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#11 BEACH MUSIC: A time of tans, blonds and hot pants

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IT WAS A TIME OF TANS, BLONDS AND HOT PANTS, WHEN THE ENDLESS SUMMER WAS JUST A SHORT WALK DOWN A HOT SIDEWALK
Beach Music, an On the Street Where I Livestories is really a tale of two cities; San Juan, Puerto Rico and Santa Monica, California. It was originally published in the LA Times Sunday Magazine.


Beach Music We came to California from Canada, with a detour to Puerto Rico that lasted one endless summer of a year. A year in which I turned 15, and my hair turned blond from living in the sun. “Psst,” the boys and men would call after me in the blue-cobbled streets of San Juan. “Psst! Hey, blondie. Psst! Hey, cutie pie.” I was devastated when my parents said we had to go, that it was time to leave the island so that my older brother, Russell, could get a first rate education. The plan was to drive cross country from Miami and settle in San Francisco so that my brother could finish high school before going on to UC Berkeley. But, once we got there in the fall of 1968, we found that …

Qué sera, sera; What will be, will be.

My mother passed away two years ago, this Sunday, April 13th. Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease over a dozen years earlier, she really left us long ago. It's painful to think back on how confused she was, not just at the very end, but in those last years when her memories, her life and its details faded as if they'd been written in disappearing ink. While the image of her looking lost and bewildered as her identity slipped away still haunts me, I'm pleased my eternally singing mother is so present in my writing. When I wrote the piece, Of Brasso and Brownies, about growing up in Niagara Falls in the sixties I thought it was about me but, reading it again, I can see my mother, alive and vital, loving and proud, played as big a role in my story as I did. Of Brasso and Brownies is #9 in my On the Street Where I Live stories.

Of Brasso and Brownies


It’s daunting to move into a new house and make it yours. A never before lived in house seems more than new as it stands before you, untouched, immaculate, strangely virginal. The difference between new and brand new can be an almost empty hollow feeling. No ghosts live within those walls. No child’s smudged fingerprints have been wiped away.


I was ten years old when we moved into our new house in Niagara Falls. We moved in the spring of 1963, the season of change in what would turn out to be a decade of change. In a house without history it fell to us to write the first page.


Our old house was a two story red brick rental in the part of town where chestnut trees lined the streets. It was a gloomy house inside, made darker still by the ancient maples outside its windows, leafy branches casting ghostly images against the fading floral wallpaper. A dark oak door outside my bedroom led to a musty attic, too scary to think about, let alone explore. When we moved to Cherrywood Acres, a new development on the outskirts of town, only the model home and a handful of new houses bloomed where cherry trees once stood. The paved road wending its way through the tract led nowhere; the sidewalk started and stopped in front of our house which sat on a half acre of hard frozen dirt. From my bedroom window I could see empty lot after empty lot marked off by pieces of red cotton tied to short wooden stakes, stiff little flags heralding the coming of progress.


Our new house was a modern split level, Number Two in the brochure, picked and built to order. An ordinary house really, but I remember my mother poring over paint swatches and samples of floor finishes for weeks before we moved in. I remember her sitting in the murky light of our old living room, agonizing over color choices like champagne, desert sand and pale mushroom. She chose finally a soft ivory for the walls.


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