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I love Napa. I was lucky to grow up there. Even though I don’t live there anymore, it’s still home. I visit friends and family there when I can to get my “Napa Fix.” So much has changed over the last few decades, yet it feels exactly the same to me whenever I go back. Once I drive into Napa and see the mustard growing in the vineyards, I know I’m home.

When I was a kid, all the tourists passed by the actual city of Napa and headed up valley to the wineries. They missed out on a lot of cool stuff. Now they flock to Downtown Napa, with all of its new restaurants, wine bars, boutiques, hotels and a bustling riverfront. But there are so many other beautiful places in Napa. Just drive away from Downtown in any direction and you’ll see.

I can’t wait to go back. Besides, I’m overdue for some malfatti. Which brings me to my Top Ten List.

Top Ten Ways You Know You’re a True Napan:

10.  You snuck into Kay-Von Drive-In in somebody’s car trunk. Or you snuck in under the fence. Or you simply paid to get in by cramming as many people in the car as you could.

9.  You call the country club the Country Club. (I don’t know what the “Silverado Resort and Spa” is … )

8.  You have your own personal Rebob story. It probably involves either one of your friends trying to scare the crap out of you, or you trying to scare the crap out of one of your friends.

7.  You cruised the “J” on Friday and Saturday nights, and waited all year for the big Cruise Night. And you found your friends somewhere along Jefferson without the help of cell phones.

6.  You went to the Big Game every year at Memorial Stadium, and your life depended on who would win.

5.  You headed to the Lake many summer weekends in an overcrowded car stuffed with friends, Doritos and beer, blasting AC/DC and Journey all the way. Or you went up with the family in your station wagon. And you saluted the Old Man With the Pipe on the way up.

4.  You walked Downtown on the weekends and met up with friends (usually at the Clock Tower — officially known as the Paul R. Gore Clock Tower. Paul was the Dad of a few of my high school friends). You probably grabbed something to eat at the Woolworth’s counter, or at The Fox & The Grapes, or at the deli next to Mervyn’s. You stopped in Partrick’s Candy (now Anette’s) to smell the chocolate. You browsed Brewster’s, Mervyn’s, Merrill’s and Carithers. Sometimes you’d see a movie at the Uptown, when they had intermission and cartoons, too. You hurried past the Connor Hotel, but slowed down at the deserted Fagiani’s long enough to peek through the front door window. If you dared.

  “Napa Clock Tower” by Will Murray (Willscrlt) is licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0-US

3.  You know the exact two spots in town to pick up malfatti. And you likely took a big pot to the back door of The Depot back in the day to pick some up from Clemente and his family.

2.  Depending on which generation you fit into, you either partied at the Tucker Bag and Rainbow Bridge or you hit Alfredo’s on Tuesdays for Nickel Beer Night. And you probably hit whatever incarnation the popular Downtown hotspot was at the time (either The Oberon, Main Street Bar & Grill, or Downtown Joe’s). Maybe you played volleyball at Tom Foolery. You probably even stopped in Henry’s … if you were in-the-know.

1.  You know the difference between a Napan and a Napkin. A napkin, by definition, is “a square piece of cloth or paper used at a meal to wipe the fingers or lips, and to protect garments.”  ‘Nuff said.

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What Day Is It??!!

I think I’ve mentioned I love Friday the 13th. I’ve always loved Friday the 13th. When I was a kid I simply loved Fridays. Which is strange, because that often meant Friday Night Casserole for dinner. But Fridays after school were also the start of the weekend, and when it was a Pay Day Friday we were able to pick up our favorite fast food or go out to dinner. And then we’d sprawl out on the living room floor to watch our favorite prime-time lineup: “The Brady Bunch,” “Nanny and the Professor” and “The Partridge Family”:

So when I combine Friday with 13, I can’t go wrong; 13 has always been my favorite number. I don’t know why. It’s just awesome. And I’ve won my fair share on the roulette wheel betting on 13 Black. It’s also a baker’s dozen, and you can never go wrong with one extra donut, amiright.

Some people freak out and think Friday the 13th is totally unlucky and scary. Probably because of scary movies. One time after the original “Poltergeist” came out, my sisters and I pulled a prank on my Mom, figuring we’d freak her out when she woke up on Friday the 13th. After she went to bed the night before, we placed dining room chairs on top of the kitchen table and scattered a few around the room. And we opened up a bunch of kitchen cabinet doors. We taped this note to the dining room table, and by the reply she left, you can tell we didn’t scare her one bit:

fri-the-13-note

Anyway, I always look forward to Friday the 13th being a lucky day. They don’t happen that frequently. The last Friday the 13th was in May. And that was the exact day Jay and I received a letter in the mail letting us know we were chosen to be “Wheel of Fortune” contestants. True story; stay tuned.

So don’t sit home like a scaredy-cat on Friday the 13th. Get out there. Go buy a lottery ticket. Ask that special someone out on a date. Send in an audition tape to “Wheel of Fortune.” The next Friday the 13th isn’t until October, so today’s your only chance for another 10 months. Well, if you’re Irish, you have St. Patrick’s Day coming up. You know, luck of the Irish and all that. Plus all the alcohol. So essentially you have another lucky day in just two months.

Of course, if you’re planning a camping trip this weekend at a place called “Camp Crystal Lake” you might want to change your plans.

I remember little bits about my first day in Kindergarten. Back then, since hardly any kids went to preschool or dance class or played pee-wee ball, we usually didn’t know another soul in the classroom. You’d think that’d be traumatic for some kids – especially a little paranoid four-year-old like me – but I couldn’t wait to go to school. Luckily, my best-friend/next-door-neighbor, Randy, and I were the same age and we went to school together that first day. But when we got there, he cried like a little baby so his Mom took him home to wait for the next school year. Still, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to get into that classroom and eat paste.

Kindergarten featured a lot of finger painting, coloring, singing songs and playing in the fake little kitchen, but my favorite part of the day was snack time. Every day we’d get graham crackers and milk. My second favorite part of the day was recess, for obvious reasons. My least favorite part of the day was nap time. I don’t know about you, but I could never fall asleep on a dirty plastic mat on the floor. I’d just lay there. Apparently I was resting on my left side on Picture Day.

Yes, my Dad cut my bangs (see: “Papa Don’s Discount Salon“) and my Mom put that crazy bow on my head, on top of what was at one time early in the morning my hair pulled back tightly and neatly into a ponytail. Anyway, nap time was magical if you were the kid who got to be the “Wake-Up Fairy.” Each week several kids were assigned different tasks to carry out for the week. I can only remember two tasks: one was the Wake-Up Fairy and the other was the “Kid who had to make sure all the jump-ropes, four-square balls and other playground equipment were accounted for after recess.” I remember that task vividly because the one time I had it, I was trying to fit all the playground stuff into the big storage closet and a big wooden post fell on my head. Anyway, I always wanted to be the Wake-Up Fairy. That lucky kid received the magical wand from the teacher and was able to get up a few minutes early from nap time to go around and touch each kid on the head with the wand to wake them up. It was the first taste of power for a little kid.

Once I hit first grade, it was serious business. We had to stay in school all … day … long. No naps, snacks or skipping home at noon. But I still loved it. We actually ate lunch in the cafeteria. Everyone popped open their Partridge Family, Campus Queen, Archies or Superman metal lunchboxes and dug into food that had been sitting unrefrigerated in the back of classrooms for four hours. And everybody had milk money (usually a dime) taped to the inside of their lunchbox. Some sandwich and snack trading would happen, but all liverwurst, deviled ham and olive loaf sandwiches ended up in the trash. The week after a Payday Friday, Mom often packed my favorite lunch: a PB&J, a little plastic baggie of BBQ chips, and a few apple slices or half an orange; sometimes even a few store-brand cookies thrown in to make it fancy.

There were several magical days every elementary school kid would wait for each year. First was Halloween, naturally, because we got to dress up in costumes and walk around the school in a little parade. And we got candy. After Halloween, we waited for Christmas to roll around. There would be Christmas crafts, songs and other activities for the week leading up to Christmas break, and then usually a fancy party the day before Christmas vacation. And we got candy.

Nothing was quite as exciting as the holidays as a kid, but there were a few recurring events at our elementary school I always looked forward to. Besides field trips, I loved Ice Cream Days; I’d get a dime each time to buy a Lemon Bar or Fudgsicle. But one of the most magical days was Scholastic Book Day. Every few months or so the teacher would hand out Scholastic Book Order Flyers.

Scholastic Book Club Flyers by Enokson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We’d pick out several books in our flyer, take the form home for our parents to approve and then bring it back to school with an envelope of dollar bills and coins for our purchase. Then we had to wait for the day the books arrived. When they did, it was like Christmas. Each kid who ordered books received their little bundle, packaged together with a big rubber band. I guess it was the early version of Amazon. It was so exciting getting your own brand-new books. And if you had brothers and sisters, your book supply at home was even sweeter. We had a cool, built-in cabinet in our house with lots of shelves and a fancy pull-down door accented with a metal treble clef and music staff. That’s where we kept all of our books and encyclopedias (Note to Millennials: Encyclopedias are primitive book versions of the internet). When my sister, Coleen, was a baby, she’d go to that cabinet and pull every book off the shelf. My Mom said it was a daily routine.

I guess getting new books back then is similar to the experience when kids today get a new tablet, or phone, or laptop or electronic game. Only when I was a kid, no matter how much we loved those shiny new books, we’d drop them in a heartbeat to go run around, ride bikes, climb trees or run through the sprinklers with other kids in the neighborhood. Actually, I have lots of unread books lying around today because I’m still always outside running through the sprinklers.

Back in the early ‘70s, kids would run home after school to catch their favorite cartoon or other kids’ show coming on TV at 3:00. My favorite was the cartoon “Kimba the White Lion.” He was a cute little cub. I can hardly remember what that cartoon was about, but I remember the theme song:

 

 

As the seasons went by, my favorite changed to “The Banana Splits”– a groovy, goofy Hanna-Barbera gem with an addicting theme song (“Tra la la, la la la la”). The Banana Splits were four surreal animals (dudes in costumes) that did crazy antics, skits and songs, and they’d play short episodes of different cartoons or live-action shows every day.  They featured “Arabian Knights,” “The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and my favorite, “Danger Island,” a crazy cliffhanger about explorers on a tropical island tormented by pirates and natives. (“Uh-oh, Chongo!”) It was awesome … if you were 11.

 

 

Once I hit 13, my afternoon favorite changed to “The Mike Douglas Show” where I’d hope to catch dreamy guest stars like Shaun Cassidy or Andy Gibb. If the TV Guide said one of these ‘70s teen idols would be on a certain day, that afternoon at school after the last bell rang you’d see flocks of junior high school girls fleeing the school grounds like their Dittos were on fire.

There was another afternoon show that always had a pay-off, for someone. It was “Dialing for Dollars.” In the San Francisco Bay Area, Pat McCormick hosted the show, which featured an afternoon movie and offered viewers the chance at a cash prize. Pat was a Bay Area icon. He also hosted the “Charley and Humphrey Show,” another hit with the local kids.

 

 

On Dialing for Dollars, there were several intermissions throughout the movie when Pat would call some lucky Bay Area viewer who could win the jackpot … IF they were watching and knew the infamous Count and Amount. The Count was a number code like “2 From the Top” or “7 From the Bottom,” and the Amount was the jackpot – usually somewhere between $100 and $300 dollars. Big bucks, people. Sometimes my sisters and I would sit through the dumbest movies on the planet waiting for Pat to call our house. He never did. But he did call my Grandma Smothers once. She wasn’t watching the TV, because she was probably making Calabasitas, so she didn’t know the Count and the Amount. But they sent her a gift certificate for Chicken Delight in the mail as a consolation prize. Which was actually pretty cool. Chicken Delight was quite the rage when I was a kid.

I remember one night when my Dad was working swing shift at Mare Island, Mom ordered Chicken Delight for us. It must’ve been a PayDay Friday. Chicken Delight was about the only place that actually delivered food to your door back then. Mom laid a blanket out on the living room floor so we could have an indoor picnic with our Chicken Delight delicacies. I remember chicken, but not much else. I imagine there was cole slaw or french fries or rolls, but whatever there was, it wasn’t Friday Night Casserole, so it was delicious.

I love birthdays. Especially mine. And I love birthday cake. Not the kind from the bakery, but actual homemade cake. My Mom always made our birthday cakes when we were growing up.

Below is a pic of one of Mary Ann’s cakes. This is my little sister, Melissa, on her second birthday. She’s blowing out her birthday candles surrounded by my sisters, Coleen and Tracy. Looks like Coleen’s helping her blow out the candles and Tracy is holding her by the PJ’s so she doesn’t fall off the chair. Melissa’s sporting a fancy birthday hat one of us made with paper and glitter. Not sure where I am — maybe those are my hands on the left. I’m probably clapping or rubbing my hands together excitedly because we had to eat Friday Night Casserole for dinner and I was starving.

 

 

My favorite was Mary Ann’s M & M Cake, which I thought she had invented: chocolate cake and chocolate frosting, decorated with M & Ms. Tracy knows how much I loved it, so here are some cupcakes and a mini M & M cake she made for a recent birthday of mine:

 

 

My second favorite cake was Cherry Chip with pink frosting and pink sprinkles. Mary Ann taught me how to bake when I was little, and I still like to bake. I’d make cakes and cookies with the nieces and nephews when they were little. Below is my niece, Madi, helping make a Cherry Chip Cake a few years ago. She’s quite the artist, so she made sure to add pink sprinkles just like Mary Ann would:

 

 

And here’s my niece, Addi, helping me make a cake when she was about 4:

 

 

Here’s a brownie-baking session with Addi:

 

 

The head-in-bowl technique was apparently something she learned from her Uncle Jay.

 

Here’s my nephew, Logan, at about 4, helping with chocolate chip cookies :

 

 

Or actually, feeding cookie dough to my sister’s dog:

 

 

There was another cake Mary Ann made that we liked. But if she had told me the ingredients involved, I would’ve never eaten it. It was called Mayonnaise Cake. There’s actually mayonnaise in it. That’s disgusting. I’m a Miracle Whip girl at heart, and never liked mayonnaise. Growing up in our house, there were always two condiments you’d find in the fridge, thanks to Papa Don: Heinz Ketchup (of course) and Miracle Whip. Papa Don used Miracle Whip on every sandwich, and it’s all my sisters and I used when we made school lunches. Miracle Whip and Land O’ Frost luncheon meats, Miracle Whip and American cheese, Miracle Whip and liverwurst (hurl). Papa Don even ate Miracle Whip and peanut butter sandwiches. I tried one once. Not a fan, but it was still better than Miracle Whip and liverwurst.

So I did like Mayonnaise Cake. It simply tasted like chocolate cake to me. Mary Ann would ice it with Cool Whip, which I’d scrape off. But you could’ve fooled me that there was mayonnaise in it. As I got older, I realized that adding mayonnaise was really no different than adding oil and eggs, so it made sense. So give this cake recipe a try if you run out of eggs and oil. Just be sure not to substitute Miracle Whip for the mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise Cake

1 Cup sugar

1 Cup water

1 Cup mayonnaise

1 tsp vanilla

2 Cups flour

½ Cup cocoa

½ tsp baking soda

Mix the sugar, water, mayonnaise and vanilla in a large bowl. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking soda, and then add to the wet mixture, mixing until combined. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. When the cake is cooled, frost it with Cool Whip if you’re retro, or use good ol’ chocolate frosting. Or forget the frosting and place a doily on top of the cake and dust it with powdered sugar to make it ’70s fancy.

Just about every day after school in the late 70s, my sisters and I would listen to our records. First we’d have to catch the latest episode of “Days of Our Lives” and do our chores, but then we’d head to the family room to blast our tunes on the stereo. Sometimes it was rock, other times it was soul, depending on if we felt like dancing. Okay, so every day there was soul, with some rock mixed in.

Before we started our music fest, we’d usually walk to the little store up the street to get some crap to eat and drink. Back then, my trusty dollar allowed me to grab a candy bar or Oompa Loompas, plus a tall bottle of Dr. Pepper and (for some reason) a cherry yogurt. Today, I don’t think I could even get a candy bar for a dollar. My younger sisters, Coleen and Melissa, often tried to stretch their money as far as they could by stocking up on penny candy or 10-cent Jolly Rancher Fire and Watermelon Stix.

I remember the first album I ever bought. I was 12, and used birthday money to buy Queen’s A Night at the Opera. I freakin’ loved that album. In fact I still have it. I’d listen to “The Prophet’s Song” on full blast with the head phones on to hear the lyrics and music jump around from ear to ear. And of course I rocked out to “Bohemian Rhapsody” like everyone else — long before Wayne and Garth did.

Many of you probably remember this awesome way to get a ton of records cheap:

Columbia Record Club Advert, 1970s by Joe Wolf is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

 

You could find this ad in all kinds of magazines. Just one penny (plus shipping and handling) gave you anywhere from 8 to 13 albums. Since you were probably reading the ad while sitting next to your stereo, you could just grab a penny off the turntable – you know, the penny you used to keep your 45’s from skipping. Once you signed up, you just had to buy about seven more records in the future at regular club price, which actually wasn’t that bad. Each month, Columbia House sent you their little music magazine. The problem was remembering to mail back the Selection of the Month card every month – assuming you didn’t want to receive a default album by artists like Starland Vocal Band or Rick Dees.

I remember how exciting it was to scan the ad’s selection and pick all those ‘free” albums. Of course the ad only showed about 150 options, and that included all types of music genres like Easy Listening (pass) and Country (no thanks). You had to wait for the first monthly magazine to arrive to see all the other cool selections available.

Naturally I chose records over 8-tracks. The only people I knew who bought 8-tracks had inherited an old car that actually had an 8-track stereo. Listening to 8-tracks was painful. You’d be singing along and then the song would fade out, making you wait about 10 seconds for it to fade back in on the next track. I believe this is how the phrase “Wait for it … ” originated.

Anyway, when that box arrived from Columbia House, it was like Christmas. I couldn’t decide which record to play first. I loaded up that turntable and my sisters and I had a music fest in the family room that lasted until our parents couldn’t stand it any longer.

Along with Columbia House purchases, I bought records all the time once I started working for the man. I still have some of my original albums, but most fell victim to sleepovers in junior high or parties in high school. Somewhere, somebody is listening to my original 12″ version of “Rapper’s Delight” and trying not to break a hip.

My Earliest Memory

When I was four and Tracy was five, my parents took us to amusement park central, Southern California. We obviously went to Disneyland, though the only things I can remember about that visit are the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Adventure Thru Inner Space. I don’t even remember Cinderella’s Castle. If you look closely below, you’ll see me and Tracy standing in front of it, with Papa Don nearby on the right, making sure we don’t get kidnapped.

??????????????

I have a vague memory of The Enchanted Tiki Room and all the crazy animatronic birds in that tropical setting, though my Mom said I fell asleep about five minutes into the show. But I was wide awake during the Adventure Thru Inner Space. They actually shrunk the riders on the trams as they went through the ride. It would turn us into the size of atoms. At least that’s what I thought. There was a big microscope thing with a glass tube and we could see teeny tiny riders moving through it inside. I was mesmerized by it. The Adventure Thru Inner Space was eventually replaced with Star Tours, and well, I guess we all know where that idea is headed now.

During that trip, we also visited Universal Studios and Knott’s Berry Farm. Imagine planning that vacation now. Of course admission tickets weren’t $3,000 dollars back then. Park refreshments probably weren’t that expensive then either. In fact, here Tracy and I are enjoying tasty, ice-cold sodas with Woody the Woodpecker:

woody

You think we’d stop slurping those sodas long enough to smile for a photo. But hey, there was likely a month of Powdered Milk that preceded those treats, so the brain freeze was probably well worth it.

Since I was only four, I just have a few specific memories about the Happiest Place on Earth, but I remember a “feeling,” like a happy, sunshine-y feeling. I really have no recollection of Universal Studios either, except for watching a cowboy get shot off a building. And I don’t remember a thing about Knott’s Berry Farm, except for visiting the replica of Independence Hall, with its replica of the Liberty Bell inside. Here’s a tiny, blurry glimpse of me and Tracy standing in front of it:

??????????????

Even though we’re micro-sized in the photo, you can tell we’re wearing matching clothes again. We were basically Irish Twins, and Mary Ann always dressed us alike. She either made our clothes or ordered them from the Sears catalog. Here’s another example:

twins

Just kidding, that’s not us. We didn’t get the part.

Here’s Independence Hall at Knott’s Berry Farm again:

hall

See that narrow path next to the flag pole? I believe that is the actual spot of my first clear memory as a human. It’s where I fell down, and immediately started crying. Not because I was in pain, but just for the drama. See, I think I fell down on purpose so I could yell and cry so my parents would turn around to see how far behind them their precious child was, and in danger of being lost or kidnapped. I think I was about five feet behind them, but when you’re four, it seems like miles. So I wailed, and my Dad came back, surveyed my traumatic injuries, and held my hand for the rest of the day.

A few years later, my grandparents started giving us Knott’s Berry Farm jelly samplers for Christmas. I couldn’t wait for that thing. There was Cherry Jelly with real chunks of cherries in it. But even better, there was Mint Jelly. Obviously Mary Ann wouldn’t serve that with lamb, so I ate it on toast. No one else wanted any, so more for me. I practically licked that jar inside out when it was empty. I’ve still never had lamb with mint jelly. Pretty sure I never will.

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