisco) was its own place for sure, but its own place in time as well.

So when June asked me to write something for her website, I was both honored and a bit intimidated. Then little memories started coming to me of the childhood I experienced there and the butterflies flew up and out and wove themselves into vivid mental images of the time I spent there in my younger years and how the world has changed so much from what it seemed to be then, and some other images, not so idyllic, of what is happening to the world around us today as we head uncertainly into tomorrow. It seemed, somehow, the right time for such a story.


Meandering around El Granada in the early sixties was very much like what one might believe a walk through Mayberry might be, only without paved roads or, in most cases, sidewalks; with a lot fewer people; with entire blocks which DID have sidewalks, but few homes on them; and most notably without the moral judgments of the townsfolk. OK, so maybe Mayberry wasn’t the best choice of simile, but the point is that Aunt Bea would have had a stroke if she’d run into me cruising the streets of El Granada. Living in The Red House (on Alhambra, next to the little post office of the time – currently the Creekside Smokehouse, and across the street from what was then Sam’s Market, now El Granada Market) I had the perfect central base of operations from which to conduct my missions of childhood. One such mission, when I was still wearing diapers (and somehow sneaked out a low window while older sisters Jan and Heidi babysat me) took me to The Ship’s Bell, just across the highway from our house, to visit my mom at work there. Being a free-spirited Coastsider, I saw nothing wrong with this journey, much to the chagrin of the passing Highway Patrolman who picked me up en-route. (Lawmen of the day were notoriously out of touch with the realities of the Coastal mindset [“I’m a ramblin’ man, officer. Let’s get this over with!”]. Then again, there was Ben Donahue, who terrorized all the older kids. When he once caught teenaged boys with beer and found our mom had sold it to them, he took them back to ID her and after sending them on their way, Ben spanked mom over his knee.)

When the flustered officer asked my name, I not only gave it to him, but offered also my address and phone number. When asked where I thought I might be going, I replied that I was, “…on my way to The Ship’s Bell to visit my mother”, who worked there. (I’m sure I was thinking the obligatory “Duh” quietly to myself). Seeing, obviously, that I was of rational thought, and not wanting to be outdone by a toddler, the kind officer applied some rational thought of his own and conveyed me forthwith to the aforementioned Ship’s Bell, where I was duly reunited with my mother, and one of many such family stories was born.


Good old mom, gone now for many years, was never much given to the “popular thought” process, certainly no Aunt Bea. An artist, who studied under her close friends Galen Wolf and Forest Young, she had the “Coastal” approach to thought. She loved to paint (and although was never the successful painter that Galen was, certain family members think her work trumped Forest’s, and her charcoal and pencil art was stunning) and dabbled in tile mosaics and driftwood sculpture; tempered the offbeat philosophies of Edgar Cayce with the analytical observations of Carl Jung… she was every bit a card-carrying Bohemian (sister Heidi reminds me that “they wouldn’t carry cards; they belonged by not belonging”) of the first order, and as such, she gave me a wonderfully freelance childhood. I rarely gave her back much more than headaches in those years (hell, well into my late thirties, really), but she was a woman on a mission who rarely let the easy path lure her from the rocky, slippery slope of the beliefs she held dear and so, as I grew up (numerous harrumphs and chuckles somewhere in the background…), I enjoyed the freedom to, say, join a newlywed (I’m assuming) couple that passed my house one morning on a walk through Princeton with their new baby, all the way out to Pillar Point and back. This somewhere near the age of five or six. I remember walking out to Surfer’s Beach for the day, listening to the Beach Boys coming from the hot rods and old jalopies parked there; rounding up seashells and driftwood oddities for mom; sitting in front of the post office during the morning rush, asking people we knew (and, I’m told, some we didn’t) if they’d like to stop by for a beer with my mother. Kids… she preferred wine, and not receiving visitors until she “put her face on”!

I was able, without interference from the overbearing typicality of the more unfortunate urbanite kids’ parents, to wrest dimes from the paper rack at the post office by shaking it until they fell on the ground (not sure how I figured that one out) and take them to Sam’s and buy large stockpiles of Black Cow candy bars. In fact, I was able to pull that off for quite a while. Oddly, it was only after I had taken to removing the coke bottles from the back storage area of Sam’s and turning them in to the front counter for the deposit that my spurious ways became suspect and my Black Cow days came to an abrupt end.

I was able, in those days before great concern as to the constant knowledge of the whereabouts of your kids, to wander down to Pop & Peggy’s (now – or last I knew – El Granada Liquors) and get candy whenever I had legitimate fundage (don’t try to look it up…). I could have bought them at Sam’s… I wasn’t forbidden back, just too embarrassed to go there. Yes, El Granada was a haven indeed.


(Kai and his wife, Kit, on their beloved Harley)

My sister Heidi had a donkey named Barney who lived, when he chose to, in a pen next to our garage. Barney had the wanderlust as well. Every time he could get loose, he went on walkabout. Most often, he beelined for Dykstra’s ranch where he’d lived before we bought him. Sometimes he was missing for a week or more. Heidi would hike the hills after school, carrying his bridle with the hopeless optimism she might find and catch him. Sometimes he would just end up incarcerated by family friends who would call the house and say “Heidi, Barney’s here. You wanna come get him?” And off she’d go, returning not long after, riding a disappointed Barney.

There were calls from others too. The Sea Horse Ranch, in those days widely respected for caring for fine race horses, would occasionally call, beside themselves with anger, and report that Barney had somehow penetrated (maybe not the best choice of words…) their defenses and saddled up, as it were, with one of the mares entrusted them by its hopeful owners, informing us that we had better retrieve him posthaste! Barney apparently had the nose of a bloodhound and the testosterone of an adolescent schoolboy, mixed with no fear of Highway 1 traffic and a single-mindedness second to none when it came to female companionship. And after he would get busted consorting with these extremely valuable animals, they were so kind as to call us instead of animal control or some other official entity, accept a heartfelt apology and a promise to have him snipped (which was promised but somehow never happened) and Heidi and Barney would be on their way. Small Town America… what a concept!

Mom and dad would occasionally hear from the sheriff about brother Collin driving his Henry J through town on its rear wheels. They hadn’t arrested him, probably couldn’t have caught him had they tried, but they knew he had the only car in town that would do wheelies and it was their civic duty to call our folks and let them know. Out of touch or not with the Coastal mindset, cops back then had a much better grasp on how to deal with kids.

Those days didn’t just create and exemplify what all our ideas of freedom were (they DID that); they gave us, our family and friends an understanding of what life can be. There were no worries that the neighbor would sue you if their kid fell off your rope swing. Neighbors knew one another, and cared for one another, and took responsibility for their own kids and lives and decisions and actions. If not always, most of the time certainly. That kind of upbringing gave us all tools with which, I like to believe, we were able to go into the world much better people than we might have been otherwise.

Knowing people like those who dwelled on the Coast in those days gave us insight and opened our minds to the possibilities out there, not satisfied to simply focus on the realities of what was visible, tangible. It makes me wonder, in today’s world, where we are headed if we do not remember these things, hold them dear, and force ourselves and our children to respect personal responsibility. There is no greater gift one can pass on to a child than the ability to make conscientious decisions of which they can be proud. God only knows it’s not always the easiest way to raise kids, giving them the freedom to make mistakes and then lovingly but firmly teaching them that the lesson is not in the fact that you made a bad decision, but in how you address that decision and administer the personal responsibility that it entails.

We have, as a society of “modern” and “advanced” people, lost sight of a lot of those valuable lessons taught us by simple and unassuming parents of yesterday. This little essay was not meant as, and will not be, a podium from which to pontificate or proselytize, for anyone who has watched me stumble through my adolescence knows I am in no position to do so. But it is the New Year, and as such, it is a perfect time for remembrances of this sort; reflections on what a wonderful world we have. Perhaps it’s time we spend more energy focusing on the positive instead of bemoaning the negative. Thinking back to what our parents taught us isn’t living in the past, it’s looking toward the future.

In that vein I would like to extend my best wishes to June and all her readers for a happy, healthy and productive New Year; one full of new ideas, and old, put to good use.


Note: Kai is an artist who designs websites, click here –and has created gorgeous stained glass pieces like the one below featuring the lighthouse for a Montara client. I alsokt5.jpeg love the butterfly motif.