Happy New Year 2023

I remember sitting on the curb … staring at the driveway leading back toward the apartment building. I looked up and told myself to memorize the numbers … 11732. I repeated the numbers over and over. Until it was impossible to forget. Eleven, Seven, Thirty-Two.

We lived there, my family and I, from about 1970 to 1974. 11732 Runnymede Street, North Hollywood, California. We moved there to this medium-sized complex from Susanville up north. Living first with our relatives (Patsy & Terry) in a small house on the huge lot, we rented our own apartment a month later. Eventually, mom and dad became the property managers (while working at the local hospital) and we moved into the manager’s house. It was located up front of the lot with a large sign for VACANCIES. There was a huge yard for all the neighborhood kids to play… volleyball, badminton, red rover… we had a blast,

Next door was an elderly, heavy-set lady who fed the neighborhood birds and kept a watchful eye on the children. Straight across the street was an empty lot which backed up to a huge apartment complex where many of my friends lived. Half a block away, at the corner of Runnymede Street and Lankershim Boulevard, there was a Tastee-Freeze that stayed busy with little, sticky hands year-round. Across Lankershim Boulevard, was a small shopping center anchored by Ralphs Supermarket. (My grandma Nellie got a jaywalking ticket there too! Crossing Lankershim to go to Ralphs!)

Lots of life happening right there on Runnymede Street in the early 70’s … Donna was born, the ’71 Sylmar earthquake happened, and I had decided that Mark Vasquez was probably going to marry me since he rode his bike by our house every day. In the (late 60s and) early 70s, the San Fernando Valley was a pretty nice place for a little girl.

We all attended Camellia Avenue Grade School (several blocks away), which required us to cross treacherous Lankershim Boulevard. While I was in kindergarten through third grade, many of my classmates and I walked safely across Lankershim Boulevard because of a certain crossing guard.

We called him “Gentle Ben”, but “Gentleman Ben” would have been accurate as well. He was a tall, husky man with a nest of curly, snow-white hair atop a ruddy, clean-shaven face. I couldn’t wait to see him…every weekday…sunshine or rain. His unforgettable, toothy grin when I popped around the corner of Tastee-Freeze was brilliant. He held my hand firmly while we crossed Lankershim Boulevard. He’d cover my head if I forgot an umbrella. He asked me about school, my family, and friends. I asked him about his family, and he told me stories about his grown kids and beautiful grandchildren. Often, there were pictures of family holidays and events. Sometimes he’d show me his trinkets, other times he’d press a small candy or coin in my hand. He loved me and I loved him.

The Spring of ’73 meant the days were now becoming muggy and hot as summer was approaching. On the final morning of the third grade, I saw him watching for me as I walked down the block. But he looked melancholy and had a gift under his arm. We’ve said a “Summer Goodbye” before, but this day seemed different. He told me that this was his last year working as a crossing guard because he was fully retiring and that he would miss me very much. We both teared up as he handed me my gift and walked me across Lankershim Boulevard for the last time… tightly holding my hand. I remember he said that his wife had picked it out. I asked him to tell her thank you and we hugged. I looked back a few steps later to wave goodbye, but he had already turned away.

When I was closer to school, I stopped and sat on the curb. I carefully unwrapped the gift. It was a paper doll set with the fancier “plastic fashion outfits” that “stuck” on the “teen scene”. I loved it and played with it for many years.

They say you will always remember how someone made you feel, and, you know, it is his eyes that I remember so fondly. His light blue orbs were clear and full of love and kindness. He peered straight through to my heart every day and it seemed too that I could see myself in his eyes. With confidence I knew that he loved me very much and that I was always safe when he was nearby. Sometimes, even today, I wonder if he was my guardian angel.

My New Years Wish for each and all is that you see warm, kind, and loving eyes everywhere you go throughout 2023. At the store, in traffic, at work and school … just everywhere. Also, that your eyes are the messenger of love, hope, happiness, and kindness for others as well.

2023 – I can feel it – everything already rocks so hard – right?


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