(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 also love the butterfly motif.