Village Matters

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By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

You never know what life is going to hand you when you get up in the morning.

As usual this morning I walked down the hill to my office on Coast Highway.   While I waited at the crossing signal I saw there was another “Estate Sale” sign tied to the traffic signal post. Just yesterday at that same traffic post I had thrown away another similar, but out-dated, “Estate Sale” sign. Usually an Estate Sale sign would be intriguing to me, but this morning I was distracted by a sign across the street at the restaurant–it looked like it was split and maybe ready to crash down and injure someone.   I felt compelled to investigate. As I walked closer I could see that what I thought was a split was only a gap between two parts of a sign–and the lower part was not falling off after all. It was secured with eye hooks.

Then I had to stop because the walkway was blocked by another “Estate Sale” sign, this one blown over onto the pavement. I straightened up the sign, and looked down the entrance walk. “I should go to work” was fighting with “This may be the only chance you will have to see this house.” So I thus I was led down the stairs to the patio of the house of the “Estate Sale.”

Through the trees along the stairs I could see tables filled with all those small objects that meant something to someone–someone who is forgotten, or has forgotten. There were a few small paintings leaning against the wall at the bottom of the stairs. The name on a desert sunset said “Frances Bostic.” ” I wonder if that could be John Bostic’s mother?” I had not thought of John Bostic in a long time.

“Yes, and these other paintings are John’s. That painting is the only one his mother ever did. John lived here in my uncle’s house. They met at the hospital cafeteria. They were both grieving–my uncle had just lost the man who had been living with him. John’s mother had recently died. They struck up a friendship and John came to live here. They used to eat their meals in the hospital cafeteria–didn’t want to cook and it was a nice walk up the hill. John died here in this house. We tried to contact his relatives and they never called back. The state buried him. Now that my uncle has died we are sorting through all these things.”

John’s mother’s sunset painting was 50 cents, John’s painting “Amendola ’43” was $3.00. I bought them both.

I explained, “I worked with Fred Lang for 25 years–and John worked for him too, during the first ten years I was here and for many years before that. After I started my own office I lost track of John, though I did see him in the neighborhood a few times. One day Fred told me he had heard that Bostic had died–weeks or months before Fred found out about it. He didn’t know any more than that. There was never anything in the paper.”

They had other things of John’s, including a roll of landscape drawings. They gave them to me. What would I do with them?   I knew I wouldn’t throw them away. Now with the drawings and the paintings I was responsible. I was holding maybe the only memories of John and his mother.

Not that I felt attached to John. That would be difficult–at least it was for me. When I worked at Lang and Wood John mostly did errands, running prints, delivering mail, and buying cookies. He specialized in buying cookies that were barely good enough to eat–he got frustrated if the cookies disappeared too fast. He also did plant counts and area takeoffs. But even though he had a landscape architectural education he wasn’t asked to do much of that–his drafting style was out of date and his work not reliable. Occasionally he would work on small projects directly for Fred.

He was tall, thin and with handsome features, but he was stooped and round shouldered with a quick, awkward, impulsive walk. To me John was eccentric, moody and in a world of his own. He seemed to be upset or angry about something. Sometimes Fred’s partner Ken Wood would say something critical to John and he would storm out of the office, slamming the door behind him. Perhaps he liked working directly with Fred as he had for so many years before Fred went into partnership and formed a larger office. Perhaps he felt left out or up-staged by the younger designers and draftspeople. Sometimes Fred would tell me, “You know Bostic has a degree from Berkeley.”

One of the other draftsmen took an interest in John, to me it seemed almost like a project. Every morning while the rest of us would be concentrating on our drawings and ignoring John, Trent would have a pleasant greeting for him and friendly comments and questions. John beamed and joked back–this was a John I could only glimpse. I had limited my view of him to his humble role in the office.

Now I had his drawings and paintings. Later in the day I was drawn back to the Estate Sale. John had been in the service they had said. They were going through more papers. His honorable discharge–sergeant, U. S. Army, weather observer in north Africa and Italy, 1945. There were some articles written by John’s mother, about her techniques of making Della Robia wreaths from dried plants. Two happy pictures of her. And inadvertantly she described her painting “…the coloring of the desert was most intriguing. I kept trying to create something that would depict the beauty of the sunrise, the mysterious colors that cloaked the…” The rest of the article was missing. The only picture of John was his driver’s license, which they gave me.

Now I wished I had known John better. I wished that he had had a proper obituary–that I had bothered enough to know enough to write one. I thought of the endearing and accomplished Fred Lang who died in May, and the memorial service for esteemed architect Dan McMann which I had just attended. The responsibilities of knowing people and appreciating them, and saving some part of the evidence of their lives and thoughts–can be ignored, can be a burden that dominates, or can enrich and enlighten. I will not be able to look at those paintings without feeling the tension and interplay of these competing attitudes.

As usual this morning I walked down the hill to my office on Coast Highway.

Yesterday I had seen an “Estate Sale” sign from last weekend tied to the traffic signal post. I had untied the string to remove the sign and put it in the trash. Here today was another similar sign–an estate sale on Wednesday. I didn’t look to see where the arrow pointed, but I looked across the street to Ti Amo Restaurant. Their sign looked like it had split apart with one portion dangerously and barely held to the part attached to the bracket support. I envisioned that piece of wood crashing down–maybe injuring someone. Estate sales slipped from my mind, I had to investigate that sign. I crossed Coast Highway with the light and walked past the Deli toward Ti Amo. As I walked closer I could see that what I thought was a split was the gap between two intentional parts of a sign–and the lower part was not falling off after all. It was secured with eye hooks.

Then I had to stop because the walkway was blocked by another “Estate Sale” sign, this one blown over onto the pavement. I straightened up the sign, and looked down the entrance walk. “I should go to work” was fighting with “This may be the only chance you will have to see this house.” So I went down the stairs to the patio of the house of the “Estate Sale.”

Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.

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