Besides the usual, “Die Polish Fake Cowboy Scumbag!!” fan mail, I like getting letters from readers. I received two recently that were particularly heartwarming.
One was from Signal reader and maybe the best husband around, Clovis Kerr. At the very least, the Valencian is a lucky fellow.
Mr. Kerr sent a couple of photos of his wife, 62 years apart. They were so sweet. One was taken a short while ago of a strikingly beautiful woman nearing 80 and looking 50. In the other, Mrs. Kerr was wearing decidedly less clothing. She was in a bathing suit and had just been crowned Miss Val Verde — 1957. Up until about the 1980s, Val Verde was a predominantly black community. It had been so since the 1920s and was the vacation mecca for Southern California African Americans. Previous editors had received death threats for placing black people in The Mighty Signal, I’m guessing because it took space away from a small demographic of our subscriber base, butthole racist imbeciles, which at least is a good rock band name. I probably wouldn’t listen through a set, but I’d be tempted to at least glance at the album jacket.
I was struck by how much, after 62 years, Mr. Kerr so loved his wife. Granted. Not once did Clovis mention her by name and I’m guessing maybe she is just still revered around the house as “Miss Val Verde.” As she should be.
Don’t punch me, Clovis, but cripes was she a 927-On-A-Scale-of-10 gorgeous in that ’57 pix.
I wish I knew Clovis better so I could say —
She’s a retired Los Angeles Unified School District principal. She’s an active member of the SCV Quilt Guild and drat how did I let my membership lapse? But how darn impossibly inspirational is it to love your wife so? I look at her photos and am taken by how erudite, bright and beautiful she is, and, how lucky to have a life’s partner as smitten as Clovis Kerr.
I surely hope to meet them both some day.
My second letter — actually, letters — came from two dear old friends, the Bashams. Becki works at Hart Park, running the gift shop. Roger Basham is one of the foremost experts on local Indian culture and taught at College of the Canyons since the Pleistocene Epoch.
Recently I penned the regular Saturday feature on The Mighty Signal’s century of newspapering here. The article was about lost souls and town characters. In it was a snippet featuring a one-legged elderly miner. Rob Somerville died alone in the 1950s.
Somerville lived 60 interesting years before his heart failed. He fought Jack Dempsey, was a World War I vet where he lost his leg and was a stand-in for Wallace Beery before becoming an SCV semi-recluse up Piru Gorge. Despite being a unipedalist, he worked his claim solo and actually made money gold mining.
When he died, another town character, this one quite famous, found Rob’s remains.
Neighbor and country/western singer Stuart Hamblen was one of America’s first singing cowboys on the radio. He was a huge recording star and had a serious drinking problem up until hearing a Pastor Billy Graham sermon. Arrested once in Texas, he listed his occupation as: “The Original Juvenile Delinquent.” That looks good on a resumé. Hamblen lived in the SCV for years. After becoming a Christian and teetotaler, he was fired as a disc jockey because he refused to do beer commercials.
His friend, John Wayne, once kiddingly offered him a drink. Hamblen responded: “It’s no secret what the Lord can do.”
The Duke suggested: “You oughta write a song by that title.”
He wrote another song, the night he found his friend’s body.
Roger and Becki Basham sent me some heart-tugging details.
First, Somerville’s hound dog was so protective of his dead master, he wouldn’t let anyone near the body. Hamblen had to go back to his ranch and bring back his own dog to calm down the grieving hound. Shaken by Somerville’s death, he sat on a rock all night, praying. Hamblen wrote “This Old House” in pencil, on a paper bag. When he moved to Sand Canyon, that original paper bag sheet music was preserved in a frame, right next to the gold record the hit single became. Roger sent me a photo of it. It’s simply amazing.
By the way. Hamblen and his family were the inspiration for the hit TV series, “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
I must confess. I teared up, reading Hamblen’s lyrics. Here’s just the first stanza:
This old house once knew my children. This old house once knew my wife. This old house was home and comfort as we fought the storms of life. This old house once rang with laughter. This old house heard many shouts. Now she trembles in the darkness when the lightning walks about.
Mr. Kerr’s letter touched me. So did the back-and-forth with Roger and Becki. It speaks of something I know so true, of love and friendship, neighbors, timeless values, community and hearts of gold. It’s the melody I hear every day in my home town of Santa Clarita, the song of America singing.
John Boston is a local writer.