Color It Blond
To achieve any exciting goal is a thrilling experience. For two kids from rural Michigan, used to swimming in quiet, cattail-fringed lakes, to step out into the Pacific Ocean, which stretches all the way to China almost without interruption — that is far more than exciting. For us, it was magic.
It was so exciting, in fact, that we had only partly noticed that those two girls, who had emerged from the Gibson house and who had unconsciously shown us the way down that cliff, were still there up the beach a ways, watching these crazy newcomers make fools of themselves. When we saw them, we went up to explain our behavior. We quite definitely noticed them now. The older one — she told us her name was Helen Gibson — had long flowing hair as blond as the sea sand which stretched all about us. She was 15; her younger sister Louise was 13. They weren’t too used to all this expanse of water themselves, Helen explained. They had just recently come from the deserts of Arizona.
Arizona. The Grand Canyon state!
“Tell us about it. Is the Canyon as grand as its name?” Now that we were standing knee-deep in the Pacific, the Grand Canyon was the last unattained goal on the list which had
catipulted us on this high adventure. Here was a chance to get firsthand information from a native of the Grand Canyon state.
“I’ve never been there,” the girl replied, a bit sheepishly. “I was born in Arizona, but we never visited the Canyon. Isn’t that terrible?”
For probably an hour we talked with the girls, telling them much about our trip and learning from them exciting things about Arizona. It was almost dark when they said they had to take off for home. Win and I headed along the beach until it came close to the road. A dilapidated barn, or shack (we couldn’t tell which, in the darkness) was set back a short distance from the dirt highway. Even though it was still early, we decided to call it a day. There was room on what was left of the old floor to spread out our blankets
But we couldn’t sleep.
“Francis,” Win said to me, “I feel the day isn’t over yet.”
I had the same feeling. Rolling up our blankets in the darkness, we made our way out to the highway, wondering whether we should continue on north a bit farther, or turn back toward now-distant San Francisco.
A car swung around the bend, its lights caught us for a moment, then it turned off toward the beach. Within a minute, two girls came running toward us. One of them was Helen Gibson; even in the darkness I could not miss that long blond hair.
“We recognized you when the car lights caught you.” Still out of breath from running, she added, “This is my older sister, Thelma. Louise is in the car. And our cousin Teddy from Texas. And Roy Carr. We’re going for a beach party. Won’t you join us?”
Win and I exchanged glances. Our day was certainly not over. For two or three hours — all of us forgot about time —guitar music and song and laughter filled the evening air over the Pacific beach as we sang and roasted marshmallows, then talked about Arizona and Texas and Michigan and California. And the still elusive Grand Canyon.
The next day was Sunday.
“Why don’t you come up to our house tomorrow and have Sunday dinner with us?” Thelma Gibson suggested. “We get back from church in Arcata a little after noon. I’m sure mother won’t mind.”
“Why don’t you come earlier, and go into church with us?” Helen Gibson interjected. “Mother really won’t mind, if you do that.”
That night Win and I slept on the beach, next morning scrounging around to discover some vegetables in a deserted garden near that shack by the road, then cooking them in salt water from the Pacific over a little fire there on the beach. The ocean water seasoned them perfectly. Here we had had our first view of the Pacific, we had waded in it, we had tasted its waters in our breakfast stew, but we had not yet taken a swim in this newly found western sea. That omission was remedied immediately and we just had time to get up to the Gibson house as the family was leaving to drive to church in Arcata.
With Helen and Thelma Gibson we sat in on a Sunday school class which preceded the worship service. The black-garbed minister presided at both, and his Sunday school lesson was on the prodigal son. Helen and I exchanged amused glances; was the minister thinking, we could sense each other wondering, that Win and I might be prodigals?
The minister even accompanied us back for Sunday dinner at the Gibson table, and it was sumptuous. Following chicken and gerierous trimmings, we young people all rode in Roy Can’s Ford up the coast to see the Trinidad lighthouse and whaling station. Helen and I, sitting in the back seat, talked more about the Grand Canyon which she had never seen and which Win and I would so soon be exploring.
“Now that you have introduced us to the Pacific Ocean,” I told her, “that Canyon is the final big goal on our list.”
From our encounter with the Gibson girls Win and I headed southward, to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, then up and down and back and forth across the Golden State for more than two months. We experienced California and the Pacific in a dizzying variety of aspects and moods.
Now it was time for that Canyon.