When I was eight years old my family moved from Northern California to Los Angeles. While my dad started his new job we moved temporarily into a hotel on Wilshire Blvd. Coming from a fairly serene rural setting in the East Bay, the noise and hustle and bustle of downtown LA was a shock to my young system. I hated it!
Then one day we pulled up to our new home on Milan Avenue in South Pas.
To my eight year old eyes it was Heaven. I saw children my age traveling from one huge front lawn to another….running through sprinklers, playing tag, statue, hide and seek. I looked up in wonder at the palm trees, something that never grew in my old neighborhood in Concord. We entered the two story craftsman and to my delight I saw window seats, a telephone alcove, mahogany drawing doors and a massive dining room. I could already imagine Christmases spent there. Upstairs were four bedrooms with balconies and a bathroom with the biggest tub I had ever seen. It had feet! Off the kitchen was an extra room with a chain toilet and on further inspection I discovered the backyard with a trellis and trees…orange trees, lemon trees, grapefruit trees; trees to climb or sit under for shade.
I knew then, without a doubt, I was going to be happy in my new home.
Today, now in my sixties, I have traveled far and wide. I have lived all over the country and resided several years in Munich, Germany.
And yet every summer I come home to California and though I spent many years living in Manhattan Beach before our departure in 2001 to Europe, part of my sojourn home always includes a trip to South Pas.
Some question why I am always pulled back when, in actuality, I only spent seven years there. I ask myself the same question.
I guess it starts with the fact that I spent the happiest days of my childhood, 8-14 years old, in South Pasadena; from my years at Oneonta Elementary school to my three years at South Pasadena Junior High school. When I try to recall those years, I am overwhelmed by a sense of family, community, friendship and genteelness that I cannot recall feeling anywhere else in my life. I guess you could call it idyllic but we knew no other way.
Yes, perhaps it was the era of those things…mid-50’s to early 60’s… when life was just simpler and more defined. You went to work, you went to school and you knew what was expected of you.
Walking along Milan today I suddenly remember how the palm trees pushed up the sidewalks so that roller skating was made perilous and the skinned knees were the price you paid for the exhilaration of the journey. And I look up at the house and remember the time my very Southern grandmother visited from Kentucky and surprised us with a lemon pie using grapefruits she picked from our tree; she had heard how large the citrus was in California. The pie tasted awful! But we laughed and laughed!
Because I always return in summers those are the memories that flood my heart. The summers were always too warm, but if we got lucky, one of the moms would drive us to the Orange Grove plunge where we would get our basket for our belongings and our key that we would pin to our bathing suit. Fair Oaks Pharmacy for an ice cream or the free shows on Wednesdays at the Rialto theater was always a special treat; or just staying cool inside and waiting for the toot of the Helms Bakery truck horn where you could buy delectable pastries for 25 cents each; these things were always part of my summers.
I think towns can show us who we are by showing us who we were. When I revisit South Pas, I am grateful that so little has changed, that I can walk the streets and drive the Avenues and Boulevards and feel the roots of my beginnings. That I can still have the South Pas of my best childhood memories is such a gift.
So thank you current South Pasadenans, for taking care of her, preserving her like one of those glorious old Craftsman Style homes. Thank you for letting me come home again.
Dinah Barron-Hess is a proud South Pasadenan who spent years crossing the globe again and again as a flight attendant for a major airline. She loved the excitement and adventure of her work and even met her husband on one of her flights. They have been married for twenty-nine years and live with their daughter in Redondo Beach, CA. She is the author of “Fly By – A Life Aloft”.