Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Picture is Worth...

I just came across an old photograph of my Grandpa and Grandma Wilkins. They are standing on the side of their family home in Santa Ana, California – a house that was also my home from the end of seventh until the beginning of eleventh grade.  I’m really glad to have this picture for all of the memories that it triggers, and, of course, so that I am able to picture my grandparents themselves.  There is one realization, however, that is very disconcerting and that is that  my grandfather, whom I always considered  to be the epitome of an old man,  is actually almost five years younger in this picture than I am as I write this.  It does not help a whole lot, either, that Lora is exactly my grandmother age here. 

One thing that age does give you is perspective.  It seems  that  real life  is almost exactly the opposite of what famously happened in A Picture of Dorian Gray, where the man  was able to keep his young looks for ever, while his picture in the mirror continued to age.  When I look in the mirror and see my aging face with all of its wrinkles, I am always taken by surprise because in the mirror inside of my head  I am still not even half of my age. At least that is how it feels.  I imagine that my grandfather as he sat there also must have thought of himself as much younger than he looks in this picture.  While I don’t believe, as the old saw says, that with old age comes wisdom,  I do think it reveals to you just how much you didn’t realize when you were younger…and perhaps that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent, occurred just a couple of weeks ago. Having been raised in a household where the beginning of Lent meant the family saying the rosary together each night and visiting the church to follow the Stations of the Cross, the onset of Lent use to be a real time of reflection for me, and that reflection would often culminate in the writing of a poem.

In recent years, I have been so caught up in the day-to-day busy-ness of life that I often skim past the  beginning of Lent without it even registering  that we are into the Easter season.  Fortunately, Ed is much more attuned than I am.  Yesterday, he sent me a poem he had written that I think does a remarkable job of being on both an observation on the transmutation of language and a reflection on what the season means.


To lengthen

To unpack
The soul
Which is

So tightly

It remains

It’s perilous
To loose control

To have paradigms
Like tectonic plates

The Lenten journey
An opportunity
If embraced

To nourish
Gather light  
Permit oneself

To stretch

Like a shadow
In the late afternoon
Of a rescinding winter

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Flood

     Anyone who knew Mom and talked with her much new that eventually Mom would mention “the Flood.”  Even as recently as October the year that she died, when Dave  and I visited her at Chapman hospital, she was telling stories of the early days in Santa Ana and mentioned the flood. It has always been  hard for me to get a handle on just exactly where and when this flood took place other than it was when she was still a teenager living at home with her parents, so I knew it took place somewhere in the first decade after they moved to California. The main point of the story, though, was that in the flood, her family lost everything.
     Yesterday I was attending an event called Ancestry Day at the Philadelphia Convention Center.  As the conference was just about to wind up, the main speaker was telling an anecdote about her grandmother who claimed that she used to ride her horse in the river bed of the Los Angeles River, something that the speaker disbelieved because the Los Angeles River is now cement.  Upon researching, however, she found out that it was now cement because of the great flood of 1938 I Los Angeles.
     The mention of a huge flood in 1938 in Los Angeles immediately caught my attention.  I went home and tried to find out what  could about the flood.  By coincidence, I also discovered that one of the few public records that I have of my grandfather Victor Wilkins other than census data is a 1938 list of registered voters o f Orange County.  He is listed as living in the west Santa Ana district.
     At the time of the flood, Orange and Riverside counties were predominately agricultural area  inhabited mostly by farm families.  As a result, most of the news about the Los Angeles flood ignores them and focuses on Los Angeles.  What the accounts do say, though is that Orange County because it did not have an infrastructure like Los Angeles was much harder hit.  Beginning Feb. 27, 1938 nine inches of rain occurred in a period of twelve days.  The first deluge did a fair amount of damage, but the real jolt hit on March 3 when the banks of all of the rivers began to overflow flooding  everything.    Jefferson Ave., which is now Tustin Ave. and runs down the center of the city of Orange, basically became a funnel for water and took on the appearance of a river with four feet of water.   In Anaheim, alone, 19 people died and there are varying conflicts about the whole amount but they seems to range between 40 and 100.  Here is a link to a video of the little town of Olive, that is just about Orange.
The Anaheim paper of the time, the Anaheim Colony, reported that the National Guard had to be sent in because of looting going on.  Over 200 Hispanic people lost their homes and one small Japanese settlement was completely wiped out. 
     Although, no one can know exactly what the experiences was like for Mom and her family, this gives at least some idea of  what the situation was like.  It is amazing to me that, unlike many stories that our memories magnify, this was no exaggeration on Mom’s part. I remember her telling how their chickens all drowned, but little else.  I’m interested to know if anyone else in the family remembers Mom’s account of her experiences.  I did find out that the newspaper of Santa Ana at the time was called the Santa Ana Daily Evening Registered (which in 1939 became The Santa Ana Register that I delivered) but the archives for that year are all in local libraries that I do not have access to.  If anyone in the family feel the urge to see what they can find in them, it could be something interesting to add to our family history.