Some of my best memories of being a little girl in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California are of growing up in a quaint village where every store keeper knew and loved my family. The lavish generosity and kindness I have never found anywhere else since.
Gladys McCloud, M. Raggett, Kip’s, Bruno’s, Scott’s Silver & Leather, Fortier’s Drug Store, and Bib ‘n Tucker are just a tiny sampling of stores that I frequented almost daily with my Mom or grandparents.
As a small child, I remember Gladys’ funny, pointed, and jeweled reading glasses she always wore on a string around her neck, her gorgeous ornate custom hangers all the frilly dresses hung on, Mark Raggett’s big bow ties and watching my mom pour through pattern books while I fingered the metal tan shelves of zippers, threads and sewing notions. I still have many of those .39 cent polyester spools in my sewing basket today.
Birgit and Dagmar Carlson who owned Bib ‘n Tucker next door to my family’s Ocean Avenue camera store, Camera Craft, were a sweet, Danish sister duo who loved me and doted on me dearly.
My mom often cautioned me not to act too enamored by any one dress or tennis outfit as any time I did, the two sisters would absolutely insist on giving it to me. My wardrobe grew exponentially every time I stopped in, which was nearly every day, since they were just next door and my grandparents were their landlords. As generous as every one was in those days, I am sure my grandparents kept the two sisters outfitted with Leica cameras and Kodachrome film for years.
I had more Chris Evert tennis dresses from that boutique than I could ever possibly wear, even though I played tennis almost daily with my friends in the Carmel Woods tennis courts. I remember being naively confused around age 13 why they were suddenly called “Chris Evert-Lloyd” tennis dresses.
I remember Lynn Lashbrooke who owned the electronic store a few doors up and around the corner, buying me a guitar and lessons. The first song I learned was Hey Jude, the second was Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Yes, my instructor was a hippy.
Mrs. Chung always insisted on giving me a tiny animal china figure every week from her China store near the Tuck Box, and Mr. Robotti at the candy store always gave me jaw breakers and his secret recipes which I still make with my kids to this day, every single Christmas.
On occasion, I did earn “free” clothes from Gladys or Bib ‘n Tucker when they would ask me to model at the Hearth Stone fashion shows or luncheons. But most of the time, Carmelites were just huge-hearted people and lavishly generous by epic proportions.
When I was about 4 years-old, I fell in love with the fresh popcorn made daily in the front of the store, at the counter of Sprouse Reitz (rhymes with house lights) dime store. Finally the manager insisted on gifting me my own popcorn popper, and he included the special Sprouse Reitz seasoning mix in a big white plastic shaker. I still remember the heavenly smell and how it looked. I loved the red and white popcorn bags Sprouse Reitz popcorn came in. I was very little and not yet reading but I remember the special seasoning shaker he gave me had a difficult top to open and bright red letters on the label.
Odette Morganegg who owned Sans Souci would insist on baking me special little French cookies whenever we came in for a special luncheon. They were served on an adorable little doily. Many times she hosted us free of charge because she said I was “such a little lady.”She would argue lovingly with my Mom or Nana and insist on taking care of the bill, nearly every time we ate there.
Pepe Leal who owned a Mexican restaurant, El Topo, in Carmel as well as El Indio in Del Monte Center, knew I loved his egg nog ice cream. When I was 7 years-old and had my tonsils out at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, he was waiting to see me wake up from surgery with his ever-present smile and with an enormous restaurant-sized tub of gallons of egg nog ice cream.
I later learned that Pepe lived in San Jose and drove daily to his Peninsula restaurants to work very long hours to support his lovely and hard-working Mexican family. I still remember him teaching me Spanish while I watched him cook for hours in his boiling hot kitchens. He was always moving fast in his hot kitchens sweating profusely, literally drenched, and always singing and grinning. His sisters Marta and Carmela were working alongside him with smiles and graciousness. He always brought me dolls back from his yearly trips to Mexico. When he died, very young, of a heart attack, my grandmother quietly told me, “That dear man literally worked himself to death.”
When I was 9 years-old, Loretta and Bob Singhouse at Crocker Bank let me open my first checking account. I was so proud to work for neighbors in Carmel Woods, watering yards and mowing lawns and to save my own money to write my very first check at Scott’s Silver and Leather for a pair of Minnetonka Moccasins. I remember all the ladies were so nice who worked in there. They had gorgeous turquoise jewelry that I would also save to buy for my mom and grandmother for birthdays and Christmas. They were painstakingly patient when I wrote my first check and I had to recall how to carefully and slowly fill the first check out. There was no ID needed to write checks. Even when I wrote my first Monterey check at Del Monte Shopping Center, for sealing wax and stationery to write my pen pals, I remember the lady being so kind and patient with me, even though I was only ten years-old.
The Carmel Hardware store had sawdust on the dark wood floor and I remember carrying my animal crackers box in there holding tightly to the shoe lace string that was attached to the top of the box. I probably bought them from Bruno’s or from Myrtle the sweet cashier at Kip’s. I was very little, maybe 3 or 4 years-old, but I remember how Myrtle had rosy cheeks and curly hair and was very jolly and kind to me when we would pick up groceries after closing the Camera Craft store at 5 PM sharp every day.
It’s amazing to me that my grandparents had strict operating hours of M-F 10AM-5PM and were closed every single day for lunch from 1-2:30 PM yet had a very profitable business, never once working a weekend. Weekends were for family and friends. They sure had their priorities straight, like many in Carmel-by-the-Sea, in those days. People came first before the mighty dollar, and every thing else just kind of fell into place.
Tourists would sometimes obnoxiously pound on the door as my grandparents readied the store for opening or buttoned up shop after closing. This annoyed my family and they eventually got a sign for the front door that read: Open When Open, Closed When Closed. It was a local comical conversation piece. But the locals always respected my grand parents, Mom, and Uncle Kevin, for putting family and friends first, and for running a business that supported and served the locals with integrity, honesty, and loyalty.
Mr. Henry Nishi owned Nishi’s nursery. He had the most amazing fuschias I have ever seen. I even picked out my first ice skating dress in fuschia when I, years later, skated at the Ice Pond in Marina, because I was in love with that color thanks to Mr. Nishi. There were wind chimes everywhere throughout his nursery and the twinkling sounds created as a light coastal, foggy breeze swept through, provided a heady, sensual experience. He wore a dirty muddy gardening apron and a huge smile. He often gave me tiny succulents to take home and plant with my diminutive hands. I still have a love and fascination with succulents to this day. All our fruit trees, lillies, fuschias, and cacti always came from Mr. Nishi.
Laney Fremier was the librarian at Harrison Memorial Library. She often led story time in the late 60’s in front of the big blazing library fireplace or on the floor peppered with toys and art. My mom modeled for Laney’s husband Roger who often came into my family’s camera store. Steve Crouch and his wife Cookie, Bill Brooks (William C. Brooks), and Roger Fremier were just a few famous photographers along with Ansel Adams, Cole and Edward Weston, and others who came into our store daily or weekly for coffee, town gossip and help with their Leicas and other expensive cameras. I used to love to sit in the back of the family Camera Store and listen to the tales these characters shared and see the treasures that manifested in the dark room in the back.
Robert Talbott, Bill Bates, Sam Farr, Jack and Sally Swanson, Sir Harry Downie, Pon Lung Chung, Don Teague, James Kramer, and endless local characters and artists, continually kept the back of the store lively as they stood around the coffee pot sharing love, wit, and wisdom that made up the tapestry of the Peninsula.
I remember Bob and Dolores Hope, Bing Crosby, Kim Novak, Doug McClure, Sir Laurence Olivier, Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows, Doris Day, Clint and Maggie Eastwood, Allen Funt, Merv Griffin, Alan Hale, Beverly Cleary, Hank Ketchum, and so many other “celebrities” coming into our camera store or coming over for dinner or cocktail parties when I was little. I have some great photos of these notables at our home or out and about with us on family outings.
My grandparents closed up shop and had lunch nearly every day at the Red Lion, or the Hearth Stone from 1-2:30 PM and most days one of these folks or part of their clan joined them. I have several of the original Red Lion glasses in my kitchen cupboard, today.
I still have a surfboard one of the Beach Boys gave my Uncle Kevin. It’s a monster board but I can’t seem to part with it. For several years I let a friend hang it in her surfing-themed restaurant. A few special Carmel mementos I just have a hard time letting go of, entirely.
Many nights, my grandfather would get out of bed to go help Bing Crosby in Pebble Beach, during one of his private Clam Bake parties. Bing seemed to have a knack for creating a snafu with his home movies whenever he had private movie nights with his friends. In that era of constant cocktail parties, it doesn’t surprise me, the way the liquor flowed. My fondest memories of the Crosby in those days were dinners with Bing and his cronies and my grandfather being tired when he drove me to school after another long night helping out Bing, Bob, and Dolores, with a “film mishap.”
My grandfather won a bet with Bing when I was about 7 years-old. I watched the whole story unfold in my family Camera Store while I was helping behind the counter I couldn’t yet see over. He won Bing’s huge black and orange umbrella. My grandfather and I launched a lot of homemade wooden boats in streams during rainstorms under Bing’s umbrella. But that’s a whole separate story.
What a sweet childhood I was blessed to have. Not only did I have a loving, functional family, but I had an entire village by the sea that offered me kindness, love and safety sprinkled with generosity that was simply too abundant to describe.