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however, we settled on a piece of land looking toward the mountains,
with orange trees on either hand, paid a part of the price, and supposed
it was ours for better or worse. Just then the war darkened and we felt
panicky, but heaven helped us, for there was a flaw in the title, and
our money came trotting back to us, wagging its tail. It was after this
that we stumbled on the arbored bungalow, and bought it in fifteen
minutes. I asked Mr. W - - if he liked bass fishing, and whether he'd
ever found one gamier to land than our family. He will probably let us
live quietly for a little while, and then he will undoubtedly tell us
that this place is too small for us. I know him!

In case of death or bankruptcy the situation is much more intense. Every
mouse hole has its alert whiskered watcher, and after a delay of a few
days for decency, such pressure is brought to bear that surviving
relatives rarely have the courage to stand pat. Probably a change of
surroundings _is_ good for them.

If people can't be induced to sell, often they will rent. There is an
eccentric old woman in town who owns a most lovely lot, beautifully
planted, that is the hope and snare of every real-estate man, but,
though poor, she will not part with it. She has a house, however, that
she rents in the season. One day some Eastern people were looking at it,
and timidly said that one bath-room seemed rather scant for so large a

"Oh, do you think so?" said Mrs. Riddle. "It is enough for us. Mr.
Riddle and I aren't what you'd call bathers. In fact, Mr. Riddle doesn't
bathe at all; I sponge!"

Real estate isn't the only interest of the West. We all read the
advertising page of the local paper just as eagerly as we do the foreign
news. If I feel at all lonely or bored I generally advertise for
something. Once I wanted a high-school boy to drive the motor three
afternoons a week. The paper was still moist from the press when my
applicants began to telephone. I took their names and gave them
appointments at ten-minute intervals all the following morning, only
plugging the telephone when J - - and I felt we must have some sleep. In
the morning, forgetting the little wad of paper we had placed in the
bell, I took down the receiver to call the market, when a tired voice
started as if I had pressed a button:

"I saw your 'ad' in the paper last night, etc." When they arrived they
ranged in age from sixteen to sixty. The latter was a retired clergyman,
the Rev. Mr. Bain, who said he drove for his wife, but (here he fitted
his finger-tips together, and worked them back and forth in a manner
that was a blend of jauntiness and cordiality) he thought he could fit
us both in!

I blush to state that I selected a younger chauffeur! Emboldened by the
success of my first advertising venture, I decided to try again. This
time I wished to sell our superfluous old furniture. The war has made me
dislike anything about the place that isn't really in use. Having lived
some years in Pennsylvania, and having amassed quite a collection of
antique mahogany furniture, I felt justified in thinning out a few
tables and odd pieces that our desirable bungalow is too small to hold.
The results weren't as pronounced as before, but they quite repaid me. I
sold my best table to a general, which gave me a lot of confidence, but
my greatest triumph was a hat-rack. It was a barren, gaunt-looking
affair, like a leafless tree in winter, but it was mahogany, and it was
old. Two ladies who were excitedly buying tables spied it, and exclaimed
in rapture. I rose to the occasion:

"That is the most unusual piece I have," I unblushingly gushed. "It is
solid mahogany and very old. I never saw another like it. Yes, I would
sell it for twenty-five dollars."

They both wanted it - I was almost afraid it might make feeling between
them, till I soothed the loser by selling her an old brass tea-kettle
that I had picked up in a curiosity shop in Oxford years ago. It was so
old that it had a hole in it, which seemed to clinch the matter. I sent
for the packer the moment they were out of the house, and had the things
boxed and away before they could change their minds. When I showed
J - - the money, he said I was wasting my time writing, that he was sure
I had a larger destiny.

Speaking of having furniture boxed carries me back to the time when we
lived in Pennsylvania and I bought many things of a pleasant old rascal
who just managed to keep out of jail. One time he showed me a lovely old
table of that ruddy glowing mahogany that adds so much to a room. I said
I would take it, but told him not to send it home till afternoon. I
wanted time to break it to J - - after a good luncheon. J - - was very
amiable and approving, and urged me to have it sent up, so I went down
to the shop to see about it. To my dismay I found it neatly crated and
just being loaded into a wagon. I called frantically to my rascally
friend, who tried to slip out of the back door unobserved, but in vain.
I fixed him with an accusing eye.

"What are you doing with my table?" I demanded.

"Did you really want it?" he queried.

"Of course I want it. Didn't I say I'd take it?" I was annoyed.

"Oh, well," to his men, "take it off, boys." "You see," turning to me,
"a man from Seattle was in after you left, and he said he'd take that
round table over there if I'd sell him this one too. I showed him
another one every bit as good as this, but he wouldn't look at it;
still, I guess I'll box it up in that crate with his round one, and when
it gets to Seattle I reckon he won't want to send it way back. It's a
long way to Seattle!"

"That's your business, not mine," I remarked coldly, though I felt an
unholy desire to laugh. "Just send mine home before any one else tempts

I still sleep in a Hepplewhite four-poster that he wheedled out of an
old Pennsylvania Dutch woman for a mere song. The posts at the head were
sawed off so that the bed could stand in a room with a sloping ceiling,
but, fortunately, the thrifty owner had saved the pieces instead of
using them for firewood, so I have had them neatly stuck on again.

I think perhaps a subconscious recollection of his methods was what made
me so successful with the hat-rack.

War work has brought out much latent ability of this kind. Lilies of the
field, who had never needed to toil or spin for themselves, were glad to
do so for the Red Cross. In Pasadena we had a small Spanish street
(inside a building), with tiny shops on either side, where you could buy
anything from an oil painting to a summer hat. In front was a gay little
plaza with vines and a fountain, where lunch and tea were served by the
prettiest girls in town in bewitching frilled caps with long black
streamers and sheer lawn aprons over blue and green frocks. The Tired
Business Men declined to lunch anywhere else, and there was a moment
when we feared it might have to be given up, as there was some feeling
in town on account of the vacant stools at their old-time counters! It
all went to prove that you don't need to be brought up in "trade" to be
a great success at it.

No one has stuck to his or her usual rôle in the past two years, which
has added a piquancy to life. We have all wanted to do our bit and the
"Why not?" that I feel so strongly in California has spread over the
whole country. In order to make the most efficient use of the newly
discovered talents on every side, the Red Cross sent out cards with
blanks to be filled by all those ready to work, asking what they felt
themselves fitted to do, when could they work, and how long. One card
read "willing but nervous, might possibly pray."

Our Red Cross Street brought in many people full of enthusiasm and
energy, who might never have rolled a bandage. I shan't soon forget the
strenuous days of its opening. J - - and another diplomat, who also has
a talent for pouring oil on troubled waters, were in charge of the
financial part of the enterprise, and theirs was the task of seeing that
none of the chapter funds were used, so that no possible criticism could
arise. A pretty young actress offered to give a première of a comedy
which she was about to take on the road, for the benefit of the street,
and every one was delighted until they saw a rehearsal. It was one of
those estranged-husband-one-cocktail-too-many farces, full of innuendo
and profanity. J - - and his partner were much upset, but it was too
late to withdraw. The company, in deference to the Red Cross, agreed to
leave out everything but the plain damns. Even then it wasn't what they
would have chosen, and two very depressed "angels" met in the hall of
the High School Auditorium, on the night of the performance. Nothing had
gone right. The tickets were late coming from the printer, the
advertising man had had tonsilitis, every one was "fed up" with Red
Cross entertainments, and it was pouring in torrents. There was a
sprinkling of gallant souls on the first floor of the big hall, and that
was all. The fact that they wouldn't make much money wasn't what was
agitating the "angels" nearly as much as the wrath of the pink-and-white
lady about to appear. Then came the inspiration. I wish I could say it
was J - - 's idea, but it was Mr. M - - 's. A night school of several
hundred is in session in that building every evening, and a cordial
invitation to see a play free brought the whole four hundred in a body
to fill the auditorium, if not completely, at least creditably. They
loved it and were loud in their applause. The "damns" didn't bother them
a bit. They encored the lady, which, combined with a mammoth bouquet,
provided by the "management," gave the whole thing quite a triumphant
air. When we all went behind the scenes after the play, the atmosphere
was really balmy. The lady expressed herself as greatly pleased and
gratified by so large and enthusiastic an audience. ("On such a bad
night, too!") I retired behind a bit of scenery and pinched myself
till I felt less hilarious. One thing I know, and that is that if
J - - should ever change his business it won't be to go into any
theatrical enterprise. I don't think even the "movies" could lure
him, and yet she was a very pretty actress!

It is a far cry from blonde stars to funerals, but J - - feels no change
of subject, however abrupt, is out of place when talking of his "first
night," so I would like to say a few words about that branch of
California business. In the first place, no one ever dies out here until
they are over eighty, unless they are run over or meet with some other
accident. J - - says that old ladies in the seventies, driving
electrics, are the worst menace to life that we have. When our
four-score years and ten have been lived - probably a few extra for good
measure - an end must come, but a California funeral is so different! A
Los Angeles paper advertises "Perfect Funerals at Trust Prices." We
often meet them bowling gayly along the boulevards, the motor hearse
maintaining a lively pace, which the mourners are expected to follow.
The nearest J - - ever came to an accident was suddenly meeting one on
the wrong side of the road, and the funeral chauffeur's language was not
any more scriptural than J - - 's. As we were nowhere near eighty, we
felt we had a lot of life still coming to us and gave grateful thanks
for our escape.

Life is a good thing. I maintain it in the face of pessimists, but it is
a particularly good thing in California, with its sunshine and its
possibilities. I shan't go on because I believe I have said something of
this same sort before. It makes you ready for the next thing, whatever
that may be, and you feel pretty sure that it will be interesting. It's
a kind of perpetual "night before Christmas" feeling. Some time ago when
I picked up my evening paper my eye fell on this advertisement:

"Wanted: A third partner in a well-established trading business in the
South Seas. Schooner now fitting out in San Francisco to visit the
Islands for cargo of copra, pearls, sandalwood, spices, etc. Woman of
forty or over would be considered for clerical side of enterprise, with
headquarters on one of the islands. This is a strictly business
proposition - no one with sentiment need apply."

When I read it first I couldn't believe it. I rubbed my eyes and read it
again. There it was next to the Belgian hares, the bargains in orange
groves and the rebuilt automobiles. It was fairly reeking with romance.
I felt like finding an understudy for my job at home, boarding the
schooner and sailing blithely out of the Golden Gate. The South Seas is
the next stop beyond Southern California. I think I could keep their old
books, though I never took any prizes in arithmetic at school. How
amusing it would be to enter in my ledger instead of "two dozen eggs"
and "three pounds of butter," "two dozen pearls at so much a dozen" (or
would they be entered by ounces?) and "fifty pounds of sandalwood," or
should I reckon that by cords? I could find out later. I would wear my
large tortoise-shell spectacles (possibly blinders in addition), and I
should attend strictly to business for a while, but when a full moon
rose over a South Sea lagoon, and the palm trees rustled and the
phosphorescence broke in silver on the bow of the pearl schooner, where
she rode at anchor in our little bay, could I keep my contract and avoid
sentiment? How ridiculous to suppose that stipulating that the lady
should be forty or over would make any difference! What is forty? If
they had said that she must be a cross-eyed spinster with a hare-lip, it
would have been more to the point. I'm not a spinster or cross-eyed, but
why go on? I don't intend to commit myself about the age limit. I don't
have to, because I am not going to apply for the position, after all. I
have a South Sea temperament but as it is securely yoked to a New
England upbringing, the trade wind will only blow the sails of my
imagination to that sandalwood port.



We saw a most amusing farce some time ago which contained much
interesting information concerning the worth of advertising. I forget
the fabulous figure at which "The Gold Dust Twins" trade-mark is valued,
but I know that it easily puts them into Charley Chaplin's class. I am
sure that "Sunkist" cannot be far behind the "Twins," for no single word
could possibly suggest a more luscious, delectable, and desirable fruit
than that. It would even take the curse off being a lemon to be a
"Sunkist" lemon. It contains no hint of the perilous early life of an
orange. Truly that life is more chancey than an aviator's. They say that
in the good old days there were no frosts, but that irrigation is
gradually changing the climate of Southern California. We would not dare
to express an opinion on this much discussed point, as we have never
gone to any new place where the climate has been able to stand the
shock. It is always an unusual season. I do know, however, that bringing
up a crop of oranges is as anxious an undertaking as "raising" a family.
Little black smudge pots stand in rows in the groves, ready to be
lighted at the first hint of frost. The admonition of the hymn applies
to fruit growers as well as to foolish virgins:

"See that your lamps are burning,
Your vessels filled with oil."

On sharp mornings the valleys are full of a gray haze still lingering
protectingly over the ranches. Then there are blights. I don't pretend
to know all the ills the orange is heir to. Sometimes it grows too fat
and juicy and cracks its skin, and sometimes it is attacked by scale.
Every tree has to be swathed in a voluminous sheet and fumigated once a
year at great expense. After living out here some time, I began to
understand why even in the heart of the orange country we sometimes pay
fifty cents a dozen for the large fruit. There is a way, however, of
getting around the high cost of living in this particular - you can go to
a packing house and buy for thirty-five cents an entire box of what are
called culls - oranges too large or too small for shipping, or with some
slight imperfection that would not stand transportation, but are as good
for most purposes as the "Sunkist" themselves.

In California, Orange Day is next in importance to Washington's Birthday
and the Fourth of July. I shall never forget our first experience of its
charms. We were motoring, taking a last jaunt in an old machine which we
had just sold for more than we ever had expected to get for it. It was a
reckless thing to do, for we had no spare tire and it is very like
speculating in oil stocks to start for a run of any length under those
circumstances. It worked out about as it would have done if we had been
trifling with the stock market. A rear tire blew out, and we were put
under the disagreeable necessity of giving our purchaser more nearly his
money's worth. This was a poor start for a holiday, but being near a
delightful inn, we crept slowly to town on our rim and found a fête
awaiting us. We also found friends from the East who asked us all to
lunch, thereby, as one member of the party put it in Pollyanna's true
spirit, much decreasing the price of the new tire. The inn is built in
Spanish style and we lunched in a courtyard full of gaudy parrots,
singing birds in wicker cages and singing señoritas as gay as the
parrots, on balconies above us. The entire menu was orange, or at least
colored orange. It was really charming, and our spirits rose to almost a
champagne pitch, though orange juice - diluted at that - was the only
beverage served. (I believe that there is a Raisin Day, also, but on
account of its horrid association with rice and bread puddings we have
let that slip by unnoticed.)

Our California color scheme is the very latest thing in decorative art.
There is nothing shrinking about us, for we come boldly forth in orange
and yellows in true cigar-ribbon style - even our motor licenses of last
year had poppies on them. Speaking of poppies, I heard the other day of
a lady who voiced her opinion in all seriousness in the paper, that Mr.
Hoover should have California poppy seeds sent to him for distribution
among the Belgians to sow over the ruins of their country. Of course
there is something in the power of suggestion, and I suppose it would
brighten up the landscape. Joedy is strong on the color idea. We had a
neighbor who had a terrible attack of jaundice, which turned her the
color of a daffodil. I was saying what a pity it was, then Joedy
observed: "Well, Muvs, I think she makes a nice bright spot of color!"

There is a road leading toward the San Fernando Valley, with fruit
stalls on both sides, very gay with oranges, grape-fruit, and lemons.
One particularly alluring stand is presided over by a colored mammy in
bandana shades, turban and all.

All this profusion makes one feel that it is no trick to get a living
out of this very impulsive soil, but before buying a plot of one's own,
it is wise to see the seasons through. California is a very unexpected
country. You see a snug little ranch, good soil, near a railroad, just
what you were looking for, but three months of the year it may be under
water. After the spring rains we once went for a change of air to one of
the beaches, which we particularly disliked, because it was the only
place that we could get to, bridges being out in all directions. For the
same reason it was so packed with other visitors, maybe as unwilling as
we, that we had a choice of sleeping in the park or taking a small
apartment belonging to a Papa and Mama Dane. It was full of green plush
and calla lilies, but we chose it in preference to the green grass and
calla lilies of the park. We passed an uneasy and foggy week there. I
slept in a bed which disappeared into a bureau and J - - on a lounge
that curled up like a jelly roll by day. Mama Dane gave us breakfast in
the family sitting-room where a placard hung, saying, "God hears all
that you say." J - - and I took no chances, and ate in silence. Anyway,
the eggs were fresh. We explored the country as well as we could in the
fog, and found quite a large part of it well under water. On one ranch
we met a morose gentleman in hip boots, wading about his property, which
looked like a pretty lake with an R. F. D. box sticking up here and
there like a float on a fishing line, while a gay party of boys and
girls were rowing through an avenue of pepper trees in an old boat. The
gentleman in the hip boots had bought his place in summer! J - - and I
decided then and there that if we ever bought any property in
California, it would be in the midst of the spring rains, but we know
now that even that wouldn't be safe - another element has to be reckoned
with besides water - fire.

Of course Rain in California is spelled with a capital R. Noah spelled
it that way, but we didn't before we came West. It swells the streams,
which in summer are nothing but trickles, to rushing torrents in no
time. Bridges snap like twigs, dams burst, telegraph lines collapse;
rivers even change their courses entirely, if they feel like it, so that
it would really be a good idea to build extra bridges wherever it seemed
that a temperamental river might decide to go. I have heard of a farmer
who wrote to one of the railroads, saying, "Will you please come and
take your bridge away from my bean-field? I want to begin ploughing."

This adds natural hazards to the real-estate game. There are
others - Fire, as I said a moment ago. I have a very profound respect for
the elements since we have come West to live. A forest fire is even more
terrifying than a flood, and in spite of the eagle eyes of the foresters
many are the lovely green slopes burned over each year. I have seen a
brush fire marching over a hill across the canyon from us, like an army
with banners - flying our colors of orange and yellow - driving terrified
rabbits and snakes ahead of it, and fought with the fervor of Crusaders
by the property owners in its path.

The very impulsiveness of the climate seems to give the most wonderful
results in the way of vegetables and fruit. Around Pasadena there are
acres and acres of truck gardens, developed with Japanese efficiency. I
love al fresco marketing. If I can find time once a week to motor up the
valley and fill the machine with beautiful, crisp, fresh green things of
all kinds, it makes housekeeping a pleasure. The little Japanese women
are so smiling and pleasant, with their "Good-by, come gen," the melons
are so luscious, the eternal strawberry so ripe and red, the orange
blossom honey so delectable, and everything is so cheap compared to what
we had been used to in the East! I think that in San Diego one can live
better on a small income than anywhere in the country. Once some
intimate friends of ours gave us a dinner there in January that could
not have been surpassed in New York. The menu included all the
delicacies in season and out of season, fresh mushrooms, alligator pears
and pheasants. J - - and I looked at one another in mingled enjoyment
and dismay that so much was being done for us. Finally our host could
not help telling us how much for each person this wonderful meal was
costing, including some very fetching drinks called "pink skirts." You
wouldn't believe me if I told how little!

One more delicacy of which we make rather a specialty: I should call it
a climate sandwich. If you live in the invigorating air of the
foothills, to motor to the sea, a run of some thirty miles from where we
live in winter, spend several hours on the sand, and before dark turn
"Home to Our Mountains" gives a mountain air sandwich with sea-breeze
filling - a singularly refreshing and satisfying dainty.

Perhaps my enthusiasm for California sounds a little like cupboard love.
There is a certain type of magazine which publishes the most alluring
pictures of food, salads and desserts, even a table with the implements
laid out ready for canning peaches, that holds a fatal fascination for
me. I have even noticed J - - looking at one with interest. When my
father comes out to visit us every spring, the truck gardens, the
packing houses, and the cost of living here, I think, affect him in much
the same way that those magazines do me, and I wonder if every one,
except a dyspeptic, doesn't secretly like to hear and see these very
things! Could it be the reason people used to paint so much still
life? - baskets of fruit, a hunter's game-bag, a divided melon, etc. I
frankly own that they would thrill me more if I knew their market price,
so that I might be imagining what delightful meals I could offer my
family without straining the household purse, which is my excuse for the

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Online LibraryJulia M. SloaneThe Smiling Hill-Top And Other California Sketches → online text (page 6 of 7)