Sharing one of Glen Ellen’s many love stories
The folks of Glen Ellen
Box of chocolates
While Valentine’s Day is almost a week behind us, we still enjoy the occasional love story. Truly. It’s more uplifting than a store-bought card with a trivialized sentiment, more sustaining than an expensive restaurant dinner on amateur night and certainly healthier than a box of chocolates. Not that we reject the chocolates, but I’ve learned that limited doses of that stimulant serve me better than overloaded boxes that simply beg to be eaten now.
Here’s my offering today: a post-Valentine love story. It’s tale that begins with passion. Even still, it’s fit for this family publication. Let’s start with a little back-story.
For the last 37 years, Teresa Murphy has worked at the Sonoma Developmental Center here in Glen Ellen. Her first job there was as a youth aide, a position she saw advertised on a junior college bulletin board. Teresa later became a full-time recreational therapist at the center, moving up through the ranks, ending her career as interim administrative services director. Last year, Teresa celebrated her retirement with a gala party, attended by 200 of her co-workers, including some of her earliest bosses. Teresa was treated to lots of glowing testimonials and accolades, which she entirely deserved.
Teresa readily tells me that, “I would not have traded that experience (of 37 years at SDC) for anything. The people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made – employees, parents and clients – have enriched my life immensely.” She goes on to explain to me that one of the gifts of working so many years with developmentally disabled people is that “one recognizes the intrinsic value of each human being, regardless of their receptive or expressive language skills.”
So, yes, Teresa has experienced a career that she deeply loved. But this love story isn’t about her job. It’s about a love that will take her into the next phase of a life that has always been full and rewarding.
Not too many years ago, Teresa, who has been single for many years, boarded a flight from San Francisco to London with a connection in Dallas. She was headed to a big event of the U.K. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, an organization she joined many years ago.
This particular trip was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the club with a special dog show and dinner at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. As Teresa describes the event, a dinner accompanied by cello music, replete with royal china, silver and butlers abounding, one cannot help but picture a scene from “Downton Abbey.” Yes, that formality, but also including hundreds of well-trained, lovable Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
All the while Teresa is telling me the tale of true love, her own menagerie of those very spaniels surrounds me. Seated next to me on the couch, closest to Teresa’s blazing fire is Champion Bayside Jubilee’s Jewel, a Blenheim-colored small spaniel known simply as Jewel. Her coat is a mixed rusty red and white and her big eyes quickly capture my heart.
Curling around my feet is tri-colored Glen Ellen Divine Comedy Dante, whose serious expression is filled with tender love. Finally, close by Teresa is the smallest of her three spaniels, a lovely brown and white charmer named Glen Ellen Quintessential, simply known as Quinnie. She is one of Teresa’s champion dogs.
Peering down from his perch on the staircase is Teresa’s one non-canine friend, a tuxedo-suited cat named Figaro, who is entirely at home with a trio of dogs. He keeps up with them, too, jumping to attention and joining the fracas when a guest arrives or departs.
It is a mellow and lovely scene as Teresa and I sit in her living room, surrounded by these winsome animals. Yes, animals she loves. But this story isn’t about that love, either. It’s about her seatmate on the flight to England.
Seated next Teresa on the first leg of her flight is handsome Gordon England. With that name, Teresa can’t help but ask if he’s from England. Indeed he is. At home near Cambridge, Gordon works as an engineer. But his passion, like Teresa’s passion for dogs, is cars. Specifically Sunbeam Tigers, a sporty little vehicle, circa 1960s, first known as the Sunbeam Alpine. Television fans of “Get Smart” will recognize it as Maxwell Smart’s car, while James Bond fans know the car from “Dr. No.” When the Sunbeam’s production ended in 1967, the car quickly gained collector status.
Dogs and cars together
Owners of this British sports car are as passionate about their cars as Cavalier King Charles spaniel owners are about their dogs. Teresa and Gordon soon discovered that car clubs, and their attendant events, aren’t all that different than dog clubs. Similar hassles, similar delights, hard work and ample fun.
As the flight progressed, they each learned that the other was deeply involved in their clubs, planning shows and events. When their SF flight was late arriving in Dallas, Teresa and Gordon raced together to catch their next flight to Heathrow. As Gordon entered business class and she walked back to economy, Teresa wasn’t sure they’d ever meet again. But they had exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. Before she even arrived home, Teresa had already called Gordon. But he beat her in that, having sent an email immediately.
Gordon travels to the Sonoma Valley frequently to visit the Sears Point Raceway, while Teresa visits the UK frequently for dog shows. So, in the ensuing years, they have let their nascent airplane romance blossom.
Teresa’s eyes sparkle when she talks about Gordon, telling me that he emails her everyday. Right now, the transcontinental couple is planning the gala celebration of the U.K. Sunbeam Tiger Club’s 50th anniversary party, another fantastic event, including vintage dress, a car rally through the Italian Alps and a grand finale celebration at Monte Carlo.
I wish them the continued blessing of a happily-ever-after, which I predict will be.
Silky coated instant transport
Sitting in Teresa’s beautiful, eclectically decorated living room, warmed by the fire, our talk softened by a good glass of red, I felt entirely relaxed. To a great extent, my calm demeanor was enhanced by her stories of finding love (a state eagerly sought, though not easily attained, by many of my single, middle-aged friends; making me ever grateful for my own Valentine Sweetie). But my repose was definitely enhanced by petting her silky-coated dogs. I’ve recently been reading about the life-giving, healing properties of touch (guided to that subject by my mentor Stephanie Sugars, who leads me to so many great resources). Human touch and tenderness is essential in life, but short of that, I’d choose a Cavalier King Charles spaniel as a companion to enhance tranquility. Stroking those dogs is almost as good as an hour of meditation at the Ashram: instant transport to my better self. Almost.
King salmon cruiser
Meanwhile, other species in the news this week included a report by our neighbor and friend, Michael Everidge, who sighted a king salmon cruising in Sonoma Creek last week right below the conflux of Calabasas and Sonoma creeks. At first, Michael thought it was an otter he was watching. But looking carefully, he realized it was, indeed, a salmon. Not merely a steelhead, but the large and elegant swimmer, a king salmon, the royalty of northern California fish.
Michael called Fish and Game and they confirmed an earlier report of a king salmon in Sonoma Creek. This is very exciting news. Such large fish need a clean water environment to exist. That includes well-oxygenated water free of algae, pollutants and toxics. The appearance of a king salmon in downtown Glen Ellen bodes well for the health of our local creeks.
But salmon need other salmon to survive, to reproduce. Habitat destruction, irrigation, and even over-fishing are hazards to their existence.
In the early ’70s when Sweetie and I lived in upstate New York, in Albany, on the Hudson River we visited Pete Seeger’s Clearwater sailing vessel. Seeger was sailing the Hudson to proselytize for cleaning the Hudson River and revitalizing the surrounding environment. Later, we again boarded the ship as it moored in Long Island Sound.
At the time, as I listened to Seeger, I had little hope that the Hudson would ever be rejuvenated. It resembled a toxic dump, more than it did a wild and healthy river. Back then, hardly any fish species survived in that water.
A couple of years ago, when my Sweetie was volunteering with the Sonoma Ecology Center in monitoring our local Sonoma Valley creeks, he wrote to some folks in New York to learn more about the current health of the Hudson. Best news ever: more than 100 species of fish now thrive in a cleaner and healthier Hudson. The goal Seeger sought has been realized. (Next? Peace on Earth.)
While Sonoma Creek is not yet in as dire circumstances as the Hudson once was, it still needs our loving attention. Michael’s news gave me renewed hope.
Meanwhile, other sweet memories of the good life in our Valley surfaced last week when Sweetie and I took a Sunday afternoon ramble. Our goal had initially been to sip a little bubbly on the terrace at Gloria Ferrer. That beautiful, early-spring-like day felt glorious, though some of our dearest Massachusetts relatives suffered under several feet of snow. Yep, this is Glen Heaven, as Fire Chief Peter Van Fleet calls our town.
Before our stop at the winery, we decided to check out Sonoma Country Antiques, a store we’ve never visited. Seems we’re always in a rush to get to points south, in Marin or the city. Then on our northward homeward bound trips, we’re too focused on home. Apparently, that antique store has been thriving for more than 30 years; finally, it was time for the Crawfords to visit.
While we’re not in the market for any antiques (with truckloads of the same having been sent from the east coast in earlier years of our marriage), we do enjoy seeing how antique pieces are used and arranged. Plus it’s a lot of fun to assess the potential value of our old family relics that sometimes resemble what’s for sale in upscale stores.
Reunion of the antiques
But Sunday’s treat was not just viewing a new store, it was the surprise of reacquainting ourselves with old friends.
The storekeepers that day were none other than Patty Ciuca, who lived in and loved Glen Ellen for a long time. She reminded us of her good times at the Bouverie Ranch and visiting with MFK Fisher. Then she asked if we remembered Gail. Gail? Yes, Gail Barlettani is the former Gail LeBeouf, my favorite-ever aerobic instructor.
Who is in this Valley doesn’t remember the good ole days of the late ’70s and ’80s when Gail led the crowded room at the vets building as we all danced, jumped, bounced and skipped our way to heart health with her jazzercise routines. Gail was my hero, a positive and energetic leader, who ever urged us on to greater fitness. Recalling a few of the more prominent folks who joined Gail for her classes, we thought immediately of Bill Lynch, Bob Nicholas, Steve Silver, to name just a few. Of course, guys were more rare in her dance routines than us gals. But they were noticed and appreciated.
We laughed and talked about the old times. Gail’s strength as she says was not merely her aerobic routines, but her talk and attitude “that allowed everyone to be whatever they wanted to be.” Gail gave us permission to be ourselves and to express the best of who and what we were. Freedom through dance. Oh, how I loved Gail and her classes back then.
Guess what? Gail Barlettani is still as beautiful as she always was. Still full of energy and enthusiasm, with affection for life that’s infectious. But surprise: she isn’t actually 10 feet tall as I always felt watching her on stage.
What a great Sunday outing: better than a glass of bubbly on any terrace. It was a blast of the past that had me toe-tapping all afternoon, recalling the days when this crunchy, arthritic body could move in ways that loosed endorphins in minutes. These days, it takes more than a few laps of the pool to reach the level of pleasure that Gail’s routines could evoke in minutes.
Dance me to the end of love
Sweetie and I ended our evening with “Amour.” Oh, not the kind you may be thinking, but the film that Roger Rhoten is showing at the Sebastiani this week. I highly recommend it; but don’t be late. It’s not for the faint-hearted or the squeamish, but is a cautionary tale for us boomers, worthy of contemplation. A love story, if you will.
Cookies and Cameroon
Next week: news from the talented kids at Dunbar School with a shout out to one sweet girl scout who could talk me into more cookies than I could ever consume. And further news to follow from deepest Central African Cameroon.
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Missing the news you shared with me? Check the online column, for News in Glen Ellen where a longer version awaits at www.sonomanews.com under the heading Lifestyle and History. Share your good news with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me @ Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least two weeks in advance.