LIFE IN THE WILDS OF NORTHERN CA

IN THE BEGINNING . . .

One of the boys in their white cowboy hats.

Kit and I were both 17 - or Kit, nearly so - when we met at Lake Tahoe in a summer romance sort of thing.  I was there camping with my family, and Kit was there with friends.  My family and I were set up in the coveted "beach camps" area on a bluff above the beach in D.L. Bliss State Park, and Kit and friends were camped up the road in another camp area of the park and every day the four boys, in their white cowboy hats, drove down to the beach past our campsite.

L-R: my brother Steve, my Mom, sister Cindy, my grandmother, sister Meredith, and moi.

Unfortunately, when my family and I went down to the beach, they preferred to pick a spot at the opposite end of the beach from where the boys were.  I don't think it was deliberate, it was just the way it was.  I might have used my youngest sister, Cindy, as a decoy - a tactic I had used on other occasions.  She was 8 years old at the time and thought it was great fun to help her big sister meet boys!  If I saw some interesting boys on the beach, I'd send her down the way and tell her I was going to call her, but she wasn't to come.  When she didn't, I would go after her and in the meantime, be passing the boys with, seemingly, a good reason to be walking past them so I wouldn't (hopefully) appear to be trying to call attention to myself.  It usually worked, too.  I'd smile at the boys and roll my eyes as I herded my wayward little sister back to the family fold and sooner or later at least one of the boys would come sauntering over to say "Hi".

I didn't have to use such a ploy with Kit, however.  One afternoon I went down to the beach to read - sitting in the shade of some pine trees there.  After a while the boys came down to the beach and started tossing a football around.  Now I do have to admit that the boys usually came down to the beach along about the same time every day, so my being there at that time was not exactly an innocent coincidence.  Anyway, after a short while a football came flying over, landing in the sand at the edge of my beach towel and one of the boys came running after it, apologizing.  He picked up the ball, but stood there a moment before asking what I was reading.  I don't remember what book it was, but I mentioned the title and he apparently decided that was enough of an invitation to say "Hi, my name's Kit."

About that time we heard a loud "For Crissakes, Perlee, throw the ball back!"  Grinning, he threw it back but didn't leave, continuing to stand there by my towel so I said "My name's Gail.  Would you like to sit down?"  And he would.  And he did.  And thats how we met!

We sat and talked for a while and I was hoping maybe he'd say something about going to the dance that night over in Meeks Bay.  They held a dance there for teens and college-age kids in a barn-like structure on the beach every night in the summer.  But unfortunately he and his friends had other plans that night.  The next day, however, there he was coming over almost immediately after my family and I came down to the beach and he spent most of the day with me and asked if I would be at the dance that night - and of course, I would be!

All four boys came to the dance that night and Kit singled me out right away.  It was a Tuesday night and on Tuesday nights they held an ameteur talent contest which I always entered and I entered the contest that night singing (I think?) "Many A New Day" from "Oklahoma" and won the three silver dollars 1st prize.  Kit was impressed and had I known, then, what I found out a few years later, I would have been impressed that he was impressed because it turned out his parents were very much into the opera scene, and his older brother was an assistant director with the San Francisco Opera!

Anyway, we danced all night and when the dance was over the boys, with my parents' permission, of course, drove me back to camp . . . except first Kit borrowed his friend's car and we 'parked' for a while at the beach overlooking the lake.  It was his last night at Tahoe.  He and his friends were heading home to southern California the next day and he asked me to meet him on the beach at 8:00 in the morning to say goodbye.

So the next morning, bright and early, I was up and down to the beach to wait.  And I waited.  And waited.  And waited!  But he never came.  Later, I walked up to their campsite, but there was someone else camped there.  I didn't know what to think?  But somehow I didn't think he would have left me there on purpose and as it turned out, he hadn't.  I learned later the friend with the car had decided they didn't have time for him to meet me on the beach before they left, and since it was the friend's car, Kit didn't have much of a choice.  But of course I didn't know all that at the time.

Prior to meeting Kit, I had met a girl from Temple City (southern Calif.) and that day, as we sat on the beach, she commiserated with me over Kit's failure to show up that morning.  She and her family were leaving at the end of the week for home, so we exchanged addresses and I asked her if she'd look in her phonebook when she got home to see if by any chance there was a Perlee family listed in there and lo and behold, there was!  So, knowing from things he'd said, Kit's birthday was coming up at the end of the month, I sent a birthday card to the Perlee address listed in the Temple City phonebook.  It turned out the Perlees listed in that area were relatives of Kit's and they sent the card on to him in San Bernardino.

It was two weeks before I heard anything back.  And then, bright and early on a Sunday morning, my Dad had to get out of bed to answer the door for a Special Delivery letter addressed to "La Nighten-Gail"  Apparently Kit had either forgotten or never knew my last name but remembered my first name and that I sang.  So as you can no doubt figure out, that is why the name "La Nightingail" holds such meaning for me!

That letter was the first of many as we wrote back and forth to each other.  In fact when he injured his hand in an accident and couldn't write for a while, he had his mother write his letters to me as he dictated them to her!

But it was both of our senior years in high school and gradually the letters became more and more infrequent as other things took precedence and finally Kit said he really didn't want to pursue what amounted to a long-distance pen pal relationship.  Dang!

Go Gouchos! We made those giant pom poms out of tissure paper. Took us all summer!

I interpreted that, however, as his having found a 'real' girlfriend and, truth be told, I had a 'real' boyfriend.  And while Kit was busy - 400 miles away - with football and band and other things, my time was pretty much taken up with choir and drama, and cheerleading.  So our relationship faltered as we each became singularly busy with our own lives.

Kit in band uniform - he was a drummer!

Fast forward a couple of years and all of a sudden I got a letter saying he was coming up to visit his aunt and uncle in San Francisco during Easter Week and if I wasn't busy, maybe we could get together to see a movie or something.  And we did - going to see "Ben Hur" in the new fancy Todd-AO theater.  We also did a couple of other things together and I was invited to dinner with his aunt and uncle.  But then he went home and what with one thing and another, I didn't write to him for three weeks and he wasn't happy about that, so once again he begged off the pen pal relationship.  Double Dang!!  But again - oh well.

A year and a half went by and then one day along came a letter saying he was coming up to attend U.C. Berkeley - a mere three miles from my home in El Cerrito - and maybe he'd look me up when he got there.  Well he did look me up and we dated for five months.  But he wanted us to be in an exclusive relationship and I wasn't ready for that yet, so once again we parted ways.  He graduated from Cal with a degree in forestry the next year and went to work for the U.S. Forest Service with his first assignment in Tuolumne County where we live today!

So while Kit went on with his life, I went on with mine.  I moved out of the family home and into a nice 1-bdrm apartment near a major shopping mall.  The rent was only $93.50 a month.  Hard to believe.  Everything's relative, however.  I was only making $285.00 a month as a receptionist for a big insurance company. 

Still, I could go to the store with a dollar and come home with a pound of hamburger, a loaf of bread, and a quart of milk and still have change left over!  That's my parakeet, Piper, in the cage in my diningroom, by the way.  It was a nice spacious apartment - 500 square feet with a big walk-in closet.  Worked for me!

And when my brother joined the Navy, he let me drive his car for a while which was a rather nice change from having to take the bus everywhere.  And can you belive it?  Gas was only 37 cents a gallon back then!  (That's my sister Cindy having fun modeling with the car.)

So anyway, I had my apartment and my brother's car and I started taking courses at the local community college - things like Business Law, and Drama.  And I dated one fellow and another - even giving something brand new at the time called 'Computer Dating' (a rather rustic form of what it is today) a shot.  But after a few dates with a guy, interest would wane.  I had a girlfriend at the time who'd shake her head and roll her eyes each time I dropped a guy, asking: "What's wrong with this one?"  But I'd always said I didn't want to get married until I was at least 25.  I wanted time to enjoy the single life first, so two or three dates with a guy and "au revoir" was a good plan - for a while, anyway.

Gradually, however, I found myself singing for my girlfriends' weddings and attending their baby showers and began to think maybe I'd enjoyed the single life long enough and should start looking for someone I might like to spend the rest of my  life with, and that's when I began to think of Kit again.  He was a nice, good-looking, steady fellow and I had liked him a lot.  Maybe I was ready to be serious about him now?  But where was he, and what was he doing?  Was he married?  Engaged?  I remembered he had an aunt living in San Francisco so one day I worked up the courage to call her.  I was reluctant to give her my name, however, so I simply said I was a friend of Kit's and wondered where he was and what he was up to these days?

A cold voice on the other end of the line dripping  icicles asked: "Is this the girl in the newspaper?!!"

I hesitated.  "Ehrm . . . I don't think  so?"

Uh-oh! NEXT: THE MYSTERY IS SOLVED
La Nightingail

Latest comments

07.11 | 19:18

The Sierras are beautiful. I look forward to driving up into the mountains every summer on the way to the lake! :)

07.11 | 19:14

There are additional passes both north and south of the ones I've mentioned. I was concentrating on those I've used to get to my favorite lake. :)

07.11 | 19:10

Interesting is how one climbs gradually from the west to cross the passes but from the east it's a steep continual climb due to the way the mtns were formed.

07.11 | 02:00

I fell like I've been on a tour bus! And without any motion sickness! Our eastern mountain roads are plenty twisty but no match for those heights!