There’s that old saying about how one can never go home again.
Recently, my sister and I had the pleasure of visiting our childhood home in the Sierra Madre Canyon, a place that holds special memories of happy times for us. Enticed by scenic foothill vistas, Dad and Mom moved to Sierra Madre in 1962, falling in love with a beautiful redwood home. They shared with us stories of the man who built it: he had the blueprints replicated from his chalet in Switzerland and moved to Sierra Madre to build its twin in the 1920’s.
John is the current owner of the house, and he graciously invited us in for tea- as an Englishman would. His historic, redwood chalet is much like I remembered it - we were thrilled to tour our old backyard with its oak tree canopy as well as the inside of the house.
“Wow – I remember it as so much bigger!” exclaimed my sister, gazing up at the high beamed ceiling, recalling a more cavernous living room space. It did seem huge when we were small, so high that men had to climb up to the rafters to put the decorations on the top branches of the Christmas tree. This served as a good excuse to throw Christmas tree decorating parties, which my parents did since the bank-sized trees were just too darned big for us to decorate on our own. Mom had other gatherings in that wood-paneled living room with its river rock fireplace: ‘coffee klatches’ with neighbourhood housewives, (we are talking the 1960’s!) Halloween parties where we bobbed for apples, and Camp Fire Girl meetings to name a few.
“Where are you taking me?” my Grandmother asked with alarm in her sing-song Swedish accent. Mom was introducing Grandma to our funky new neighbourhood, whipping our car around winding bends, past ‘hippy’ cottages, tie-dyed shirts drying on their clotheslines. A young long haired boy sped down Woodland seated on his skateboard and almost crashed into us. Rock music could be heard drifting in and out of windows along with the scent of incense and patchouli oil.
Poor Grandma, I don’t think she ever ‘got it’ – our family must have seemed highly eccentric to her living in this counter culture environment, one that attracted musicians, artists and writers as it still does today.
Our house was, and still is, one of the stars of the canyon, but the real star is the entire Sierra Madre Canyon itself. The rustic homes, some precariously on cliff edges, are not everyones taste. I love that there are no two alike. No cookie cutter tract homes here, no sir.
This area was once Carter’s Camp, with cabins that were built for vacationers and health seekers -those who sought out a gentler California climate in the 1800’s. Even earlier canyon dwellers were the native American Indians and if legend is to be believed, the ‘sacred’ canyons, both upper and lower seem to be protected (touch wood) since we have not lost a home to brush fires.
As a young girl growing up in the canyon, I reflect on those days now and feel so lucky that I lived with my family in what I thought was a magical place. We kids ran around without fear, playing in our trees and on the hillside, getting wet in the stream while ‘rescuing’ frogs, and had our brushes with poison oak.
Playing outside, we had friends both real and make believe: T.V. watching was restricted and no computers meant cultivating our imagination and creativity. One time we took a little wagon around door to door to ask for the neighbours bacon grease so that we could turn it over to a local company that used the fat as a base for soaps.
Another joyful memory was heading down the back trail, i.e. Brookside Lane, allowance money in hand, to Mary’s Market for candy or ice cream. Mary’s thick Irish accent was filled with warmth when she spoke, her eyes twinkled and she’d always ask after my brother Jon, or how any other member of the family was. Usually she had a cigarette (gasp!) burning in the ashtray. We loved visiting with Mary, and would head home toting a quart of milk for Mom and Bazooka bubble gum or Look and Hershey bars for us, costing only pennies.
From the canyon we could hear the noon day fire horn booming from the original fire station near Kersting Court. When it rang out three times one knew it was a real fire and our renowned volunteer firemen would head out reporting for duty. One day the fire horn kept going off, a bad sign, we ran outside and saw our neighbor, who happened to be a bachelor, struggle to get his trousers on, hopping on one leg in his shorts. Once dressed, sort of, he dove into his convertible Corvette and rushed down the road to save our town from flames.
Some evenings we could hear live band music just a few doors up at the clubhouse called Nature Friends, a European based organization of nature lovers. Later in life I returned to my beloved canyon to get married at that alpine-inspired hillside clubhouse. It’s a comfort to know that Nature Friends is still going strong today; I recently attended a poetry event there. Here is a link to their website and upcoming programs for those who are interested in joining: http://www.naturefriendsla.org/web/
While I haven’t exactly returned home because home was in the lower canyon and I now dwell in the upper canyon - a.k.a. Marlborough Terrace - nevertheless, I sometimes feel as though I have never left.
Still a proud Sierra Madre ‘canyonite’, today I try to contribute to my neighborhood by circulating an ‘e’ blast newsletter for our neighbourhood watch and upcoming events. There is also a pet web album for those who may have lost a pet and I’ll lend a hand with our block party held every couple of years.
It’s fun to commune with our neighbours, some are old timers who remember both canyons back before my time. And to meet newcomers who are drawn to the area’s scenic beauty and wildlife, just like my parents were so many years ago. A joyful inner child in me returns now when I visit or Nature Friends or walk by our old house. Though Mary is gone from this world and it’s been years since my family lived on Woodland Drive, my heart is still here in the Canyon: I will always feel at home here.