Sixty years ago this week, my mother presented my father with a present: me!
I’ve never been too sure of the level of his excitement, but there I was, and here I am, all the same. I padded around Long Beach on short legs (they never did get very long) through kindergarten, and the first two years of grammar school. Then, voila! We moved to Laguna Beach in 1957.
We bounced around housing while waiting for 421 Ledroit Lane to close escrow. I was able to taste the sweetness of the beach at Emerald Bay and suffer through “cot-living” in an apartment on Upper Cliff Drive. My neighbor there was none other then Eiler Larson, Laguna’s first official greeter.
Mrs. White’s third-grade class at El Morro Elementary School was my first stop, and the beginning of friendships that would last throughout my journey through the Laguna Beach school system. Sandy Mikels and Cory Endwiess were my first two friends. Our principal was Bill Allen, the father of Jill Allen, who would be one of my lifelong friends, as well as the homecoming queen for the class of 1967. My mom at some point was president of the PTA.
The most lasting impression that any teacher ever had on me was my fifth-grade instructor, David Lloyd. He challenged me with speed group math, opened doors to science, history and reading, and created an environment in which it was easy to excel. On top of that, he trucked snow to the school so we could celebrate winter festivities.
Through grammar school and into Thurston Middle School, I added the likes of north Laguna girls Gail Goodell, Linda Kluer, Betsy Gregory, Lisa Perine and Cheryl Seay. Kathy Peacock shared her horse with me and we rode bareback on the beaches now encompassed by Crystal Cove State Park. Hard to believe the Al’s horse ranch has been gone that long. Deidre Lindsay kept her horses there as well.
At Thurston, the two elementary schools — Aliso and El Morro — joined together, and the breadth of friendships expanded. Val Iverson, Cathy Kauer and Sue Klaasen became a part of a core group of women that I am proud to say remain tight to this day. Merri Johns became part of that mix when she finally moved to Laguna in high school, and the five of us regularly share e-mails and try to get together at least every other year.
My first journalism job was at Thurston, under the tutelage of Mr. McFarland. I worked at the paper during seventh grade, and in eighth was the editor in chief. I often remember him when I write these columns, and am thankful for his early guidance.
High school, for most of us, provided a deepening of existing friendships and the creation of new ones. We shifted from our parental models to peer group approvals, and watched our own interests change. Lila “Granny” Greene came as a new student, and fast became one of my closets confidants. To this day, I know I can count on her to give me objective advice, and she’s there, willing to take a phone call at nearly any hour.
Kathy Peacock, Nancy Dewhurst and I created a language — both written and hand signing. We used it to pass notes and signal each other about boys. Robert Renfro was involved, and Wesley Lum took it upon himself to break that code. Dark, embarrassed days followed.
Thurston was still located on Park Avenue in the space now occupied by the high school pool. The pool was otherwise across the street, and we were lucky to be able to have swimming — my favorite sport — as part of our physical education curriculum. OK, the bathing suits were totally ganky — red cotton stretchy, baggy, horrid-looking things. We’d run from the locker room to the pool and stay as covered in the water as possible.
Run it up to cheerleading and Laguna taking CIF — high school in Laguna was an intimate experience. The small town sense surrounded us all, and a handful of my classmates were the children of shopkeepers downtown. We were close knit and watched each other’s backs.
My boyfriend was a handsome blond transplant from Downey, Chris Yeomans. We didn’t stick after graduation, but he’s always had a soft spot in my heart. Senior party was right on campus. The parents put together an amazing casino night. At one point, I had won more money than anyone, which put me in perfect position to “buy” prizes at the end of the night. That was before Cameron Smith worked some angles with his friends, and convinced them to pool their resources.
After graduation is a whole other story, but the Class of ’67 still rocks . . . and those grounding years in Laguna Beach have colored the rest of my life experiences.
CATHARINE COOPER is a local designer, photographer and writer who thrives off beaten trails. She can be reached at email@example.com or (949) 497-5081.