Friday, October 25, 2013

Palm Springs: A Melancholy Trip to Say Goodbye

It was daybreak as Tim and I loaded up the van and headed east. Luckily for us, we were driving against traffic as evidenced by the twenty-plus mile traffic jam on the other side of the 210 freeway.

We’re heading to one of the world’s premiere vacation destinations full of pools, restaurants, bars, and sun but we’re not having any of that today.

Palm Springs would make a great destination for a trip but today is melancholy. Tim and I are headed out to a happy place for a sad reason…to say goodbye to my aunt as we attend her funeral there.

Brilliant sun lights us up as we drive. Tim complains that the very early morning sun is in his eyes. I’ve got the visor down as far as it will go and have my darkest sunglasses on.  The San Gabriel Mountains form a visually stunning barrier on our left as we move on into the Inland Empire of Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana. Traffic on the other side finally eases up as we get into the RC. Those drivers will soon be stuck in the worst of it.

My mom’s sister, Phyllis, was born in the fall of 1934 in the little community of Highland Park, wedged in with Eagle Rock between Pasadena and Glendale.

Babies of the depression, my mom and aunt would tell us tales of the striking poverty of those times. No matter how bad it got for us, they would remind us that it was nothing like the absolute bottom of that era.

Tim and I are flying along handily as our L.A. radio stations give out around Rialto, just before San Bernardino. I flip the car stereo over to the CD mode and Vince Gill serenades us.

I finally hit a bit of traffic as the 210 bottle-necks down to two lanes after the town of Highland and turns south for a couple of mile before ending at interstate 10 in Loma Linda.  It was here that my aunt spent the last days of her fight for life in Loma Linda hospital nearby before moving on to a nursing facility to rest until the end.

It was several years into my childhood, extending to my early teens, that I finally learned my uncle’s name. We’d always call him Man…It wasn’t until his death a decade ago that I learned this should be spelled ‘Mann’…but that wasn’t his name. Even my close childhood cousin, Jesse, didn’t fill me in but I finally figured out he was named after his dad. Uncle Mann’s real name was Jesse. I still don’t know why everybody called him ‘Mann.’

He was Phyllis’ husband, another hard-working depression-era family member who I remember as always taking odd jobs to support the family.

They lived not too far from us in South El Monte for several years in the sixties before leaving, moving ever eastward through Riverside County before finally settling down just east of Desert Hot Springs, just across the valley from our current destination.

Since we live in L.A., we know to build in extra driving time to wherever we go. Not a lot of traffic on this Tuesday morning so we get to the Indian casino at Cabazon about two hours before the funeral.

The tribe has had good fortune in the last few decades, going from a small bingo parlor, to one of the largest Casinos around. In addition, there’s a large outlet mall and the tribe owns a few gas stations and restaurants.

We decide to get a quick breakfast at the tribe’s McDonalds, then gas up and get the car washed. I don’t want to disrespect my aunt with a dirty van.

You know you’re getting to Palm Springs when you see the hundreds of large windmills sprouting up in the windy Cabazon pass. They make a lot of kilowatts for the local power grid.

The family was a musical one. My uncle and their friend, Roland, made their own guitars. Any time they’d visit, it would turn into an impromptu concert and singalong. Sometimes difficult on school nights when I’d want to sleep, nevertheless, the group was always into the music.

They formed their band, soon to be called the Range Riders, and played gigs across the country.

Gene Autry Trail comes up on you quick on Interstate 10. The signage is for Palm Drive…the same road heading north…it’s not until you’re right on top of the exit that you see the small sign for Autry too. We just make it…it time to get caught in the jam of a major injury accident blocking our way into Palm Springs.

The Hanna’s also were a church. Located in the desert, they took in lots of strays, both of the animal and human variety.  My aunt and her family spread their love and shared their meager resources with whoever would need them.

Jesse, the most driven of them, would go to Nashville, hook up with other musicians, and organize entertainment for the tourists in town.

Being a professional band on the road, of course they needed a bus. A big one.  Those who knew them also new the Range Riders’ bus.

Due to the accident, Tim and I barely make it to the mortuary near the airport about 5 minutes before the service is scheduled to begin. It’s a crisp, dry, sunny day…the kind that make the winter tourists flock here…as we park under the gaze of Mt. San Jacinto, home of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

We won’t be taking part in the activities of this city today, though.

My aunt fainted in her bathroom. It turned out she had a tear in her aorta. Taken to Eisenhower Medical Center, it was eventually determined that she needed to be in a better hospital. Taken by ambulance to USC Keck Medical Center, it was the start of eight months of hospitals, surgeries, rehab facilites, hopes, and mistakes.
She was a strong, determined lady, but in the end, even her strength could not carry her over these mountains of trouble. After one more stay, this time at Loma Linda, she passed on in a nearby rehab facility.

The packed chapel is full of singers, parishioners  and family here to send my aunt on to her reward. There’s singing, praying, and preaching.

After some time to talk and catch up with family and friends, it’s time for Tim and I to make that long trek home. 

We’ll stop for burgers at Bob’s Big Boy at the edge of the desert in Calimesa before getting back into the hectic Inland Empire.

It’s not the Palm Springs we come on vacation for but it leaves us with a warm glow anyway.

Goodbye, aunt Phyllis. We'll miss you but we also know you're where you spent your whole life preparing for.

Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick

All Rights Reserved

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