When I lived in Mentryville, I was a tall, skinny kid. Now middle aged, I've "filled out" a bit. So has the Santa Clarita Valley.
A flight from Norfolk, Va., to Las Vegas last month, with a short stop to change planes (and pay my "Nevada state taxes" at the slots) got me to Burbank.
It was a great day to fly. Some clouds, as we approached. We flew over the SCV. I thought I was looking at the San Fernando Valley. The SCV has filled in that much.
My research assistant (and sister), Karen Tibbitts — had dinner prepared just after our arrival in Newhall. I'm not supposed to write about the lumps in the gravy, so I won't, but suffice it to say, the meal was delicious. She also listed the rules I was supposed to follow during my visit.
When I lived with Karen and her husband, Dan, I seldom adhered to such rules. Now, my question was: Could I go to bed before the hours of curfew she set, or did I have to stay awake until that time?
With my arrival in the SCV, the rains returned. On my first day's visit to The Signal, I was asked if I brought the rain with me. If I had that kind of power, do you think I would be writing for The Signal?
The "new" Signal office is sure an improvement over the old. Instead of a weekly paper, it now is a daily. The staff is much enlarged. I can't get over the fact that every day, each must write a few thousand words and get a paper out the next morning.
I really have it easy. I write 1,000 words a week and can spend all week doing it. The Signal newsroom has to do that many times over, every day. I'm very much honored to be included in such a dedicated and talented group, but I doubt I could do the job they do.
When The Signal was a weekly, I think the reporting staff used to collect at the Bamboo Inn or Saugus Cafe and "create" the local news for the week. Hart High had a section during the school year called "The Smoke Signal" (and still does).
Many past and current reporters and editors of today's Signal may recall those fine days. Some of them may still be on the staff.
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Just driving to The Signal office was an adventure. All of the former landmarks have been replaced. Gone are the onion, carrot and barley fields that were north of Lyons Avenue. The fields have been replaced by streets, structures, shops and cars. All kinds of cars. Once on Creekside Road, it was easy to find The Signal building. It is the only business that doesn't sell cars.
We used to have just three new-car dealers in town: Ford, Chevrolet and Volkswagen. If you wanted anything else, you'd go to the San Fernando Valley, Fillmore or Santa Paula.
I made a visit Santa Clarita City Hall. It sits in a spot very near where an irrigation pond was located, and the duck hunting was good. There was also a truck scale nearby. The scale was owned by The Newhall Land and Farming Co., but was used by many folks in the valley to weigh various loads on pickups and larger trucks. Sometimes we used the scale to check the weight of cattle we were taking to market, to give us at least a general idea of how much we might expect to profit.
Imagine standing at that irrigation pond — or City Hall — and being able to look out over the fields all the way to Hart High School. There was nothing but fields south of what is now Magic Mountain Parkway. No malls. No homes. Just fields of onions, barley and carrots, with some dirt roads dividing the fields. Clouds of dust would form every time the fields were plowed, covering the whole valley in a fine, dusty film. And how can one forget the onion field harvests that gave our valley a distinctive odor every year?
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Yes, the Santa Clarita Valley has changed. Some say "better" and some say "worse," but it has changed. The people haven't changed. They are still about the friendliest and most helpful citizens I've ever encountered.
I had hoped to find the secret that causes folks to move there and adopt such ways. I didn't find that secret but maybe found a clue or two after dinner one evening.
Through some strange twist of events, I found myself at Mulligan's restaurant in Valencia. I found the crowd to be about my age. (For the few of you who know I don't drink alcohol, don't worry. I'm still more than 29 years without the stuff.)
I even talked with some old Hart classmates. Since it was karaoke night, I got up to sing a song or two. I was made very welcome there, even if all I had was coffee, and in spite of my "singing."
I found that unlike days of old, you don't have to leave the SCV to shop, go to a movie, buy a car, or whatever. The old-timers have accepted what the SCV has become, as well as the new folks who have moved into the valley.
It is the acceptance of the "new" that I found to be one of the secrets of the people of the SCV. You've not forgotten your past and even relish in it, as evident by the many parks, monuments and markers erected around the valley. You've used your past to build upon the future in the best way possible.
I know some of you think differently, but the SCV has filled in well.
And yes, I returned to Virginia a happy man. Along with my sister's good table fare and a lunch with John Boston at the Saugus Café, I had my fill of good Mexican food.
Don't y'all out West there ever take that for granted. Remember, here in Virginia, they think grits taste good.
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.