All those years I knew exactly where we were that particular day, and the reason we were there. We were at Point Loma in San Diego, and it was a day of a total solar eclipse. The total eclipse would not be visible in San Juan Capistrano, and it was Aunt Mae who would gather her “troops” so we could travel to see the entire happening, firsthand — you may already know how she loved to travel around to see everything — from the Ramona Pageant to the Salinas Rodeo, to the National Orange Show, to the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1939, etc., etc. When we six traveled together, Viv sat between Mom and Dad in the back seat, and I sat in the front seat between Aunt Mae and Titán. Hundreds of other people had the same idea about going to witness the eclipse. Cars were parked side by side facing to the south. You know, eclipses are quite eerie when the world around you slowly and inexorably turns dark in the middle of the day, and indeed that is probably the reason I could always look at the photo and remember what it was all about. I may have been compromised by all this strange phenomenon.
There was excitement in the air before the eclipse, and the kids were having fun milling around up and down the long row of autos — everyone was anxiously awaiting the event. It was a big deal.
Since this was only a day’s jaunt, we would have the usual picnic fare. The meñu rarely varied. Aunt Mae would make the sandwiches, and I was always glad she did because she slathered tons of butter on white sandwich bread and plenty of sliced ham. No Best Foods Mayonnaise — there was no room left with all the butter and ham. Then there would be potato salad which Mom would make since she didn’t think Mae’s held a candle to hers. This was an on-going contest, of sorts, about the salad. It truly was, and when Aunt Mae would make her potato salad, she would rave on and on how great hers was.
Aunt Mae was always in hurry so ingredients were not chopped too neatly —onions and celery in huge chunks — just like the butter. Before we ate, the handsome leather beverage case would come out so the folks could have a libation before the meal. Items in the case: everything for a cocktail drink. There were two quite classy cut glass bottles holding the liquor, a sterling silver shot measurer —but who measured? — and sterling silver metal glasses that would very conveniently collapse flat for storing in the case. There was also a silver shaker in case someone felt like a manhattan. (The reason I know so much about this case is the fact that I ended up with it, and used it for years until it went missing and ended up in my Cold Case File.) The liquor was whiskey for the folks, and they had ginger ale or soda for the mix. The minors, ages 4 and 5, were served their choice of ginger ale or cream soda which was very popular in those olden days. Now that would be a very nice picnic lunch for this day and age, except I would make a change: forget the whiskey and replace with some expensive Tequila, along with a few limes and some salt to rim the glass. That’s what I’d call a very nice picnic lunch. Life would be good.
I have to get back to the photograph. I had no idea about the year of this event, and I didn’t have a computer until I was 81 years old. After a few years when I heard about Google I tried to find out when there were any total eclipses in the San Diego area during the early 1920’s. I didn’t have any success, and later when I would think about it, I would go back to Google again with still no success. I’ll never know what I was doing wrong.
Then in October of 2009, my friend Diane called me and said the two of us should go join up with this Women’s Writing Workshop in Palm Desert that she had been reading about in the newspaper because we both have so many tales to tell. I mulled it over, and before you could say “pen and paper,” there we were enjoying our classes with the Coach, Tammy Coia, and I was loving the 10-minute drills she would have us do. Of course, we couldn’t just sit there and do 10-minute drills forever, Tammy came up with assignments, so I made a few choices for stories I wanted to write.
One that I chose to write about was how Aunt Mae was always wanting to go places with great things to see, and it would become an annual event year after year. We went to see The Ramona Pageant the very first year it was produced in 1923. It is staged every year for 3 week ends only, the last 2 week ends in April and the first weekend in May.
In the Writers Workshop, those lovely ladies gave me some advice — now that’s a switch, someone giving me advice — about going to Google in case I needed to do some research about the Pageant. I took their advice and “googled,” and what I found was so astounding that it had my old mind just boggling away— even to this day. In the research, I learned that the year was 1923 and all along I had thought it was 1926, then it mentioned the Pageant Master, Garnet Holme, author and original director of the Ramona Pageant, so I researched Mr. Holme to find he loved to do outdoor shows up and down California. One was the Desert Play at Palm Springs in 1921, then one that caught my eye was an historical play that was one he produced at the Mission San Juan Capistrano where I had been baptized ‘way back in 1918. Then what REALLY caught my eye was the information saying that Garnet Holme was also “VERY INVENTIVE: IN 1923 HE PRODUCED A SHOW IN CORONADO, CAREFULLY TIMED TO MAKE USE OF A SOLAR ECLIPSE.”
Well, there it was in print ON GOOGLE!!! And there I was, ecstatically happy to have the mystery solved and to be able to finally close “The Case of the Haunting Photograph,” and move on. However, I did conjure up a scene of what might have been. If Aunt Mae had been aware of the show in Coronado, that’s exactly where we would have been — in Coronado, not across the bay in Point Loma — and sadly there would not have been the photograph that I have cherished all these years. Oh well, there would have been another one — but not like THAT ONE.
My tale is not complete because I only know the year is 1923, but not the month and day, so back to Google just now on August 2, 2011. It took more time than I thought it would, and I even learned more about eclipses than I will ever use again in a lifetime — it may have cluttered my brain a bit. The date of my eclipse was September 10, 1923.
I am now rummaging around in one of the corners of my brain thinking about opening up my Cold Case files again and dig out “The Case of the Missing Liquor Case.” Who knows? Maybe I could solve it, but it would probably be without the help of Google.
August 3, 2011 Melitas Forster