El Cerrito California

El Cerrito California
The El Cerrito Methodist Church

In June, 1962, Bishop Donald Harvey Tippett appointed Poppa to serve the El Cerrito California Community Methodist Church. We left Colusa and moved to the Bay Area. As I mentioned in last Sunday’s blog, the temperature inside our Colusa house reached 104, even with the air conditioner working overtime. Of course the doors were open for the movers. When we reached El Cerrito, we froze.

El Cerrito, California may not be the coldest city in the state, but I remind you of Mark Twain’s comment. Snopes.com tells us that Twain most likely did not say “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” The fact remains that El Cerrito lies directly opposite the Golden Gate, and nothing stands in the way of the winds and fog that blow through that channel. They cross the bay, run into the Berkeley Hills and settle over El Cerrito.

556 Norvell Street, El Cerrito, California
Photo by Kathy Gregovich

Cold Temperatures and Fog

I will never forget the day one of Poppa’s parishioners visited us in the church parsonage at 556 Norvell Street, and commented on the temperature inside the house. “I thought we had the furnace checked out. Why is it so cold?” Poppa answered, “It’s July. Why would we turn the furnace on?” The man responded “Here in the Bay Area, we never turn our furnaces off.” Poppa turned the furnace on.

But not just the cold bothered us. We had never lived around constant fog (and in 1962, smog). Momma was afraid to do the laundry. She didn’t have a dryer and hung clothes in the back yard to dry. But that sky foretold rain, at least it did everywhere else we ever lived. Poppa was afraid to mow the lawn for the same reason. And we certainly didn’t need to water the lawn and outside plants. Not if it would start raining in the next fifteen minutes. As the lawn turned brown and the rain never fell, we learned to live with fog.

Portola Junior High

When the new school term began, I entered eighth grade at Portola Junior High School. Portola had a large physical plant and an even larger school yard. Situated in the Berkeley Hills, the school building lay on a steep slope, with the school itself at the top. I remember stairways that went down, and down, and down before you ever reached the athletic fields. In addition, I remember the school building with three stories. It seemed as if we were always climbing or descending stairs.

Mrs. O’Hara taught science classes at Portola. She also taught the two top-level 8th grade English classes, one of which was mine. She planned a field trip for her English classes. We would see a play performed by the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. I had never lived in an urban setting. I believed that we were going to see Shakespeare’s famous Twelfth Night in the City. What? You say that “in the City” isn’t part of the title? But Mrs. O’Hara always said “Twelfth Night in the City.” I came to understand that Bay Area folk always referred to San Francisco as “the City.

More Eighth Grade Theatre

Mrs. O’Hara collected our writing assignments and put together a book, a collaboration by the fifty or so students in her two classes. I recently found my copy and using designrr software, I made it into a e-book for anyone interested in how eighth graders at Portola wrote. O’Hara also held a competition, pitting her two classes against each other. I don’t remember how we competed, but I shall never forget the prize. The winning class got to be the actors, the losing the stage hands.

My class won, and in the Spring of 1963, we produced a full-scale version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Portola Auditorium. As our class won, we were the actors. I wanted to play Demetrius or maybe Lysander, the romantic male leads in the play. But no. Mrs. O’Hara saw me better than I saw myself. With Andrea Chin playing Puck, I took center stage as Oberon–King of the Fairies. I like to think that Andrea and I stole the show. But I have to admit, I do not remember who played Titania, or even Bottom, for that matter.

The Impact of Outside Events

The two most profound experiences of my young life took place while at Portola. The most frightening event (up to recent times), for me at least, was the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was the first time I had ever seen adults frightened. School came to a halt. Every classroom had a radio, and we spent all day listening, waiting for the end of the world. It was only years later, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, that we learned the Russians (Soviets) were responding to an act of agression already perpetrated by the United States. We put missiles directly on the Soviet border in Turkish soil. The Soviets were trying to retaliate by putting missiles 90 miles away in Cuba.

It was also at Portola that one day in November, while eating lunch in the school cafeteria, our Principal announced that President Kennedy was dead. They say you never forget where you were at significant moments. Well, I was eating lunch. The school closed, and we all went home where we remained for three days until after the President’s funeral.

“The City”

Sixteen miles away by Interstate 80 and the Bay Bridge, San Francisco was a magnet for my youth. (It still is today.) My favorite city became a playground for this thirteen year old boy. My best friend Roy and I would jump on an AC Transit bus, cross the Bay, and alight at the Trans-Bay Terminal. From there we would walk Market Street, ride the cable cars, and frankly have the time of our lives. (Well, I can only speak for myself. Brother Seraphim, as Roy is now known, will have to tell his own story of our adventures.) We saw the movie musical Oliver on one of our San Francisco forays. We did our Christmas shopping in San Francisco.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to revisit the City. I served on the Board of Wesley House, United Methodist Campus Ministries, at the University of Montana. We were planning a Spring Break trip to San Francisco so that our students could work with the homeless through the Glide Foundation. While meeting with one of Gilde’s officers, I suggested that the experience of my youth would not be adviseable in the 1990s. I told of walking the San Francisco streets unaccompanied by an adult when I was thirteen. To my surprise, the woman agreed with me. “You are absolutely right to be concerned. But probably for the wrong reasons. The biggest threat to our children today comes from other children.”

One Teenager’s Social Life

I don’t recall any “social life” in Junior High. I had a few close friends, especially Roy, but outside of church activities, nothing else occurs to me. Early on in our five years at El Cerrito, Kathy Gregovich invited me to cross the street for a party at her place. In Colusa, I had attended many parties, both house parties and country-club parties for pre-teens. I crossed the street and enjoyed Kathy’s mother’s hospitality. I have no idea why, but that was the ONLY non-church teen-age function to which I received an invitation while in El Cerrito, California. Over fifty years later I still feel the pain of that isolation.

Photo of the Day

The El Cerrito Methodist Church
The El Cerrito Methodist Church
Photo by Kathy Gregovich

As I mentioned above, I have no personal photos taken in El Cerrito, California. I appealed to my High School classmates through Facebook, and several offered images. This photo, which also appears at the head of the page, was taken by Kathy Gregovich who lived kitty-corner across the Norvell/Lincoln intersection from us when we were in Junior High. What you can’t see in this photo are all the power lines that clutter the sky around the chuch. What you can see is the exceptionally clear sky thanks to no traffic during these days of stay-at-home confinement.

On the photo of the day page, I have added two additional photographs. First is the church Poppa’s family belonged to for generations. When my grandparents and great-grandparents were alive, the church was known as the Ripley (West Virginia) Church of the United Brethren. Today it is Calvary United Methodist Church. I also included a photo of the Rose Window at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (Episcopal) in Spokane, Washington. You can also see all three photos on today’s Home page (but just today–tomorrow the pictures will change).

Classic Car of the Day

While we lived in El Cerrito, California, Poppa had the chance to buy a car very much like this one, although I doubt it wore a vermillion coat. The local mortuary replaced their fleet of family cars every year. After all, who wants to ride to the cemetery in a year-old car? Rather than trade last year’s model for a new Caddy, they were willing to sell it to Poppa for a ridiculously low price. Poppa figured what could be better. The car was barely broken in, just a year old, and priced to steal. The Powers-That-Be told Poppa that Methodist ministers did not drive Cadillacs! Poppa bought a Mercury Monterey instead.

Flower of the Day

Easter Lilies Growing in the Field
The Lilies of the Field

It’s Easter. What flower did you think I would post? The thing is, “Easter” lilies normally bloom in July. They have to be hot-house forced to bloom in April. I know this because Smith River, where my parents moved in 1972 and where they spent the rest of their lives, is the Easter Lily Capital of the World. Just ask the people of Smith River. Over 80% of Easter Lilies sold in the U.S. are grown in and around Smith River. This is a photo I took for my photography class when I was in Grad School. I had to load the film canister, take the photo, unload the canister, process the film, develop and print the photo. Next, I had to mount the finished photo on presentation board and turn it in as part of my portfolio. I got an A in the class.

Guest Site of the Day

Man of Many is an online Australian magazine that somehow appears in my inbox every day. It’s magic! Yesterday I found this tidbit to share with you. How to Host an Augmented Reality Easter Egg Hunt. I have to admit, that prior to reading this article, the only thing I knew about Aumented Reality was that it was a way for you to use your cell phone and see how my photography would look above your couch. I had no idea you could use it to gather your friends together, in a socially distant, virtual way, and send your kids out to find easter eggs. Or as, the article suggests, forget the kids, make some cocktails, and play a drinking game with your friends–virtually of course.

Recipe of the Day

Legends abound concerning Hot Cross Buns. No less an authority than the Smithsonian Magazine has published an article about just that. How much is myth, how much legend, how much magical thinking, I leave to you. The most commonly “known” history traces the baked delight to a 12th Century Irish monk, although Smithsonian does admit that a version of the bread was known in ancient Greece. Another story is that if you hang a Hot Cross Bun from your kitchen rafters, like the body of Christ, it will not decompose and will still be good to eat a year later. Not gonna do that in my kitchen.

Supposedly Queen Elizabeth the First decreed in 1592 that they could be sold only on Good Friday, Christmas and for burials. Folk who baked their own at home risked having their bread confiscated and given to paupers. Another legend is that they repel evil spirits and prevent kitchen fires, again when hung from the kitchen rafters. I say believe what you will, but if you want to bake your own, here’s a good recipe to use for Hot Cross Buns. One a penny, Two a penny, Hot Cross Buns.

Video of the Day

We used to joke about Easter and Christmas Christians, those folk who went to church twice a year, whether they needed to or not. With all the stay-at-home orders around the country, indeed around the world, even those folk are not going to church today. I struggled with what to choose for today’s video. This is not a political site, and I try to keep overt religious statements to a minimum, but it is Easter. In the end, while I liked watching the boys and men of the Kings College Cambridge Choir, the lighting was terrible in their videos. Instead we visit the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to hear their handbell choir, vocal choir and orchestra perform Christ the Lord is Risen Today!

Some will say that I’m violating both my stands against politics and religion for this church has certainly been in the forefront of the movement to put religion, specifically fundamental Christianity, in positions of power in the U.S. And the church has also had its share of controversy, drama even, since the death of the church’s founder D. James Kennedy. For today, I’m willing to put all that aside and share this Easter performance.

The Mass is Ended…

Tomorrow we shall take a road trip around Tacoma and Pierce County, Washington. Grab some Almond Roca and come along for the ride. And next Sunday, we’ll visit my high school years in El Cerrito.