Working On My Annual Gratitude List
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 11-27-2005.
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Darryl Manzer, 2005     Stephanie Kass was amazed that even in mid-November, she could put on her swimsuit and lay in the sunshine. "It sure isn't like this in Manhattan now," she said to herself as she stretched out on the lounge chair. Another New York native was quickly finding "home" in Southern California.
    Oops! I'm writing the column, not the book right now. It isn't always easy keeping the two separated. As many of you read this, I can bet you're having yet another leftover turkey sandwich or bowl of turkey vegetable soup. You might have been spending the weekend putting up holiday decorations. For me, it is a time to write my annual "Gratitude List."
    With all the war, strife and election results, it isn't easy to be grateful at times, so I start with the simple things:
    * I'm grateful for my continued good health. Thanks to good medical care and a change in diet and exercise, my cholesterol is back to proper levels. Of course, staying "clean and sober" for the past 30 years had much to do with it, too.
    * My family, for some strange reason, still continues to love and nourish me in all my endeavors. Even in my attempts to write a book and this column.
    * I am much blessed with the small measure of faith I have in God. He has carried me through much worry, adversity and pain, even when I didn't recognize the work He was accomplishing.
    * I continue to be grateful for the many hard-earned lessons taught to me by my parents. They had a tough job, and even though they died nearly 40 years ago, it is as if they are still speaking to me a message of hope and guiding me in life.
    * Our nation, the United States of America ... By pure chance I was born in the best country in the world. It isn't perfect, since democracy isn't easy to do. But I can, and all of you can, work together to make it better, even if we disagree on how to get the job done.
    This is just the start of the list. It will get even longer as this year slowly ends in the rush of holiday shopping, eating, family gatherings and community events.
    Remember "way back when," how many of us drove to the San Fernando Valley to see homes decorated with lights and displays of Christmas? How about the trips to Panorama City for a chance to meet Santa and see his reindeer? It was a long drive from the SCV in those days. Sure, we had lights on homes in the SCV, but they just seemed better if you drove those few miles.
    It must have been a law back then that no store could put up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. Going to any store in the SCV on the Friday after Thanksgiving, you could watch the folks who painted the storefront windows as clerks and store owners decorated the interiors. I wonder why most the window scenes included a background of snow and pine trees? Of course! Sagebrush and dust isn't very festive, even if it is what was really happening outside.
    We loved to call relatives in Colorado and Nebraska this time of year, regardless the cost, to wish them a Merry Christmas and tell them of the warm California sunshine — even when it wasn't. Hey, we had to protect that "California image."
    So y'all continue stringing the lights and hanging the garlands. I'll be nearly done with that by the time this is printed. Then it is back to the book and my imagination.
    J. Carter Montgomery opened the gate to the pool area at Stephanie's condo. He could see her lying on the lounge chair wearing a swimsuit that emphasized every good curve of her body. There were no bad curves. Taken by her beauty, he had trouble speaking until he stammered, "Good afternoon, Steph. Bet you couldn't do what you're doing now if you were still back in Manhattan."
    No she couldn't, John Carter Montgomery. Except in Southern California...

Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.

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