Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Summers at the Harris House In Laguna Beach

Gotta question.. what have your summer’s been like over the years? I bet it all comes back to ya pretty quickly, especially as things warm up and we all are about to kiss Spring good bye. But are there any memories that really stand out in your mind?

Were summers typically good times for your family or.. were there some moments filled with pain, strife or awkward communication among you. I hope they were great times. Perhaps you can describe some of the memories that you’ve had a little bit ..wherever your summers and all took place?

Yup, summer seems like it is fully here now in North Texas with all this warm weather that we’ve been experiencing. I don’t know about you, but I get missing the cool balmy evenings this time of year, with the comfortable salty air, the palm trees, the eucalyptus smell, and the pleasant breezes off of the Pacific. I get missing the sounds of the waves on the rocks as well.

I feel so grateful to have been privileged to grow up enjoying the best summers ever. We had lots of beach bonfires and weenie roasts on the sand with friends and relatives.

Day after day, after day, after day.. was always filled with adventures too. There was always something interesting and novel popping up in the O.C. New music styles, new surfing flicks at surfing theaters, plaid shorts, different flip flops etc. Some of those pop culture nuances and trappings were all around the country at the same time, but unlike the fairly stable society and culture we see here in Texas, there was a vast uniqueness to the West Coast trends and happenings that seemed to change more radically and often ..about every three months or so where I grew up.

It was amazing—O the beautiness (new word) and creativity with a lot of it! Even some of the churches were very creative. I knew of one that met for years on Sundays at a lifeguard tower on the beach. Yes, and the awesomeness of God’s creation especially at sunset time, was overwhelming for a kid that loved nature, the wilderness, surfing, sailing and general rowdiness with ma buds ..along with other mountain and water sports! Me and my friends were pretty bad at times and we would just constantly challenge each other to go farther in some of our adventures, but not all of it went bad on us or others.

You know, I just didn’t deserve all the good of it.. or any of it. Cuz me at my best wasn't all that well behaved.

I think I told you before how my family during my early years were committed in a very traditional church. Yup, on Sundays we would say our prayers, but in reality we didn’t know how to pray. What could we do well? Well, we knew how to play!


My mom’s parents, the Becks, lived up in Newport Beach some thirty minutes up the Coast Highway from us (later on my grandfather, John Beck, moved much closer to us from there to San Clemente).

And then there was my sweet little English aunt on my dad’s side, Ida Harris (a noted journalist with the LA Times), who lived about fifteen to twenty minutes north of us in Laguna Beach only one block away from Wood’s Cove. We spent gobs of time in both towns. My dad's mom; my grandmother from England was Stella but we called her "Amie" and her sister was Ida Harris. They were both smaller, proper, and petite ladies.

Man, between all the body surfin’ trips to Main Beach and Wood’s Cove in that European-looking town of the artists where Ida lived.. the place of notable volleyball players of the area.. between the motorboat trips from the Newport Harbor to Catalina Island and those sailing and ferry-boat rides out on the Newport bay, my brothers Kevin, Kyle, and my ’lil sister Kathy ..and I (Kurt. Yup, four of us kids with K-names.. can you believe that?) never ever felt bored or bumbed out. We all loved our family and visiting them. We've got some good history in them parts.

Did I ever tell you about the history of Tom Sawyer Camp that was established by my born again Christian grandfather, Bill, back in 1926? Pretty interesting stuff! He and my dad, Kim, worked real hard for decades running it and they just loved all the families involved (both got right with the Lord later in life). Anyways, the camp benefited literally hundreds of kids from all over the place all year long ..including my brothers and I. We served as "junior counselors" for a couple years and got away with all kinds of pranks. You can read about some of that stuff later on! But this camp biz was first established in that very same town, Laguna Beach, and I can't describe how radically fun it was to go to! It has since moved but is still functioning better than ever today under the great leadership of a businessman named Mike Horner (with his capable son, Tom)--super nice, creative guys. Perhaps in the future you'll run into some families that have been looking for just such a top notch children/young adult camp like Tom Saywer? They've got multiple locations ..even on Catalina Island now. Check it out!

Anyways, with the Harris House in Laguna only a stone's throw from the water's edge, we as kids always had a loving place to hang our hats and stay in the summer time. I always enjoyed grilling in the back and hearing the gulls. I also loved hearing about my family's history there and I could hardly imagine how this place looked when they first settled next to the PCH dirt road back in the day. Yup, this was one of the first homes in the entire town! What started out as a one room beach cottage for the Harris clan in 1925 soon expanded into a two bedroom, two bath, very pleasant eclectic Tudor style home. My brothers and I had the custom of being lifted up by an adult to the rafters just to turn on the old lantern lights when it grew dark.

Who did the labor and actually built this place?

Good question! My grandfather Beck was always an accomplished builder who learned how up in the city of Angels and built his first home in Indo with full date groves, but this particular house was originally erected slowly by my dad's enate grandfather, William Harris. You see Mr. Harris was an interior decorator at the time, British by birth, and he commuted from the Los Angeles area to get it done. By 1926, when the bulk of his expansion on the small abode was complete, Mr. WH went and installed a weather vane on top of the pointed turret and then this quaint little shack became known by locals as that “weather vane house.”

The Harris clan was pretty excited about it too. Yes, after it was totally completed, the entire Harris family packed up all their modest belongings and they permanently relocated down there to Laguna Beach to become locals themselves. Daughter Ida Harris later joined her parents in Laguna in 1929 when she was only 23 years old. But it was before Ida returned to Laguna to begin her life-long residence in this home.. that she landed job and went full time as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

Her time at the paper also gave her some other interesting stories to tell. One day her boss, the paper's editor, sent her off to capture a story in a small fledgling town down south located some eight minutes inland from Dana Point (where my own father later on moved our family to).

The place the editor sent her to was called, San Juan Capistrano, and it was her duty to interview and produce a short story on the poor struggling church monks at the ole adobe mission. So shortly after arriving and talking with them, she started pointing to one of the near by trees and aunt Ida asked the men "What kind of bird is that?"

And one of the priests replied, "Oh that's a swallow. They're migratory birds, you know, and the interesting thing about our swallows is that they always come back here, every year, on St. Joseph's Day on the dot, like clockwork."

Hummm... Interesting fact! And fascinated by this bit of info, my aunt Ida basically jotted down a simple but creative side bar to her main article and was now fully intending on thinking all this through to figure out what would be best and which story was really worth polishing up to run in her big city paper.

Apparently, upon Ida's return there was an exchange of ideas with her boss and as the story goes.. it was because of my aunt Ida's little LAT piece about these quick little birds that darted about yearly and made their mud homes on the sides of buildings—the swallows—and how they would annually return to the ole mission in San Juan Capistrano (which maintained on its campus literally the second oldest building in the entire golden state..), that the famous song about the swallows was written and sung. And subsequent to the song, the Swallows Day Festival was then started, (as well as all of the other swallows-related fiesta activities)!

Now my wife, Liney, and I were just out there in San Juan a couple months ago visiting and we were really amazed at how large this city-wide event has grown. We laughed to hear about some of the past trouble with it too. But I remember when it didn't even exist and now my own fun-loving mom has set up her beautiful art gallery right there downtown next to the old mission itself. And she often makes beautiful paintings of the mission complex along with all he plant life and birds.


We all had a fun time meeting lots of people in the Swallow's Day Parade decked out in costumes. There were people dressed as pirates, southern bells, cowboys, and even as Halloween characters (they and no one else really seem to give much of a flip about the look ’cause it was simply time to celebrate the day the birds returned). I don’t know how many people really know that the swallows actually return to the entire area for about an entire month. I specifically remember how they used to build nets on our Dana Point home during that month each year as well.

I don't know about all that's involved with the mission and the drinking that goes on, but there is indeed a time for us to celebrate life and rejoice in in the Lord. Listen, if your town has some good history, why not?

Jesus who never got drunk, wants us to be joy-filled all of the time not just one day a year.. being filled with His Spirit. Sure, in Him we can be that way daily! He once said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). Do you have overflowing joy in your life? Is your life abundant, free and blessed? It can be! Can you find reasons around your hometown to celebrate life?

People seem to get tired of the dry ole dog-eat-dog, cut throat mundane routine of life—they have always typically looked for any reason to party, but in the end the wrong kind of partying will just leave people feeling more empty, lonely and guilty. Hey, I can relate. I used to party like that every chance I could get.

I hear that some of the revelry coupled with saloon brawls in San Juan Capistrano used to get way out of hand. Several people would sadly end up in jail, but now the local police department who ride horses around town, have got a much better handle on things there and the folk music and country styled bands now make the town kind of an interesting and lively place to visit ..when the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano. All those towns.. Laguna, San Juan, Newport, Dana Point in the summer time. Ya oughta go visit!

Fish4Souls.org

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