Monday, August 19, 2013

That scent of freshly brewed tea and newsprint first thing in the morning

I just wanted to chime in this morning along with the Washington Post, Huffington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS and yes, even FOX News to celebrate a tiny yet significant victory in journalism.  Today, the Orange County Register launched the inaugural issue of a brand new paper, the Long Beach Register.


Why is this a "significant victory" (instead of a doomed venture)?  As my mother used to say, Because I said so.  Because the mainstream media (see those listed above) has been saying for years that readers don't want to read print media anymore.  We are told almost daily that readers get their news online.  Yep, some do.  Youngsters.  But some of us still enjoy the pace of a lifestyle that includes strolling out to the driveway predawn to find out what transpired overnight or what's been happening in our community while we've been busy working.  (Come on, Boomers, who's with me on this?!?)

Some years ago, when I still lived in Rancho Cucamonga, I subscribed to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.  The dogs and I would do our 4:00a.m. walk around the block and on the way into the house, I'd grab the paper from the driveway, then lean on the kitchen counter while my tea was steeping, perusing the news or reading MikeRappaport's column.  When the Gannett folks let Rappaport go (don't even get me started about those idiots), I canceled that subscription and got the L.A. Times, a newspaper which has won 41 Pulitzer prizes since 1942, five in the year 2004 alone.  Please.  Show me the online reporting--in this day and age when a news "story" can consist of merely two sentences: Man hit by train in Ontario.  Details to follow--that has been nominated for a Pulitzer.  I'm sure it happens, but not for my local papers (which, by the way, are all owned by Gannett, so all the websites look the same--and sometimes carry the same news story).

I digress.  My joy today has to do with the fact that the forward thinking folks at the OC Register refused to lie down and let the steamroller of youth-led technology roll over them.  Yes, young folks want sound bites.  Got it.  But those of us who prefer reading stories with depth and substance want to do so with the soundtrack of rustling paper and the scent of fresh ink hanging in the air.

Thank you and congratulations, OC Register.  Best wishes, the Buddha speed, and go after it, all you brave fresh faces at Long Beach Register.

Wanna look cool today?  Grab a newspaper from a stand and walk around with it under your arm.  People will assume you are well read, well informed and intelligent.  Try to do that digitally!

Forgive me while I say it again:  Booyah!!

Saturday, August 17, 2013


A few years back I sold a short piece of writing to the Christian Science Monitor’s Home Forum page.  It was about a blissful day I spent hanging out with nine-year-old Ben, my grandson.  Well, Ben started college this week.

He’ll be living with his uncle in Rancho Cucamonga and attending Chaffey Community College a short mile and a half away.  Since he doesn’t own a car quite yet, he’s planning on riding his bike up the hill to school.  The day before classes started, my daughter organized a family bike ride so that we could all make the trip with him the first time.

Despite my heaving lungs, we made it up the road together (although they did have to wait for me a few times), then we rode around the campus to locate where his classes would be.  At one point we stopped by the Language Arts building as I reminded my daughter of the semester years before when she was taking a psychology class next door to where I was teaching English 1A.  Ah, the memories.  You see, Ben’s mother went to Chaffey, too.  Of course, that was before earning her dual bachelor’s degrees from Pitzer and her first master’s from Claremont Graduate University (all of which came before her MFA and her current status as Rock Star Poet).  When she tells people she’s a Pitzer and CGU grad, she usually doesn’t add “but before that I went to Chaffey.”  In the same way, when I’m asked where I earned my degree, I usually just say “UC Riverside,” without adding “but before that I went to Chaffey.”  Because I, too, am a Chaffey alumnus.

Yesterday I took my granddaughter, Hali, to lunch at a local restaurant.  One of my former students is a hostess there. When I asked where she was going to school, she replied, “Just Chaffey.”  The preconceived notion is that if one is attending a community college, one is not yet ready for the higher levels of academia offered by a university.  Hogwash.  I had great classes of intense depth and rigor at Chaffey which prepared me well for the three-hour Bluebook exams in literature I would later sit for at UCR.  Chaffey is a great school, and I think Ben—who was nine when I wrote that piece for CSM—will be well served as a student there.

And it just makes me happy that we have all come up this way.

While hanging out with Hali this week (who is currently the family’s resident singer), she told me of her plans to audition for X Factor.  She said her mom would go with her and maybe she’d audition, too.  I told her maybe I would go with them and also audition—or we could all three sing together and call ourselves Generations.  “Or Generations3,” she replied.  Ooooh, I like that.

To read the short piece in which I describe a nine-year-old’s experience of just being a boy, click here

Me, The Daughter, The Grandson--at our school

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Mystery of Ernest Jefferson West. Solved.

My grandmother, Lila Clara Graham West

Ernest Jefferson West is my maternal grandfather.  But I know very little about him.  We lived in California and he lived in Florida as I was growing up, and I only remember meeting him once.  He and my grandmother, Lila, divorced when she was still a relatively young woman, and he went on to marry someone else, have other children, create another life.

By the time I knew that Grandma Lila's mother had been tried for murder, Grandma Lila had already left this earth, so I could not harangue her for information as I did my mother.  One thing she did not have answers for was this:  How did her mom (Lila) and dad (Ernest--whom Mom is named after) end up in Detroit?  Lila was born and raised in rural Missouri.  Somehow she was in Detroit in the early 1920's, running a boarding house... which is why she sent her young daughter Ernestine to live 'back on the farm' in Missouri, so she would be "safe" in the country from all the dangers of the big city... which is how Mom came to be there the day her grandmother was arrested for murder.

A lifetime later, I tried to track down the history of Ernest Jefferson West (as did my genealogy-loving sister-in-law), but to no avail.  I wanted to know where he came from, how he met my grandmother, why they ended up in Detroit.  For years, I had no answers.

On my last trip to Missouri, I told my dear friend Marc Houseman (Saint Marc, at this point) everything I knew about Ernest West, and I asked for help in finding him.  Marc spent hours researching and and any other place he could think of.  And he found him.  He found him.

Now I know that Ernest Jefferson West (the son of Andrew Johnson West and Artie Miss West, nee Kelly) lived in Iron County, Missouri, some distance (but not too far, apparently) from the county in which Lila grew up.  They were married in 1914.  As Marc shared with me the information he had found, he pointed out that the 1920 shows the young couple living in Detroit, with Ernest working in the auto industry.  Makes sense, right?  And it's a universal, American Dream type of story.  The youngsters left the rural mid-west, hoping to build a future for themselves.  Sadly, they divorced several years later.  Lila was on her own, and she sent her only child back home to live with her mother.  Little did she know what would transpire over the next few years.

So now I know.  I only wish my grandma were still alive.  It never occurred to me when I was a kid, then a young newlywed myself, to ask her how she'd met her husband.  If I had, I might have been privy to their reasons for leaving Missouri.  Now, I can only conjecture.

I do know how my mom met my dad, so for posterity's sake (and because it's my mama's birthday today--Happy Birthday, Mom!), here it is:

My mother was a singer during the 1940's.  She did not sing on the radio nor did she have a recording contract.  What she has told me is that she traveled around the mid-west, occasionally staying in towns she liked.  She would find a nightclub, and if she liked the band, she would convince them to let her get up and sing.  She made tips and traveling money, as she put it.  One night, at a club in Highland Park, Illinois, a man from the crowd approached her after her set and asked to give her a ride home.  She declined.  He offered again, but somewhat belligerently.  When she declined again, he became obnoxious.  Sitting nearby was my father, who gallantly stood and said something like, "Didn't you hear the lady?  She doesn't want a ride home."  Their brief conversation ended in my father punching the guy in the nose.  My dad wasn't a policeman yet in those days, but he was a taxi driver, and he did take my mom home that night.  Good call, Mom!

My mom and dad, circa 1947