What’s more fun than a pajama party with your girlfriends at 15? I’ll tell you, a pajama party in your 80’s!!
This is how it happened! My husband went to visit his daughter for a few days, so I invited two of my oldest, dearest friends up to spend the night! (Ok, disclaimer, they are not as old as me.) What fun! First, I took them to the drugstore for some lunch (always a must), with a little shopping and browsing in and around the upper village. Then, my friend, Bobbie bought us tickets to the absolutely stunning Lotus Land for the afternoon tour (which I haven’t been to in years) and afterwards we came back, talked and watched the news (OMG, What is happening in our world?) then Lynne took us out to dinner to the new, vegan restaurant, in town, named Oliver’s in Montecito, where we sat on the beautifully lit patio. As soon as we arrived home we put on our jammies and that’s how we stayed until 1:00 the next day. Talking, talking, talking. Did we run out of things to say? No! Did we get tired of each other? Not a bit! We talked about some of our beloved friends, we have lost but maybe will find again at some point in time. We talked about growing older, our childhood, our young dates (of course, we knew them all), our parents, our kids and grandchildren, our husbands, dead and alive, and the world situation.
As a matter of fact we talked about everything, but the tea in China, as my mother used to say. Did we have enough time? No. We would have still been talking but we felt we needed a little exercise and so we finally left to walk to, you guessed it, lunch! We had lunch, at the Honor Bar, a little browsing on Coast Village Road and walked back to my home. They left that afternoon at about 3:00. It wasn’t enough!
New friends are exciting and interesting, but
old friends fit like a pair of comfortable shoes!
We have no secrets from each other. Whatever we say or feel is understood. It takes a long time to build that trust. I loved that PJ party and plan to do it more often, I don’t know about you, but as I grow older, I need to talk about how it feels to age and hear how other people are experiencing it, what they are feeling and thinking. It was cathartic for all of us! We decided a few things. As we grow older, we need good health! (the most important) also what good health looks like, changes over the years and we have to learn to accept that. We need good friends we can trust who accept us for who we are.
We need curiosity about everything that is happening around us and the desire to seek it out.
We need exercise to keep our limbs moving and our heart working and very importantly, we need a purpose in life. We need a way to feel, necessary and helpful, whether it be for our children, grandchildren or total strangers. Sleepovers are recommended for everyone! It brought us back to our youth, in a good way. There were a few tears, I think, but only when we talked about lyrics to songs and how, now, we really understood them.
The great thing about being older is that you have nothing to hide, nor do you need to keep to any kind of a schedule.
“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
― Gabriel García Márquez
BTW, Those of you who are thinking of coming to Montecito and are a little nervous how it might look, you would never know anything has happened on the main streets. The restaurants and stores are all open and it’s business as usual. The weather is gorgeous and Montecito is waiting with open arms.
By luck, a friend told me about a new store that opened up (not that kind of store) in our Montecito Country Mart. It is for people who have lost everything in the fire, flood, and mudslides. They come from; Ojai, Ventura, Santa Paula, and Montecito. These people who have lost everything; memories, clothes, shoes, pajamas, come to the Recovery Free Store, conceived by an amazing woman named Berna Keiler. They come and they not only get clothes for the entire family but warm soup, cookies, music, loving volunteers (Berna’s girls) and a sympathetic ear. Berna has that look in her eye that she can accomplish everything, BTW, she is right. She can.
Berna, was born in St Louis, Missouri, grew up in Portland, Oregon, and went to the University of Portland. Growing up she was always thinking up ideas of how to work and make money. She and her brother collected wild flowers and made bouquets and sold them. Then they created a talent show for the neighborhood and sold tickets, even charging their parents. Her father, an entrepreneur and mother, an artist, were always very supportive of Berna and made her think she could do anything. She worked all through college in fashion boutiques and was always drawn to merchandising. Her first husband, Soren Kieler, was her mentor and they are still great friends today. She eventually discovered Montecito and said to herself, “Someday, I’m going to live there.” She was right. She has been a long time resident of Montecito, now, and loves her community. This is someone who puts her money where her mouth is, but more about that later.
Berna has always loved business and is an astute business woman. She was and still is Executive V.P. of Chainson Footwear and owner of Berna Kieler Assoc. Consulting. If you put her love of the community together with her business acumen you come up with the Recovery Free Store which Berna conceived, created and followed all the way through.
Once the fire, rain, and mudslides were through. Berna thought to herself, these people are going to need clothes. She was right. She started giving her neighbors and friends clothes away out of her house. That worked for a while until it got so big, she knew she needed a space.
She approached James Rosenfield, the owner of Montecito Country Mart, an unheard-of idea and guess what? He gave her a perfect space in his mart for a month. It is the warmest, homiest, place you can ever imagine. Montecitans, and Santa Barbarians have come by the droves to volunteer. They bring their clothes, they sort through everything to men’s, women’s, children’s, blouses, shirts, shorts, suits, socks. Whatever one might need. You name it, it’s there. It is all arranged beautifully by Berna’s girls and it looks like any high-end store one might enter into.
Don’t expect Berna to stop there. She has many plans in her head as to how to help more. She would like another little space for small household items; like blenders, toasters, etc. She wants to work with all the recovery stations available in Montecito and keep going from there. I have a feeling she has just gotten started!
She is happily married to Davis Debin and has a multitude of children and grandchildren. She has a son 42, with two children, a daughter, 47, who has 3 children, a step-son, Mark, 48, and a daughter of her heart, Jessie Chen,48, who has 3 children and a young woman who she sponsored through her schooling, who now lives in Australia. She would like more! Her heart has a huge capacity!! That’s what we love about Berna!
Anne Frank said, “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
And she was right! Out of the ashes (literally), came goodness and Berna Kieler is spearheading a great deal of it! Berna is 70 and proud of it, rightfully so. Imagine all the good she can create in years to come!
Recovery Project's Website: recoveryprojectsb.com
I don’t know if it’s because of my age or the fire and mudslides, my community and I have lived through and continue to do so, but I noticed lately, I cannot listen to music without weeping. I’m sure it’s a combination of both. The lyrics are so true, (not talking about anything by Kanye or Kendra) mind you. How, I wonder, could I never have heard them before? The timber of the voices, Adele, Sam Smith, John Legend, just to name a few, just the timber alone is so beautiful, it’s enough to make me cry. And I definitely cannot listen to Tony Bennett in front of anybody, cause there will be a waterfall of tears. They describe heartache, sorrow, happiness, love and all depth of feeling in a way that makes tears well up. I’ve been through what they are talking about, the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve been lucky enough to have the huge highs and lived long enough to have the horrendous lows. I have had all those feelings and when I hear a particular song, I weep. Not in a bad way but just weep for the memory of the day or the time it takes me back to. Sometimes I cry, because I will never have those days again and sometimes I cry because I’ve had those feelings of longing forever, for what I do not know.
This is not to say I walk around crying every day. Some days I don’t hear the songs, even though I am listening to them in my ear. I’m thinking other things, my mind is wandering, or I’m planning something in my head. I’m busy in my brain. Buzzing. It’s when my mind is open and I am actually listening that the lyrics grab me.
Now, Bruno Mars has a whole other effect on me. He says he just wants to make music that makes people feel happy. Well, he does! I love to feel his music, I don’t care what his lyrics are. I love how it makes me feel, happy, alive, grateful, all those things. I dance around the house, I walk with him in my ears and I feel like prancing. Well, why don’t you just listen to Bruno, you ask????
That’s a good question. Sometimes, I want to indulge myself in my feelings. Sometimes, I want to remember all of it, and it’s worth the pain. It’s ok, it’s a flash flood of pain, not a tsunami , and can be erased in a minute by a phone call or hug from a grandchild, or a look at the ocean.
Maybe it’s just a part of this long road we are on. We feel, hear and see more. I think it’s a lucky side effect of aging! It beats not feeling any day.
Here is part of a poem I wrote that I think explains what I mean;
“I want to feel the ultimate emotion.
After all is said and done,
isn’t that what we all want?"
I received an email from a friend and a reader asking “Did you drop off the face of the earth? (The answer is, almost) Are you ever going to write again?” (Yes, hopefully)!
I have tried to sit down so many times to write after the fires and mudslides. I just couldn’t do it. I was too emotional about our town and the turn it has taken. Our town that is as much like Mayberry as you can get, is hurting, and so are its people, and will be for quite some time.
People are without homes, homes are without grounds on which to sit and worst of all, children are without parents. We have lost lives to these horrendous mudslides and that cannot be erased from our minds.
Along with the tragedy is the beautiful kindness from strangers. It has been remarkable! From the first responders and all the unbelievable stories we hear about them to the young man in the cheese shop, who sleeps in his chair to be at the ready to serve free sandwiches to the firemen. He was a fireman himself at one time and he knew what that meant to others.
Our personal odyssey started in December when The Thomas fire came down in a force we have never seen before. Although the fire was not close enough to hurt us the air was so putrid, we had to leave. We left under voluntary evacuation and went to stay in LA with my daughter. Our Christmas plans were cancelled with my family in Montecito, along with everyone else's in our town. All the restaurants and shops closed on Coast Village Road, our main street. Again, we left for LA, this time to my son’s house for what turned out to be a lovely last-minute Christmas.
On the following Monday, the madness of the horrendous mudslides started. This time we were mandatorily evacuated. We were told to leave by a knocking on our door and then told we were blocked and couldn’t get out of our gated community because of the huge mud and smashed cars, outside our gates. We were stuck inside, nowhere to go, for three days and nights. We had no TV or computer. We ate what we had in the refrigerator, sharing with neighbors. Speaking of neighbors, everyone was driving around inside the gates, charging their cell phones in their cars. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would have been laughable. People were meeting in the middle of our community with firemen and the National guard, whoever would talk to us. We were all begging for news, we were cut off from the rest of Montecito. On the 4th day the electricity was shut off and that’s when I said, that’s it for me! Cold and dark? Can’t do that. My husband said, “Let’s see if we can get out of here”. Our neighbors, knocked on our door and told us, “They are letting us out the back way. We are leaving in 20 minutes." They had a four-wheel drive. We told them we would follow them out, in case we got stuck with our two-wheel drive vehicle, they said, not to worry, they would help us.
After a call to friends we found out we were so lucky that we were able to rent their house, usually rented for the season, in the desert. We grabbed whatever clothes we could see with the flashlight and as it turned out we chose very weird combinations of bathing suits, workout clothes, sweaters, pants, shoes and blouses so, for the third time in under a month, we were evacuated from our home. We live in Montecito in a condo, in a beach community, right off Olive Mill road, one of the hardest hit roads from the mud. To get to the desert, because the 101 was closed was another matter. As it worked out National Guard walked along side us as we skidded along in the mud to make sure we were alright (another kindness from strangers). Tears rolled down my cheeks as we left with our dog, dog bed, food and belongings and drove to the motel in Santa Barbara that would take dogs. Would there be another rain and wash our condo away? We didn’t know if we would ever see it again. We had no idea of the devastation that had taken place outside our complex because we had no TV or computer for the four days. We were stunned. Outside our gates were cars smashed like tin cans in the trees, policemen with dogs sniffing for dead bodies, other dogs sniffing for live bodies. It was horrendous. The 101 was unrecognizable, covered with mud. Coast Village Road, our main street, was covered with mud, our whole town was covered with mud. How did this happen to us? Those visions remain in my head. I see them as I start to fall asleep at night.
After arriving at the motel, we quickly took Sophia (our dog) to Convivo at the Santa Barbara Inn for dinner. We needed to connect to people. There were so many of our friends who had checked in and were to remain there for many weeks. There was a jubilant air in the patio, where we met. We were all so happy to be survivors and to see each other. We were happy and devastated at the same time. We were on a ride on which we would stay for many weeks.
Our plan was to go to the desert after one night in the motel. To get to the desert, however, we had to go North to Santa Maria (an hour and ½) sleep over night and then drive for 6 hours back down to Palm Springs. We arrived with Sophia, dog bed and our weird assortment of clothes. We slept for 2 days. We were totally physically and spirituality exhausted. BTW, almost a month later I’m still exhausted!
We have found a haven here. Lying in the sun, swimming, relaxing. We are very lucky and of course we realize how good we have it compared to those who lost homes, businesses, and the worst imaginable, lives of loved ones. Two friends (also evacuees came down to stay with us for some recovery time, my daughter came to cheer us up and an old friend from high school came down too. The bulletins kept coming we personally, unimaginably, lost a friend, 61-year-old, young and vibrant, mother, wife, grandmother and business woman. The numbers crept up, 16 dead, 18 dead, 23 dead. A live baby was found after floating down a creek, found under a car and saved. Is that sentence even possible? (More kindness of strangers) We are still on that up and down ride! There is a deep sadness in my heart for everyone who was hurt or touched by the mudslides but even for those of us whose houses weren’t mowed down but now feel a vulnerability that we never felt before. A certain uncertainty about what can happen to ones’ life in a second. A feeling one has to hold on very tight and let go all at the same time. An unsettling of the mind.
Our town is rallying with magnificent numbers of outside and inside help and there is no doubt in my mind that we will come back, maybe it will be different, maybe better. None of us know how long this will take and what it is we can do to help. Weather it be, helping that young man make sandwiches, helping the Red Cross, Visiting Nurses with bereavement, or raising money, we all want to help our town come back as quickly as possible. I think we all realize how grateful we are and how much we love where we live!
After the unimaginable happens, one learns, life goes on.
Stay strong Montecito!