A Cleveland,Tijuana Christmas


Back in 1968, I was four years old. My recollection of that year would prove to be the very first solid memories of my life. Because the years have worn by and so many moments of time have past I can firmly attest with reckless abandon I remember Christmas time in Cleveland.

My mother loved music. Her old 45s from the 50’s that she would pull out every Saturday to clean the house, somehow managed to get her so fired up she would jitterbug with the vacuum. Watching her as a child I thought she was nuts. After a long work week and listening to my grandmother’s report about what mischief I was able to get into I guess she needed her fast moving music with a solid beat that she could dance to.

During the holiday season many people around us enjoyed the masterful choir orchestration of Handel’s Messiah and the operatic beauty of Shubert’s Ava Maria, my mother enjoyed the Christmas songs of Bing Crosby, probably because Dad liked it. Frank Sinatra, because my Sicilian grandmother loved him. Dean Martin, because he was from Ohio and so forth. Whatever the reason these Christmas albums would soon be replaced by a new treasure with a pounding beat that had my mother dancing with even the dogs.

But for my Mom nothing said Christmas like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. His Christmas album would be the first sounds I would hear that year the day after Thanksgiving. All to coincide with the unofficial law; Getting up before the break of dawn to go shopping, and then at Superman speed race home and beat the neighbors to start decorating. I have always suspected that in the early morning outing Mom snatched up this album that would wake me from my slumber. She would neither confirm nor deny my allegations over the years.

Rare Herb Alpert TV Christmas Appearance

As I wandered down the steps, I found my mother standing in the middle of the living room counting boxes and looking just as lovely as she did from the day before. Her hair still perfect, black paten leather flats donned her tiny feet. Plaid pedal pushers clung to the curve of her hips and legs to end just above her ankles. A simple yellow sweater on top, and a white fluffy toy poodle named Buffy by her side completed her look. Our older sweeter black poodle named Cha Cha was peaking out from behind one of the many boxes as if to say “help me!”

I watched as she pointed to each box. The only thing that could disrupt the vibrations of trumpets would be the abrupt cry of “Joooooooe!” No horn of Herb’s could compete with the shrilling vocals of my Mom when she discovered cherished decorations missing. Quite frankly who could tell? There were boxes every where.

She lit a cigarette and began to rev up for another shrill when my father miraculously appeared on cue with the missing items. He towered over her in his black slacks, a dark turtle neck and the ever present crew cut that I personally hated (thank goodness for the 70’s and his longer hair. To others it was still short but better than a crew cut). Relieved that the missing box was found she guided Dad reluctantly over to the sofa and politely handed him a big fat tangled ball of Christmas lights.

Peaking around the corner and the music blasting into the foyer where I stood I could see Mom give Dad one of  her famous looks. I had been the recipient of the odd smile and rapid blinking of her owl size dark brown eyes that she would used to amplify her point, and it was NEVER fun, trust me. There was some solace in knowing I wasn’t the only one who could cause Mom to look like she was about to have a seizure.

“You put the lights away last year, YOU untangle them!” Her body language said it all. Arms waving and pointing, and oddly enough it appeared as if she was conducting the music coming over the Magnavox stereo console.

Tangled-LightsDad was left with rolling his eyes in disgust and rubbing his face in defeat, and then after the exchange of looks he finally started the arduous task of pulling apart the ancient tree lights. Unfortunately, I was soon discovered peering around the corner and was put to work helping to untangle them. Ironically, I became so good at the de-tanglization of lights that as long as I lived at home it was my job every year there after. Stupid horns, I fussed. The dreaded new sound of the season had awaken me from my sleep, and I was now desperately wishing I had stayed in bed.

Over the long weekend our house was transformed into a show place which could rival that of Higbee’s grand elaborate windows.  Higbee’s was the local department store downtown (in fact it was a real department store referenced in the movie A Christmas Story which was shot in Cleveland). It was the place to go for all your Christmas needs. Unless you were in our house, because we had everything or so I thought.

The master plan started with the placement of the trees, strategically arranged for optimal viewing pleasure. First the artificial tree was placed in the large picture window in the living room with enough lights on it to blind someone from the street! This fraudulent delight would be the keeper of the presents we gave to others. And this would turn out to be the only occaison we would ever used that room.

Then a fresh cut tree for the family room would arrive, with the tantalizing aroma of pine filling the house and making Mom itch like crazy. I never wrapped my head around the idea of why Mom would go through all the trouble with this tree when she was so highly allergic. However, this tree was the pinnacle of the whole house, despite all the itching. Decorated in vibrant colored lights that twinkled on and off at a fast clip, would graciuosly bounce off of each glass ornament, to deliver a cascading warm friendly glow into the humble room when she turned off all the lights. She would then reach down into the stereo and place the needle on her new favorite vinyl purchase, which was located by the itchy master piece. The tree would magically begin to keep time with the beat and dance right along with her.

We called this tree Santa’s Tree because it would be under the bobbled branches where Santa delivered his presents. I remember wondering if before he could pull out a single gift if he had to dance with Mom first. After all, the vacuum, the dogs, and the tree had to why not jolly ole Saint Nick?

ChistmsStorySantaLaWith decorating completed, the next step was planning the trip downtown with two little girls for  Christmas pictures. Every house had a Higbee’s Santa picture. This was the second biggest event in a child’s life next to Christmas. And I knew of not one kid in the neighborhood who enjoyed it.

Special clothing purchased just for a picture, an extra bath for no reason and a lecture on how to act. All for the 30 second pleasure of sitting on Santa’s lap and the free smell of moth balls. Once you made your departure from the man in the red suit, it was onto a cranky elf who handed you a candy cane and a plastic ring. The saving grace at Higbee’s was Santa’s Workshop just happened to be right next to the coveted toy department. Knowing this I could handle sitting on a lap that smelled like moth balls and happened to remind me of the scent from my Aunt Lena’s house.

“Bethy, let me make this clear.” Mom would begin. “You are going to smile, do not try and get your candy cane before you see Santa and for Pete’s sake no playing around in the toy department, you will hold our hands the entire time.” The odd smile and fast blinking began, and I was pretty sure I didn’t even know who Pete was. It was apparent I had garnered a reputation for dodging hand holding and running off.

The trip to Higbee’s set, and after much ballyhooing from me about an extra bath, we were finally ready for the late morning journey. My sister and I would wear our beautiful velvet dresses, with petticoats and leggings, usually white that came with the warning to me, not to get dirty. My mother made me promise repeatedly I would behave. I would promise, but there was one tiny problem, I never fully understood what her idea of behaving was.

I can recall looking forward to the car trip to the train station, because I was thrilled to be able to see another part of the city beside my own back yard. And, I was secretly glad for the break from my mother’s favorite music, too bad someone forgot to tell the radio stations of our agony with one particular record. While in angst over the music piping into the car, I discovered a really cool squeaking noise that black paten leather shoes made when rubbed together. Much to my dismay there was an odd smile and rapidly blinking eyes coming from the reflection of the review mirror. Follow by a high pitched “Quit doing that.”

We parked the car outside of the city and boarded the Rapid Transit. This was my first trip on the transit and if I squeaked my shoes one more time it would be my last.

old-old-terminal-tower4Arriving at the Terminal Tower downtown on one of too many to count frigid days, we departed the transit, and cautiously stepped onto the platform; a large gust of wind would scurry across our path causing me to release my mother’s hand and try to hold my dress down, it proved to be a losing battle because of all the crinoline under the dress, my sister and I looked like umbrellas caught in a wind storm.

In the near empty station of the terminal (void of all rush hour traffic) I could see, there waiting for us was Dad who worked downtown, forgetting to hold my dress down (not that it mattered or made a difference) I ran at full speed to his waiting arms. Quick to hug both my sister and me, he would look at my mother, who appeared a bit exhausted from the journey and kissed her hello.

“How was the trip in?” He would ask her.

“Someone likes the sound of squeaky shoes.” As if by reflex both turned in my direction. Oops, was the only look I could muster on my face. Dad would soon be taking my hand and my sister would stay with Mom. I took this as a sign.

He would pause, just long enough in the middle of the station and kneeled down, straighten my hat that Mom chased me around the house for 20 minutes to get on my head and would give me one of the first of many little pep talks throughout my life. “Okay Bubbles let’s be good for Mom, she has worked really hard planning all this, okay?” Obediently I nodded. He continued. “Please don’t hide from Santa this year.” Do something one time, okay maybe more than once, and nobody let’s you forget it.

“But Dad he smells like…..” He would cut me off.

Laughing as he spoke “I know, I know like your Aunt Lena’s house.” Finally! There was a person over 4 ft tall and not a kid who understood my current dilemma with the odor.

HigbeeXmasShopping68A brisk walk through the station and opening the heavy brass metal doors which led us to the spectacular entrance to Higbee’s. We had finally arrived! The main floor and just about every floor were decorated in the many splendors of the season. Pine green garland with gold woven through its long streaming braids. Instead of a yellow brick road that marked your path it was deep plush scarlet carpet that would take you on your journey. Follow the red carpet and it would lead you to the Workshop!

Once on the fourth floor, I darted only one time to look at a huge rocking horse. Mom was quick to grab hold of my hand. She didn’t look angry she just simply admired the horse with me. I watched as she slowly looked around at all the other children crying and screaming. Others running at break neck speed grabbing toys off the shelves.

Harried department clerks were trying in vain to pick up the toys, placed in the wrong area by frantic parents trying to grab hold of their children, and get them to Santa. A warm smile and a little sass in Mom’s step ventured and weaved us through the chaos right on over to Santa’s Workshop to get in line. Mom was still smiling and Dad catching a glimpse of it, smiled back. As more hysertics ensued from other children and many parents looking like Mom did earlier when she tried to put that seriously ugly fur hat on my head, she appeared relaxed. Now she was laughing at the events around her and taking my hat off. Why did I have to wear it if she was going to take it off anyway?

Mom nudged me ever so gently towards an elf that looked like she was never going to have children in her life ever! Her job was to sit kids on Santa’s lap. I wondered how she was going to handle the boy behind me because he was almost as big as her. Thus the tired cranky elf placed me on Santa’s lap. He asked me what I wanted him to bring me, which I am sure was why Mom’s smile vanished and the seizure was about to start. Little girls back then didn’t ask Santa for a football.

old Christmas tree Pictures done with only one warning from the blinking eyes, we then went into the restaurant The Silver Grille as it was called, for lunch. As I drift back in my memories, this was my favorite part because it was time the four of us were downtown together and the majestic setting of the grand old department store and the regal dressing up of the restaurant made me feel like a princess. White trees, green trees, multi-colored shiny ornaments and garland strung throughout.

Better still was ordering from a waitress wearing a pristine white apron, heavily starched white shirt, black bowtie, a pencil cut skirt and super shiny shoes. She was so neat and clean, I had to ask if her mom made her promise not to get dirty too. She let out a roaring laugh and patted me on my head. The children’s lunch was served in a really neat heavy cardboard box shaped and painted to look like a kitchen stove. My sister and I would take the boxes home and use them to play house with our dolls.

My parents held hands as they watched us eat our ice cream. As I was enjoying dessert, a startling realization hit me. Playing above our heads was music. Not just any music. The Christmas sounds of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. There was no escape and only one of us was swaying at the table. And three of us, myself included could only groan. This must have been the millionth time all of us had heard it, and there was still three weeks till Christmas.

In all honesty I hadn’t thought about those days in years. The treasured moments of a simpler time summed up in a department store and a band that wasn’t even from Tijuana.

Forty-three years later, I was transported into one of the greatest gifts my mother could ever give. Herself! Not just any version the truest most beautiful version I could have every heard. Answering my phone at work I could hear the youthful excitement in her voice. How precious it was to hear vocals so filled with an eerily familiar glee as she spoke.

“Bethy listen to what I found!” Her excitement was intoxicating after locating a CD I had bought her several years before.

By the grace of God, and holding the phone tightly to my ear breathing in every chord, we were no longer twelve hundred miles apart. We were in Higbee’s hand in hand with Herb Alpert trumpeting just for us.

I can’t think of any greater gift, with that said; Mom, get your dancing shoes out, crank up the stereo and let’s make a joyful noise because I’ll be home for Christmas! And this time when you take my hand I promise I won’t let go.


****I would like to thank two very special people who made this piece possible to give my Mom for Christmas. Jim Ballew for the graphics and emotional hand holding all while never giving up on me during the last 2 days I drove him nuts, via text, twitter and the phone. And my Dad, Joseph Pepoy who believed in my abilities to write something special for the woman we both love!

To Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass for leaving my family with memories of a lifetime.

Lastly, to Higbee’s– thanks for the memories, anyone from Cleveland will never forget the grand spectacle of Christmas this store brought to all who walked through the grand entrance.

Main Stream Media, CliffsNotes and Moby Dick


 Back in the early 80’s I was knee deep in High School activities.  It was during this same time of year that I would have had a term paper due before Christmas break (Yes, it was called Christmas break then) and I would have been up all night finishing it because procrastination was my middle name.

 Junior year was a litany of excitement for me.  I had a vast array of events happening all at once and none of them had to do with writing a term paper.  

11th grade English consisted of our teacher assigning term papers by tier level.  A certain selection of books would qualify as an A, other books B and so on.  If she felt you had chosen a book that was beneath your skill set she reassigned a novel for you.  My original choice went unnoticed partly because I had picked my book based on the number of pages the literary work contained.  Apparently my skill set was far higher then a 162 page novella and I was reassigned Moby Dick.  

Thus I was doomed to read of Captain Ahab’s obsession.  Once finished, turned in and received back with a grade, I dumped the work of doom on the kitchen table and readied myself for district finals in volleyball.  

Dashing through the kitchen to grab an apple, car keys and my volleyball shoes, I was to meet with a pair of stern looking hazel eyes that were not jumping with glee, and I was desperately trying to avoid looking in his direction.  I glanced over long enough to notice in my father’s hand was the work of doom.  In large red ink that glowed as easily as a traffic light in the dark, was the grade on the paper I had received,  The B- was basically a failing grade given that I was to have written a term paper from the highest level of books with the hardest requirements to complete. 

“Elizabeth?”  Dad said very calmly.  “We’ll talk when you get home.” 

One thought ran through my head. GREEEAATTT! And looking at him, I flashed a smile then took off. 

After my return to the homestead I slipped upstairs, grabbed a shower and headed down to the laundry room.  My plan was to dart across the kitchen unnoticed and towards the stairs.  This would not be the case.  

Once again I heard my name and it wasn’t the angelic sounds of a choir.  More like the low rumble of a car that needed a muffler. 

“Care to explain your points on your paper?”  Dad said raising an eyebrow and pushing a chair out from the table for me to sit in. 

“A B- isn’t a bad grade, Dad.”  As soon as the words left my mouth and the rankled look peaked on Dad’s face, I knew I had struck a nerve.  Not to mention, a minor little fact, I was about to enter a one-sided debate with a man who happens to have a masters in education.  

I began to explain the teacher had noted my opening and conclusion on the paper was ‘A’ worthy. However, it was the body of work that appeared to be questionable and lacked original thought.  

Hence my father began: 

“Explain to me how Ishmael described Ahab’s obsession and how it began?”  I couldn’t. 

“Tell me about Ishmael?  Was he the protagonist?”  I couldn’t and had no clue. 

“Tell me how much the CliffsNotes cost that you used?”  Busted! 

I had made the decision early on that Moby Dick was never going to be a book of dire interest to me nor would it fit my jammed packed schedule.  CliffsNotes provided an easy out.  

CliffsNotes have a purpose, but have never been a replacement for actually doing the work.  The booklet was designed as a guide to encourage reading and understanding of the literary works in which it represented. In my world as with many other students it was a quick way to write a term paper or study for a test without putting in all the time an effort.  AKA- a short cut. 

Short cuts have been a downfall in society for a long time. The major reason is short cuts in the end never work and appear to be a band-aid on a severed limb. 

My reasoning behind this is to ask– How many people come home after work and flip on the news to catch up on the day’s events?  What exactly are they hearing?  How much information is possibly given in 30 minutes? 

Main Stream Media (MSM) is not designed to give the whole story.  Those of us who follow news regularly and research topics are completely aware that MSM outlets are the CliffsNotes of current events.  

While there are thousands of resources available through out the internet, the average American will not be going through the trouble of researching the topic and will solely depend on MSM to provide updates and new information.  Decisions will be based on what they hear in sound bites and see in video from on-site correspondents.  

These 30 minutes of cleverly designed rating snatches will not only give an incomplete view, it will determine the outcome of major events that rely on public opinion.  By paying closer attention most MSM’s mention, “For more on this story please go to our website.” 

Is this fact checking?  Not really.  Will people go on to the website and read the whole story. Doubtful.  Will anyone make time to pursue it further? Hmmmmm I know some that do and some that won’t.  Kim Kardashian’s wedding and divorce trends better.  

With Moby Dick I basically robbed myself of Melville’s master piece and the rise of obsession through Ishmael’s witness of Ahab.  It was my responsibility to engage in the adventure of a literary classic. 

My English teacher knew I possessed the ability to do the work for my paper.  I chose not to. 

I see America with much higher capabilities than using CliffsNotes to problem-solve.  To only use MSM or any other short cuts to decide who should or shouldn’t be running for public office is absurd.  

By using MSM and not looking deeper into the issues that impact Americans on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis will lessen the value of the dollar, create misconceptions, and prove to be destructive in the long run.  As goes the old adage.  “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” 

In the past I have written about the steps we take in making decisions. This is merely another example of taking the steps that protect individual rights as they pertain to the basic ideologies of the pursuit of unalienable rights.  

It is within these natural rights (unalienable) that we have a responsibility to ask the basic questions that we learned in 7th grade English.  Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?  If these questions can not meet the litmus test in viewing MSM then the logical choice would be to pursue the questions that have not been answered.   

CliffsNotes didn’t solve my problem of writing a term paper I still had to do it and I had made a poor choice for myself by not doing the actual work that was required.  I will not CliffsNote my way through another election based on what I hear in 30 minutes.  I value the right to explore and search for the answers that will provide in the long run for my family, friends and the future generations, now knowing who my choices will affect. 

Main Stream Media has a purpose to provide news and information.  It shouldn’t be their version of what side of the fence I stand on.     

Moby Dick was the obsession that led to the demise of Ahab. Ishmael was the reporter.  I was the reader who grasped information from a 30 minute read via CliffsNotes and retold the story in a paper.  I went up against far more intelligent people who found my findings beneath my abilities.  And thus questioned my integrity.  

The challenge is to question the integrity of those who present information and gaining the knowledge by asking deeper questions to provide the whole story and not just the CliffsNotes.  Who is up to such a task?  If not I have a very old and  used copy of Moby Dick CliffsNotes available.

Sharing the Wealth, Put Me Out In the Cold

Did I get your attention?  I thought so.

I have given a lot of thought on the subject of wealth redistribution; you could say it has occupied a good bit of my time over the years. All in all, it reminded me of a cold day in 1973 when it began and ended 24 hours later, that’s when I learned the basics on this subject.

The conversation began as I went racing into my parents’ bedroom while my mother was getting ready for one of many Christmas parties that year.  I jumped up on the side of the vanity and did one of my favorite things to do, watching my mom applying her make-up.

While engrossed in her actions, I soon would remember why I went in there. “Mom!” I shouted. “I need an allowance!” Startling her with the excitement in my voice, she snapped up a tissue to wipe the eyeliner off where I caused her to overshoot her eye and on to her temple.

“Oh, you do, do you?”  She never looked away from the mirror, finished correcting the eyeliner debacle and moved on to her mascara.

“Yea! Cindy get’s five bucks every week!”  My heart jumped over the excitement of getting cold hard cash.

“I see. What exactly does Cindy do for this allowance?”  She said as she glanced over at me.

Stumped I stammered for an answer “Um, I think she cleans the barn.”  Cindy had lived on a farm.

“In case you haven’t noticed we don’t have a barn. So, what are you going to do around here for five dollars?” She chuckled.

I thought a moment. My grandmother lived with us and all the really good high paying chores were done before I got home from school.  “I could clean my side of the room.”

“And I should pay you to clean your room?”  She was now blotting her lipstick.

“I guess not.”  Truthfully I was crushed by the mere tone in her voice.

“Hmmm, now let me get this straight.” There was a long pause (more like 30 seconds, but to a kid..)  “I should pay you to be a member of this family?  And you only want to pick up after yourself?”  She turned looked right at me and suddenly I could feel the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

“Uh, um, I don’t know.” I whined, regretting ever mentioning the subject.

“Oh no—wait a minute,” she said touching my arm to stop me from leaving. “You live here, eat here, we clothe you AND now you want me to pay you?” 

“Uhhhhhh, I guess?”  I was sinking fast and I couldn’t even find a life jacket let a lone a life boat.

“Also, you get presents, money when you need it, and I am pretty sure we pay for all the sports you join, the piano lessons you wanted, and now you want me to just pay you?”  This wasn’t working out how I had envisioned.

“I suppose?”  Man, why couldn’t one of the dogs come barging in, a phone call, anything to stop this line of questioning.  Yelling for help was not an option. I was drowning fast.

“How old are you again?” She knew the answer this was a warning shot that I now had her full attention. 

I hopped off the vanity and quietly answered.  “I just turned nine.”

“Well, I see.”  She smiled a sort of smile I had seen her use on Dad, when she knew the advantage belonged to her.  It was a look that did not inspire the feeling of warm fuzzies.  She added a strange chuckle before she spoke. “Can I get back to you in the morning after I have thought about your request?”

“Okay.”   Renewed hope abound I kissed her cheek avoiding contact with her sticky lipstick and left completely clueless as to what just happened. That night I would sleep peacefully at the thought she was considering my request.

However, the next morning, I found my mother up bright and early sitting at the breakfast table. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes and thinking of nothing but cold cereal and Saturday morning cartoons, I was surprised to see her there.

 I could see in front of her a white piece of paper with a lot of writing and numbers on it.  She gently slid the paper to where I had parked myself at the table.

 I sat looking at the paper, in a moment my eyes grew in disbelief.  I didn’t fully understand what was on the paper, but my mother tapped to the number at the bottom of the page.

It read:  For 9 years of services provided including room and board: 

Elizabeth Ann Pepoy owes the Pepoy Family…………..$124,162.12

“Hey! But I’m a just kid.”  I protested.

“Keep reading sweetheart.”  There are moments in your life you live to regret, this would be one of them until I had children of my own.

As I read through the repayment plan– the list covered everything from lawn mowing to doing homework and trying not to fight with my sister.  I was to help with the grocery shopping and putting them away until further notice.  I also had to help my Dad shovel the drive way when it snowed and feed the dogs.  With a special notation that feeding the dogs included giving them water. Something, I would bet had been overlooked in the past.

The note continued:

For the record no family member gets paid to be a part of the family.  Love is free. However, the house, the transportation, the lights, the water, the clothes and the food we eat are not.  Your father and I work so that you have a home with all of the above.

We give you what we have.

Love Mom

P.S. If you want anything extra get a job.  Since you are still too young to have one, it is time to start your repayment plan. I have taken the liberty of having  your boots, coat, scarf and mittens waiting in the mudroom so you can dress warmly to start shoveling the drive way.  It snowed last night.

I quietly got up from the table and looked at her.  She then asked a question that I probably shouldn’t have answered because it sent me to confession later that afternoon.

“Have you learned something this morning?”  She smiled her warm motherly smile.

“Yea.”  I groaned wondering if the hat she pulled out for me to shovel in would cause great disparity on my part Monday at the bus stop.

“And that would be?”  As she leaned up and stroked the back of my head. Knowing I had learned a valuable lesson.

“Never ask a bookkeeper for an allowance.”  I didn’t make a friend.

The days of my collection of bandersnatch creatures from Sesame Street were long behind me and my life lessons were just starting.

 My parents redistributed their wealth and wisdom to me so that I could grow up and stand on my own and truly give a hand up to those who need it. 

 I will be the first to admit the woman is good.  I would use this redistribution of wisdom on each of my own children.  I suspect they will do they same.

For those who want to pay more taxes.  I have a much better I idea.  Since I have redistributed my meager wealth to the future; aka my college age kids, who have worked minimum wage jobs while going to school and in search of their true callings.  I need a new roof feel free to send what you would have paid in taxes to the cause. 

Jeff Foxworthy said it best on Hannity, “To me, America was built on being a land of opportunity it wasn’t a land of guarantees….”

Word of caution nothing that starts out peaceful ends that way.

Be Well,