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Stalled Driver Gets Spiritual Lift

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Marv and Madge Landfield don’t venture much beyond their Mission Viejo neighborhood, a serene retirement community with gated entrances and sparse street traffic. It’s so cloistered from the outside world that Marv jokes when he gives directions.

“There’s a drawbridge there and alligators in the moat,” cracks the pixieish 88-year-old. “And that’s to keep us in!”

So wouldn’t you know it, the very day they decide to go out for lunch, their 1989 Oldsmobile breaks down. Stalls dead in its tracks in a busy intersection on Marguerite Parkway. The emergency lights won’t flash, and cars whiz by in all directions, a blur of motorists oblivious to the couple’s mounting anxiety.

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“Oh, I was scared to death,” said the former musician who is now legally deaf. “I thought, ‘This is the end.’ ”

For a helpless moment, Marv feared he had stumbled into that scary world seen in nightly newscast chronicles of crime and car chases. What happened next made him think twice about the hectic, threatening world beyond his gates.

So many strangers stopped to offer help that Marv felt buoyed by their passing expressions of concern. They were people of every color and nationality, a display of multicultural kindness that gave him a spiritual lift still evident this week when I visited his comfortable home.

“Everybody you see getting handcuffed [on the news] seems to belong to another country,” Marv said. “But when the chips are down, you find that there’s more good people than bad. I can’t believe there’s so many wonderful people out there.”

Samaritans Sent From Above

An Asian woman was the first to come to the aid of the stranded couple, who had made a dangerous dash on foot to the curb. She used her cell phone to call for help.

Then two husky Latino men stopped their big truck, scampered out and pushed the disabled car out of the intersection, “like they were told to do that.” They didn’t say a word. Just smiled, waved and drove away.

They left before Marv could think of thanking them. The gray-haired man put his hand over his heart and softly uttered good wishes in Spanish: Vaya con Dios. Go with God.

Marv believes all these Samaritans were sent from above. Like the other “angels” who have intervened throughout his life in trying times. When he pulled shore duty during World War II, keeping him close to his pregnant wife. When he landed a job as a music editor with Fox studios working on such films as “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music.” When he struggled to sell his former home and finally found a buyer.

“When I’m in trouble, somebody always shows up,” Marv said. “They don’t know they’re angels. They appear and they help you.”

As it turns out, the Olds just needed a new alternator. But the experience sparked Marv to write me an e-mail a few days later. “I wish there was some way to thank all of those beautiful people,” he said.

As a columnist, I confess I’m also guilty of trafficking in bad news. I’m always soaked in conflicts and often hear from partisans who express strong ethnic animosities, one way or the other.

I forget that most people out there actually manage to get along. Marv’s mundane incident would never make the papers. But the lesson he learned from it sure deserves a little press.

Immigrants have always been the backbone of America, says this grandson of Russian Jews. That is still true today, whether newcomers are from Europe, Asia or Latin America.

“For people not to revere and welcome them into our country. . . .” said Marv, pausing to let the thought finish itself. “Who invented the Salk vaccine if not an immigrant? We should never forget because that’s what makes America great.”

Marv perked up when I asked him about his family history. “Come here,” he said, popping out of his living room chair. “I wanna show you a picture. You’ll like this.”

In his small study was an old family photograph printed in sepia tones on an oval-shaped tin. It shows his grandparents, Elias and Tessie, along with their seven children, all gussied up at the moment of passage to the American continent.

It was 1886 in Montreal. In their flight from persecution under the czars, the family had been diverted from New York’s Ellis Island, already overflowing with new arrivals.

Marv’s father, Philip E. Landfield, was too little to be in the picture. He was still in his mother’s womb.

The family settled in Chicago, where Marv was born in 1911. As a child he moved with his parents to San Francisco. His father never finished school but worked as a successful stockbroker until he lost it all in the stock market crash of 1929.

Marv learned to play saxophone and clarinet. He soon started his own band, doing weddings and bar mitzvahs under the name Marv Land and That Band. (“Pretty corny, huh?”)

Later, Marv was crooning at the Circus Cafe, a dinner-and-dancing spot on Hollywood Boulevard. He’d take his breaks at the coffee shop upstairs where a waitress named Magdalen Polries rewarded his performances with extra scoops of ice cream.

Marv fell in love. The following year, he was playing with a Hawaiian band in New York when he proposed by telephone. But Madge balked because her family was Catholic.

“Don’t worry,” said Marv, who urged his fiancee to join him. “It’ll work out somehow.”

And so it did. They’ve been together for 62 years.

Marv and I went out for sandwiches at a spot overlooking Mission Viejo Lake, near the infamous intersection. Marv, who was sporting a silver Hopi Indian watch band, recalled witnessing discrimination against black musicians during the Depression era.

He spoke proudly about his grandson, who happens to be African American. The handsome young man, Casey Bridges, is the adopted son of Marv’s eldest daughter and her former husband, actor Beau Bridges.

The talk soon turned to another recent news story about the completion of the human genome project, which mapped the human gene structure.

“We are all related,” he said with excitement. “We are all cousins, all over the world. That’s how God sees us. We just don’t know it. But our genes are proving this.”

Before we left, he bought me a roll of his favorite sourdough bread and said, “This is really not a bad world we live in.”

*

Agustin Gurza’s column appears Tuesday and Saturday. Readers can reach Gurza at (714) 966-7712 or agustin.gurza@latimes.com.


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