Forging into the Fourth

"…and life flows on within you and without you." — George Harrison

The Fourth is upon us again this weekend and that just happens to coincide with my occasional reappearance in the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. I'm happy to be back!

I'm still the prodigal gardener, but now commenting about Laguna in broader strokes. Does nearly 60 years of residency (a lifetime, actually) give license to observe what is Laguna? My editors seem to think so.

I observe with sadnessthat the brilliant, purple reign of the jacaranda is waning, but also symbolizes the "joyful" return of the art festivals, the hordes of out-of-towners, and really bad traffic. However, I plan to embrace these summer inconveniences as an opportunity to inject financial health back into our city economy (and ride the trolley).

Frequently I am in the mix of espousing reasonable development and entitlements, and it is interesting how minor "maybes" can be blown into dramatic, pulp headlines, signaling the end of Laguna, if we believe those quoted. I agree with the City Council: Let's help our local businesses, while respecting our neighborhoods. Now, if we only learned to consider other points of view.

Back to the past: The time is Fourth of July weekend, 1963, and Nat King Cole's "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days Of Summer" flood the airwaves. In the case of my Japanese American family, it is Oba-chan's (grandmother's) onigiri (rice balls), soy-marinated sesame green beans, and teriyaki chicken that are on my mind.

Then as today, the beach was a grand place to hang out on any summer day, but particularly during a holiday. My parents favored West Street beach, perhaps because it was a little less crowded. My dad, Pete, would pitch a large, brightly covered umbrella, and Mom and Grandmother would spread a traditional tatami mat for the family to relax.

My grandmother had carefully lined the bottom of cardboard boxes with wax paper, and lined up each course by hashi (chopstick). It wasn't until decades later that I realized that when she closed the lid, the delicate flavors of the green beans and chicken began to flavor the sticky Japanese rice. The food was always divinely delicious and even the complementary colors of each food group was so… Japanese.

Fireworks, even safe and sane, were not allowed in Laguna back then or now — a good thing. But everyone smuggled in sparklers, those innocuous torches that can reach temperatures exceeding 1,000 Fahrenheit (and they do). To this day, I recall the moment my finger sizzled after making contact with the thin, blazing rod. I still wear the scar, so be safe.

Thanks to the city and our local Realtors, the really big fireworks show will go on! I believe that I am entitled to offer some historical perspective: Our Main Beach fireworks are the best. And despite the tourists and congestion, with the echo of Nat King Cole on my mind, "You'll wish that summer could always be here." See you next time.

Steve Kawaratani is a local, plant guy and always will be. He can be reached at or (949) 497-8168.

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