Thursday, August 15, 2019

Letha Bean 1945-2019

The first time I spoke with Letha, which was in 1997, the first words out her mouth were those of instruction to me, and she changed my life.  While working long hours in Burbank, I often took weekend trips by myself to Lake Tahoe and Monterey, among other places.  And during one of those trips a year earlier, which was in 1996, I had stopped on a Friday night at a hotel in Buttonwillow.  I was awoken the next morning by some determined house-keeper trying to break into my hotel room.  She used her master key and opened the door only to be stopped by that slider latch that you can swing over the door jam. 

I unlatched the door and I opened it a little, poking my messy head out.  The house keeper said she was sorry and didn’t know someone was in there.  I noted that she was extra cute because of her frizzy perm, and then I took a shower to get on my way for my trip.  On the way out, I saw her outside another room and I asked for her number.  The girl, Brenda, took my number instead.  But after a few months of intermittent phone conversations and mistimed messages, our communication waned off.  And then, her number seemed to have been disconnected at some point. 

So a year later, when I happened to be coming through town again, I thought I would stop by the hotel and see if that pretty little brunette could be found. As I started up some exterior stairs of the hotel, I saw an attractive blonde woman on the ground level beneath me taking white towels from a nearby laundry room, and I asked her, “Does that dark haired girl, Brenda, still work here?”  It was Letha, and she who took a gander at me…that momentary hesitation she would do when looking at you up and down a little, and then she said, “She’s my daughter, and she’s sick today. You call her!  We moved and changed our number since you two talked, so I’ll give it to you.”  She tore off a piece of paper and wrote their number down for me, and she emphasized again, “Now you call her!” 

“Yes ma’am!"  And that was that!

I loved Letha right away.  She welcomed me into her and her daughter’s life visiting that smokey, one bedroom guest house off of Sycamore that they rented, which was really carved out of a garage space. Every time I walked in there, they were playing Country Music Television and chattering about how this country star looked, or who that one was dating.  And let me tell you, Letha definitely had a thing for Alan Jackson and his torn jeans. I heard a lot of that talk.

Letha had a little garden on the side patio; plants that she and Brenda would primp and water daily.  I was immediately struck by how cute and resourceful they were to somehow be able to turn the smallest of places into a bonafide home.  They reminded me of my biological father who could make any dish out of a little chicken when we had nothing. Letha also allowed me into her family circle; her children, her sisters and brothers, and her mother, Eva. There is a bond between them all that is inexplicable and indescribable for me. They are people who could truly rely on each other during all of their years together through times of hardship, and through many the locales that they lived in.

Letha and her brothers and sisters had a very hard childhood, and I respect each of the for making a life of their own that was better than what they were given growing up.  They also all depended on one-another, both for safety and for play.  Jeanette can tell you how she and Letha used to sneak out of their bedroom window at night to meet boys.  They would wait at their windows to make sure their parents didn’t hear them, while holding a flashlight that had colored bulbs that they used to signal the waiting boys in their cars as to whether Jeanette and Letha could get out unseen or not.  Very clever.  And when Mavis got wind of what they were doing, she would extort the occasional cheeseburger out of them in order for their secrets to remain secrets from their parents.  Even more clever! 

Letha knew how to take care of business when it was needed.  Living on Gun Club Road, a certain pesky coyote kept on breaking into their chicken coop and killing their chickens; the chickens that provided her family with morning eggs.  Well, Letha got fed up with it all one night, grabbed Billy’s rifle, and she shot the menacing coyote from two-hundred feet away…at night!  Good aim, Letha!  Problem solved!

Letha was once shot at herself.  She was in a payphone booth in El Monte, talking on the phone when some guys rushed out onto the street from just having robbed a liquor store.  Thinking she was calling the police, they shot at her, grazing her hair.  She slumped down to the bottom of the booth to feign being hit, and so they all took off.  Wow, that was close! 

As I gradually got to know this woman, I grew to see that she had such a very sweet heart inside her.  That she, who didn’t have a lot in the way of money would always offer me her possessions.  Her album cover with James Dean on it.  Her little wooden Tiki statue that sits in my office.  A book about some local history. I loved them all. 

I sometimes got the feeling that she felt she should give me something, like in the way of thanks for my helping her.  But she didn’t have to.  It was completely unnecessary.  I loved her, and I enjoyed just talking to her and listening to her.  I liked to see her comforted and happy with her family.  She loved having people over and chatted up stories of the old days while everyone was playing dominoes.  Her dominoes game was just, okay, I guess.  She seemed to be overshadowed by Billy, Henry, and Jeanette, who were experts at the game.  But she loved it all.  I’m sure that the neighbors always knew when Letha had her family over because we were all laughing loudly and spontaneously. Christmas mornings with her grandchildren, Johnny Lee, Austin, Carson, Freddie and Nellie, were a raucous frenzy of wrapping paper flying everywhere. These times gave Letha joy, and her laughter was infectious and instantly recognizable. 

The younger Letha that I first knew regularly went to the O.T. in Wasco on Friday nights, or wherever her brother Johnny was holding Karaoke, and she would dance all night with family and friends.  I think that she probably enjoyed those days immensely. I know that Brenda treasures them. And then as she aged, Letha, along with Brenda would go with her mother, Eva, and they would all three jump in a car and bump around the second hand stores all day, getting soda and Fish N Chips at the bowling alley. 

What a threesome they were.  Three generations of women, doing what they loved to do.  It was beautiful.  When Eva passed away, it was up to Letha and Brenda to hold up that tradition, and so they did.  Car trips to the burger place for fries and a shake.  More second hand stores during which Letha always went for the clothes that were a little too small for her.  It was constantly up to Brenda to tell her that those sizes probably wouldn’t fit her.  Letha was obviously very optimistic. 

Letha loved her TV shows; “Court TV" was her latest binging favorite as of late.  She loved, “The Price Is Right,” “Let’s Make a Deal,” “Jeopardy,” boxing matches, and, of course, any Dodger Game.  One of my favorite memories with Letha took place shortly after Kenny and Kelly moved to Vancouver, and they had invited Brenda and Sandra up there to visit them.  Knowing that Letha would probably be turn on the beginning of that night’s Dodger game, I called her and asked her if she was starting to watch it.  “Well yeeeees, of couurse I am, Fred!” 

I then left my house, grabbed a cheeseburger and a large soda for myself, and I drove up to Letha’s house and surprised her.  We watched the game together, a hoopin’ and a hollerin’ at the players and all the bad calls.  And, it was a blast because, for once, I had her all to myself the entire evening.  How special it was for me. 

And as she got even older, she had some physical troubles, as many people do.  And she faced them with both courage and stubbornness.  She did things the way she wanted.  And so as a result, she could be argumentative with those around her, and she got confused from time to time with the meaning of her own words.  But what is amazing about her is that she never played the victim of her decline.  She simply kept going each day, doing what she needed to do, assisted by her children, and she went the way that I hope to go someday; with the feeling that she lived the way she wanted to.  I for one, will follow her model. 

And as for you five children of Letha; Johnny, Brenda, Sandra, Timmy, and Kenny, it is really beautiful that you came from this very special lady; this woman loved each and every one of you very deeply. Trust me. I am right about that.  She told me herself many times.  And you will always have her within yourselves.  The way you view the world, the means by which interact with people, and all of your precious stories and memories with her that you will tell for the rest of your lives; you will always hear her sweet voice in your heads, and she will never leave you. 

We all love you, Letha.