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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
Phyllis’ husband, another hard-working depression-era family member who I
remember as always taking odd jobs to support the family.
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
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.
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
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.
their band, soon to be called the Range Riders, and played gigs across the
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.
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.
professional band on the road, of course they needed a bus. A big one. Those who knew them also new the Range Riders’
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.
chapel is full of singers, parishioners and family here to send my aunt on to
her reward. There’s singing, praying, and preaching.
time to talk and catch up with family and friends, it’s time for Tim and I to
make that long trek home.
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.
2013 – Darryl Musick