Category Archives: Texas

From Rural Texas to Beverly Hills: A Few Observations

I have lived in Beverly Hill (or BH to the locals) for 21 years. I came to LA with my family when my brother Jim was sick and needed support during the last year and a half of his life, and we moved to Beverly Hills because we needed a good school district for our kids. Who knew what unlikely lessons I would learn from living here?

1) Everyone in Beverly Hills hesitates when people outside BH ask them where they live. Most – including my family and me – hem and haw and say, “LA.” Only when people press with, “Where in LA?” do most of us answer. Why you ask? Aren’t you proud of where you live? The answer is prejudice. Most people have a stereotypic view of Beverly Hills residents, mainly that everybody is rich and snotty. People get a look in their eye when you say, “I live in Beverly Hills,” and it’s not a particularly friendly look.

2) Not everybody in BH is rich. Many are well off, of course, and some are rich – usually the “above Sunset Boulevard” set, but there are also a fair number of average citizens in Beverly Hills. The people who do “well enough.” There are even some people who have several generations of family living together in one apartment, primarily so their kids can attend the school district.

3) One of my biggest misconceptions when moving here was that people were so rich that they didn’t have “real” problems. Imagine my embarrassment when a BH housewife and mother of one of my daughter’s friends sat in my living room and told me about her child with severe birth trauma and her father, who lived far away and was dying. I felt so ashamed that I had pre-judged her as someone who couldn’t possibly understand how “the rest of us” feel.

4) Beverly Hills 90210 is not an accurate reflection of Beverly Hills and especially BHUSD. When we first moved here, I expected to see the non-actor equivalents of the 90210 show on the schoolyard in Beverly Hills. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that BHUSD has a very large contingent of Persians Jews and that in the elementary school my kids attended, 26 nations were represented. My children were in the distinct minority as Christians and I would soon need to educate myself on Jewish traditions.

5) Iranians here call themselves Persians and have a poignant history. Don’t mind me, but before moving to BH, I hadn’t spent a lot of time on Iranian history. I have had the occasion now to know many Persian Jewish families. Many of my students are Persians. I have heard poignant stories from many of their parents’ and grandparents’ escape for Iran when the Shah was overthrown, and their arrival in the United States with traumatic memories and sadness over leaving their beloved homeland. I have had the opportunity to learn much about this lovely and lively culture.

6) Jews come in as many varieties as Christians. Probably most people already know this, but coming from a little Texas town where there was only one Jew, and he was only half and a practicing Unitarian, well…to say I was underexposed is an understatement. Most of the Jews I know are Reform, but not all. It’s been educational to learn about this rich religious tradition and to get to know people who range from being Jew “ish” to Orthodox.

7) You really can see celebrities at restaurants and in the grocery stores here. Not always, but often enough. I have seen over the years a whole range of well-known people: Arnold driving down our street in his Hummer, Ben Stiller jogging down our street, Katie Holmes (a while back) walking in West Hollywood, Rod Stewart at Coffee Bean, Keanu Reeves waiting outside a movie theater, Jane Fonda in the elevator in the parking garage of that same theater (ArcLight Hollywood), David Arquette in an auto accident near our house, Lindsey Lohan emerging from the high-rise across the street from our house, Dave Navarro at a local bakery, Christina Ricci sitting at the next table at a restaurant, Jeff Goldblum grabbing take-out from a restaurant where we were having breakfast, K.D. Lang at Whole Foods. More, I’m sure, but those are the ones that quickly come to mind. That’s always a little fun. The whole “celebrity sighting” thing. Half the fun of living in LA.

8) People in Beverly Hills are just like people everywhere else. I have spent a lot of time in Beverly Hills working as a volunteer with PTA. I coordinated the parenting workshops for the BHUSD for over ten years – that was my gift to the district for educating my children so well – which meant one workshop in each of the five schools every year. I have met with the core people in each of these schools many times and I’ve come to realize that the same type of people in every town and city across the U.S. (and the world) join together to help children. They are down-to-earth, generous with their time, and civic-minded. Never mind if they arrive in a ten-year-old Toyota or a brand new Bentley, they are cut from the same cloth.

9) Beverly Hills has no discount stores. Damn. I have to drive 45 minutes to get to the nearest Costco. And don’t think I don’t see half of Beverly Hills there. They are there.

10) People in Beverly Hills (and LA) dress down, not up. People are more dressed up in North Dallas then on Rodeo Drive, for the most part. “California casual” means you can walk into Gucci in your shorts and flip-flops, and salespeople never know if you’re rich or not. That is a gift for someone who is not driven by fashion. Not to say fashion is not here. It is everywhere. That same woman sitting in her sweats at the restaurant for breakfast, might be wearing Prada tonight. The difference is she will be dressed up to go somewhere, not just heading down to the local bakery for a croissant.

11) People are pretty here. It’s true. Go to the local mall or out to Runyon Canyon for a hike and be astounded by the number of beautiful people. It is not surprising since many “beauties” move here in hopes of a television or movie career and stay long after that dream fades. Still, it makes people-watching extra pleasant.

12) It doesn’t really matter where you live. I love LA and I love California, but I’m a Texas girl through and through. I bring those hometown values with me here and I take my city experiences back to Texas, where I love to spend lots of time. You take you with you wherever you are so places are not nearly as important as one might think.

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Two Thumbs Up: Hell or High Water

Tonight we saw the new movie starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster called Hell or High Water. This was shot in New Mexico, but the setting is West Texas. I don’t want to say much about the film in case you see it, which I would highly recommend. Superb acting and a story that explores several major themes: brotherly love, bad choices, duty, poverty, and justice.

A definite must-see.

Here’s the trailer:

Flash Memoir: The Train

A train is a means of conveyance that moves on a track from one place to another. Passengers wait on a platform before departing for their destinations. I remember sitting with my mother in her hospital room as she was dying. This was December, 1999. I sat in the darkened room while she slept. I didn’t want to leave her. I didn’t want her to leave me. I had come to Texas from California for our last Christmas together and here we were in this quiet impersonal hospital room, her rhythmic breathing the only sound. Her condition was worsening after she’d elected to stop all chemotherapy for the oat cell carcinoma that was spreading in her lungs. I didn’t blame her for that decision; quality of life seemed a reasonable wish. I was due to return to California after the holidays with my three children and husband. It would be another month before I could come back. I doubted she had another month in her, at least in this life.

The song, “People Get Ready, Cause the Train is Comin’,” started playing in a loop in my brain, and I understood in that moment that it didn’t matter if I stood on the train tracks with my arms stretched wide, that train was going to move right through me and keep on going. This train wasn’t for me, but for her and it wasn’t stopping for anybody, including a grieving daughter who didn’t know how she’d make it without her mama. Still, that image and that song brought me peace. This was bigger than I was, bigger than my grief. That train had departed from the station long before I was born and had a destination and timetable independent of my existence. I felt my shoulders relax as I sat there, knowing that my role was a minor one at this point. My mother knew how much I loved her; she also knew that I would be okay without her.

The next time I saw Mom was three weeks later, as she lay in a coma. I stood at her bedside along with others who loved her, each of us midwives to the next world. We all laid our hands upon her and muttered whatever words came to mind. After a short while, I leaned close and whispered in her ear, “Go to Jesus, Mama. He’s waiting.” She turned, took her last breath, and stared straight into my eyes. I could almost hear a distant whistle and the clickety-clack of that train as it headed on down the track.

 

Repost: My Imaginary Friend, Tommy Wizzims

I told this story to some of the volunteers at the St. Thomas the Apostle Breakfast Club where we were feeding the homeless yesterday morning. Someone was saying she fell in love with a teenage boy when she was three. I had to tell her about Tommy Wizzims.

Here is that story written a while back, but it’s just as meaningful to me today as the day I wrote it back in 2012.

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Today I was cleaning out a closet and I found a big envelope of clippings and pictures from my mother’s house, which I received after she died. I unfolded a newspaper and saw that I was looking at the obituary page. At first, I wondered why Mom had saved this paper, then my eyes focused on the face of a man who looked familiar. I looked at the name and it read, Tom Williams.

Tom Williams! Oh, goodness.

When I was a little girl, no older than three, Tom Williams lived two blocks away from our house on 13th Street. I thought he was the handsomest boy I had ever seen – and I added an imaginary friend to my life (along with another named Heidi). That friend’s name was Tommy Wizzims.

Tom Williams was my older brother’s friend so he was around our house a lot. He must have been nice to me because even now thinking about him I feel a warm feeling in my heart. He must have also known that I had an imaginary friend with his very own name, pronounced only in the way a three-year-old can. I can’t help but think that must have brought a smile to his face.

I read in his obituary that he died in a car accident when he was 58. He had been married, had four kids, and at the time of his death had a woman in his life, who had been his “companion” for several years. He ran a nursing home, and the obituary said that the residents’ faces would “light up” when Tom came into the room.

My eyes filled with tears. That’s just how I felt when I saw him when I was a little girl. Happy. Pure and simple.

I didn’t know that Tom Williams had died. I felt sad that his life was prematurely cut short. I thought about my little imaginary playmates, Tommy and Heidi, and how my mother indulged me by setting places for them at the table. Mom told me once that I would pull on her sleeve and say, “But they’re hungry!”

The kindness of one person can have a wide impact. It sounds as if that was the case with my Tommy Wizzims.

What a strange item to find today in my clean-up efforts. But it reminded me of one teenage boy who took the time to be kind to a little girl. What a lovely person he must have been.

Clearly, he meant something to Mom as well.  Enough for her to save that obituary.

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Back in LA After a Stop in Sierra Madre

We are back in LA tonight. The house is warm, but now the windows are all open and the fans on. Plus, we have turned on the air conditioner in the bedroom. Already the night air is cooling down the house, which has been closed up for the past 15 days.

I drove both days of the trip, which is our usual arrangement. I like driving and Ray likes handling the music, the podcasts and the snacks. We actually had an easy trip, leaving at 12:30 pm yesterday, stopping in Grants, NM last night at 10:30 pm, leaving again this morning around 7:30 and arriving in Sierra Madre to see Gregorio and the grandkids around 6 pm. (Sarah was still at work until 9 pm.) We visited for an hour or so then arrived here around 8:30 pm. We had the advantage of gaining 2 hours along the way so that made it seem shorter. Plus we listened for hours last night to the Democratic convention and then news commentary all day today about the convention, Trump’s response, etc. That is the kind of radio that is good for keeping me awake.

The other motivation for my driving at a fast clip on that open road was the chance to see my two little grandkids (and their daddy, of course). I was right at the end of my tolerance level of being away from those two little sweetie pies. I was surprise how they both seemed to have grown just in those two weeks. Getting hugs and snuggles from them definitely made that long trip feel worth it.

I am now sitting in my den with my feet up. I am grateful to have made it safely back from another cross-country road trip. Tomorrow I will see Liz, Ron, Rachael and Ron’s friend, Kevin. We are going to Irvine Meadows in the evening to see Duran-Duran and Chic. This is Ray’s belated birthday present and the real draw for him is Chic. It will be fun to be with the kids and  to go to the concert. I’m just sorry that Ariel, Sarah, Gregorio and the grandkids won’t be there. Alas, it’s tough to coordinate that many schedules!

Here are pictures of my beautiful grandkids taken this afternoon. You will see that Grandma is happy to be back with this two little tykes.

I hope you’re having a pleasant Friday evening.

I’ll be checking back in tomorrow.

Luna and a Road-Weary Grandma

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Nico

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Nico and Toy

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My honey-bunch and me

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A Writing Focused Day

This has been a day spent on Story Circle Network’s Online Classes program and my college essay students. I have been evaluating proposals for the fall term, which is exciting since there are some great classes coming up. Also, I worked with three students over the phone so we can get a jump on the college admission process this summer and rather than waiting until school starts in the fall.

I also will be teaching a new course for SCN in the fall: An Intermediate Flash Fiction/Memoir class for students who have taken my Introductory “Writing Short” class. I’ve never taught this before and am doing so at the request of several students. I am excited about it because I will be working with students with whom I already have a rapport and we can dig deeper. Yahoo.

I have been focused for several hours on this. After a week of being outside in the heat, I must admit I’ve enjoyed sitting in the air conditioning and working on the writing part of my life. I also must say that sitting here in our Victorian is a pleasure in itself. It is such a quiet and peaceful place.

I am ready to relax now so I’ll say good-night. I hope you all had a good Sunday and are geared up to face Monday in the morning!

I’ll be checking in again tomorrow.

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Startup Stock Photos

Dragging

I would write more if I could get my fingers to move. We have been working all day getting ready for the garage sale and it was 98 degrees for most of the time we were outside. I am sitting here wringing wet and I still have at least four or five boxes to unpack. Those will have to wait until early morning. Right now I am going to take a bath, maybe burn my clothes and hit the hay.

My step counter says I walked 17,764 steps.

Enough said?

Hope those of you who are nearby will come by and see what we have to sell. It’s a yard-full, I can say that and we have several friends arriving tomorrow with their stuff as well.

Off I go to the bath. I expect to be up with the chickens.

Sleep well and I will be checking with you again tomorrow.

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