"Santa Ana Winds”
by Paul Saevig, '67
When her family got home from church, everybody scattered to change clothes. Mom took off her stockings and suit to put on a green and gold Waltah Clark bandeau and shorts suit with a pineapple and palm tree pattern. Dad changed into a bright red cotton short sleeved sport shirt, khaki pants and deck shoes with tan and orange clock argyle socks. Sister tore off her suit like a “Beat The Clock” contestant to run out in a white blouse and beige Bermuda shorts, starting her new MG for a “jackrabbit” start, the kind Dad warned her not to make. She was on the way to Mary Sue’s house up by the golf course. Little brother pulled on jeans and a T-shirt, grabbed his Ernie Banks mitt and pedaled his bike to the Over The Line game at Sunny Hills High School.
Shirley, though, gave the matter some thought. There was a feeling in the air, and in seven months she’d graduate from Wilshire. Even at home, boys might stop by at any time, making any excuse. Mom flirted with them outrageously, pinched their cheeks — it could be embarrassing. Shirley would never be that good looking or sexy, even though Mom said, “You just wait and see, kiddo!”
Shirley hung up her suit with space between the other clothes, selected a blue blouse to bring out her eyes, and off-white capris with sandals. Her TEEN magazine came in the mail and had an interview with Tab Hunter she was eager to read out by the pool. She left it on the patio table and went back inside for her sunglasses.
Church had been kind of boring, with not as many families there as usual, maybe because three families from Pasadena originally had a weekend party at Crystal Cove. Four other families were on Balboa Island. Horace Taughten’s mother had a stroke in Long Beach and the whole family was visiting. Milton Cranmer came home stinking of whiskey at 3 AM and pushed Doris down on the kitchen floor, so she took the kids to stay with her parents in Whittier, Mom told Dad, and might file for divorce this time because she’s good and sick of this business.
Nottie Creighton had such a bad sunburn from sailing people actually started to laugh when they first saw her, and she had to leave during the collection because she was so uncomfortable, and Alvin took her home but left Teddy, Mark, Jess and Sandy. Poor thing, Mom said. A redhead like Nottie just shouldn’t be out in the sun, Dad said. They’d known her since Burbank High, SC and Gamma Phi Beta. Mom ordered a prime rib dinner to be sent over from Dal Rae and Waynard Lowe walked over to look at her burns. She’d be OK if she rested and no more Goddamn sailing in her bathing suit on sunny days.
Bud Langhorne was pale as chalk in his blue serge suit and poor Betty was way too thin in her tan bolero outfit with carmine piping after coming home Thursday from Brea Neuropsychiatric for depression, and shock treatment. Mom had taken her some Forget-Me-Nots and Almond Roca, and said Betty was shaky. Sister explained to Shirley that Nottie and Bud’s twin daughters died in their crib at three months. It was nobody’s fault. Betty was seeing Dr. Griffith the psychiatrist. Waynard said he was a good man. Mom even had tears in her eyes, and had said, “Betty was the prettiest Tri-Delt, and smart as a whip!” Bud was so lonely it was just pitiful, with Jeanne at Stanford and Carl playing tennis at SC. The twins had been love babies.
It made Shirley think. Betty had been Brother’s Den Mother and taught Sunday school. She made delicious Divinity Candy at Christmas, and Jambalaya at barbecues. She even spoke fluent French. Shirley tried to think of some way to help.
When church let out, people stopped outside to chat a little more. It would be a hot day, maybe 85. Suddenly there was a roar and that rascally teenager Sammy Normand streaked south on North Euclid in his brand new fire engine red Porsche coupe, with his arm out the window to give The Finger. Adults frowned and shook their heads. A few snickered, and teenagers strained not to laugh.
The crowd broke up.
Back at home, Mom made Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches with potato chips, dill pickles and lemonade for lunch. Dad sat down with them in the breakfast nook and sipped his Carling Black Label. From the way he looked at Mom, and how she looked back, Shirley knew they’d probably “make whoopee” before long. Sister had explained what signs to look for, like the way Dad’s eyes crinkled when he smiled, and the special way Mom giggled.
The Slatterys and the Innocenzos were coming over around 4. Dom Innocenzo was an engineer at Hughes and usually brought one of his telescopes so they could all see the moon close up, which Shirley loved. Mom said Ernie Slattery was “a handsome dog” and looked kind of like Tyrone Power. He was a dentist with an office on North Harbor. Joyce Slattery was a great-great niece of Henry Huntington and Mom said her family was “loaded”, but she wasn’t stuck up at all. Shirley made out with Steve Slattery for a while at Linda Hooper’s party on Crestview last summer but he had wandering hands Shirley had to keep pushing away. He was nice, though.
Mom brought up the subject of finding a larger house up by the lake, now that Dad was the senior Vice President of Finance. He said, yeah, they could start looking tomorrow, and his eyes crinkled when he smiled.
“Done with your chips?” He asked Shirley, and when she nodded, he gobbled them and washed them down with Carling’s Black Label.
Mom got a funny look, cocked her head, and said, “Hear that siren?”
They listened and said yeah. It was coming from Euclid.
When the shutters rattled in the kitchen window, Mom got up to close it. Dogs were barking up and down the street.
“Santa Ana winds coming up,” Dad said.
Shirley remembered her TEEN magazine on the patio, and the Tab Hunter interview. When she went to look out the living room window, the pages sailed in the wind and gusts carried them out of sight.
Dad asked Mom where sister went and seemed relieved when she told him. Now the wind howled.
He walked outside and talked to Herb Schoenhauer the pharmacist next door.
“It’s the Normand boy. He was coming up Euclid at maybe 70 miles per hour in that little Porsche. Slammed into a pepper tree in front of the Crawford house at Valencia Mesa. Spun around, slammed against the street sign by the Wilson house. Threw him all the way to the Duncanson house. Some of the West kids saw the whole thing. Bent that Porsche in half. Blood all over.”
Shirley felt sick to her stomach. The Normands were wild, but everybody liked them. She knew all the kids, and Sassy in her own class.
Mom herded everybody inside and nobody knew what to say.
“It was bound to happen to that boy. I coached him two years in Little League. Red hot third baseman.”
“Sweet kid,” Mom added. "He told me once, ‘My dad said you were built like a brick shit-house, ma'am!’”
“Mom!” Shirley protested. But she wanted to cry.
They all tried to watch the Rams game at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. The 49ers were ahead 21-6 with the fog rolling in.
After fifteen minutes, Brother walked in with a long face and popped the top off a Delaware Punch in the kitchen.
“There was an accident,” he said in a flat voice.
“Hell yes there was an accident, son. Do you have any news?”
“Well, yeah,” the boy said, and took a long swig of pop. “I was over at the Lowe’s. Dr. Lowe said Sammy Normand suffered a fractured skull, a broken shoulder, a broken collar bone, a punctured lung, and cuts on his face and arms. He lost a lot of blood. Just as I was leaving, he said Sammy regained consciousness. He’s pretty woozy, but expected to make a full recovery.”
“They’re tough Okies in that family,” Dad said.
“Guy, Dad!” Shirley said to protest.
“Honey, help me. We have a meat loaf for the Normands, and a berry pie, and some milk. A family always needs milk.”
“I’ll back the car out,” Dad said.
Pepper seeds danced in the wind on Valencia Mesa. The Slatterys and Innocents would be here around 4. The neighborhood dogs calmed down, city workers swept up the broken glass and shredded chrome of the wrecked Porsche. For once it was too windy to pitch horseshoes and as evening fell over the hills and canyons, no weather for Kick The Can, either.
The pool water at Jimmy Smith’s lapped and splashed on the deck, and the Barn was dark, empty and still.
One and two at a time, family members visited Sammy Normand, who grinned through his pain. Up and down local streets, folks held Old Fashioneds to their lips, told naughty jokes and roared as triumphant as lions. It was November 1963, the President was a damned Democrat, but the economy was surging and 6,000 new residents came to live in California every day!