Chapter 8. Mammoth– Part 1

Thursday morning.

The kids stumbled into the car after dressing hastily in the pre-dawn hour.  Brian had packed the car the night before, and Liz added a few last-minute items in the morning. 

The O’Connells, or more precisely, Liz, liked to leave at oh dark thirty when they went on car trips. When they drove to Mammoth, she always drove the first half of the trip, because she couldn’t sleep in the car, and Brian could sleep anywhere.  

Also, she reasoned that when they leave at 4:30 am, the kids are asleep and the car is bathed in holy silence for the first several hours.  Another benefit is that both Brian and the kids are well rested when they arrive in Mammoth about 11:30 in the morning.  And they have time to unpack, play in the snow, and get settled in the cabin before nightfall. 

Brian adjusted his pillow against the passenger side window, and was asleep shortly after they transitioned onto the 405 from the 10.  Liz loved the quiet of the early morning.  She grew up taking many car trips with her family, and she and Brian took their family on many car trips.  

They knew that it was important to get away with the children as they were growing up and to spend time outdoors with them. They usually went to Yosemite at least once a year and took other car trips to Mammoth and around the Western United States.  Following the example that Liz’s mother set, the O’Connells picnicked and barbequed in parks, or next to a lake or river along the way, so that the children could run around and stretch their legs. 

When she was pregnant with Sean, they had purchased the cabin in Mammoth Lakes, California—a five to six hour drive from their home, depending on the length of their pit stops.  Liz had always loved the mountains, and Brian was anxious to teach the children the winter sports that he enjoyed as a boy in New England. 

The comfortable four-bedroom log cabin was located near the Canyon Lodge. It was their vacation retreat year-round. Thanksgiving through Easter they enjoyed winter sports outside, and played board and card games inside—or just read and dozed in front of one of the two river stone fireplaces. Liz had done a lot of the latter their first winter there, when she was eight months pregnant with Sean.  

In the late spring and summer there were picnics, bike riding, hiking, ranger programs, movies at the local theater, and just lazing around. In the fall, her mother came from the desert and stayed with the children and a babysitter in St. Michael’s Cove, while Liz and Brian drove up to the cabin alone.  

They loved Mammoth in late October when the aspens shimmered in the sun like gold coins.  The days were still warm, and the nights cool enough for a fire in the fireplace. Hiking, reading, and quiet dinners by the fire were their favorite pastimes when they went without the children.

Liz smiled to herself in remembering one winter week-end in Mammoth when the three younger children got sick. She spent the whole week-end nursing the three housebound kids and playing pinochle and monopoly with them, while Brian skied with Liam.   Even though most of the family was sick, it had been a relaxing and memorable week-end with each other.  

Brian woke up when they were about 10 miles outside of Lone Pine. It was almost eight when Liz pulled into the Mobile gas station—their first stop on their way to Mammoth. Sean was still asleep, Kevin was rubbing his eyes, Liam was yawning and Anna was stirring in her seat when Liz stopped the car. Keller was asleep on a quilt in the third bench seat between Liam and Anna. 

“Does anyone need to use the restroom while we’re here?” Hearing his mother’s voice, Sean finally woke up. A couple of the kids nodded and started to undo their seatbelts, as Brian zipped up his down jacket and hopped out of the Suburban to fill up the tank. 

“Liam you and Kevin can take Sean,” she added.  Liz put Keller on a leash, grabbed a doggie poop bag, and took him out to do his business and to give him some water.

Ten minutes later, Brian and Liz had switched seats, and they were on the road again.  Liz glanced back at her brood to make sure they were all buckled in. 

“When will we be at the bakery?”  Sean asked, as they pulled out of the gas station. Johansen’s Bakery was a required stop whenever they passed it on Route 395 on their way to or from Mammoth. 

The bakery was owned and operated by the family of Bjorn Johansen, one of the resistance fighters from Norway during World War II.  Johansen met an American Red Cross nurse, Annika Larson, in his native country during the war, and followed her to her California home in Pine Woods, at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

 Having worked in his father’s bakery in Bergen his entire life before the war, Bjorn opened a small bakery in the Eastern Sierra foothills.  He was comfortable in the shadow of the rugged Sierras, which offered first class winter sports almost six months a year, and great fishing and hiking opportunities the rest of the year.  Annika and Bjorn were married at Grace Lutheran in Pine Woods in 1948.  

Featuring mouth-watering pastries, sandwiches, and wholesome breads, the bakery was a hit among the hard-working locals and hard-playing Southern Californians who passed through on their way to Mammoth Mountain to ski.

“We’ll be there in about an hour. You can get something for breakfast there, or have a breakfast bar from the snack bag now.”  Not surprisingly, they all opted to wait for their favorite Johansen’s breakfast rolls.

Anna looked up from St. Michael’s Messenger, that she had been reading. “Hey, mom, did you see the article about the contest to name the old Carnegie library that they’re remodeling into shops?” 

“No,” she replied glumly. Liz hadn’t been happy to see the town award a local developer the contract to build a new library next to the historic Carnegie library in exchange for his turning the local landmark into a warren of shops.  

The new modern one-story community library opened last year on the ample library grounds, right next to the Carnegie, which was slated to open its remodeled doors in May.  Liz was a bookworm who practically lived in libraries growing up, and still frequently had her nose in a book. 

She loved the old two-story brick Carnegie library—with its 100-year-old woodworking details, beveled windows, large marble-topped wrap around check-in counter, and reading rooms with comfortable chairs and fireplaces.  The outdoor stone patio off the main floor was also a lovely place to read on summer days.  She had spent many a Saturday afternoon in the library before they had their children, and on weekly trips to pick up books after the children were born. 

The developer had promised to keep most of the original craftsman features, but Liz had her doubts.  In the end, she was just glad they hadn’t torn down the beautiful historic building.

“Liam, don’t you have to write a report on a local historical monument or building?”  she asked.

Liam looked up from his hand-held game, “Yeah, some kids chose missions.  Johnny is doing his on some downtown building called the Bradbury Building where his dad works. 

Some kids chose popular restaurants that have been around for a long time like Philippes.  I haven’t decided on mine yet.  I was thinking about the Staples Center.”  Liam was a diehard Lakers fan.

“Staples Center??,” Anna laughed scornfully. “That was built like 20 years ago.  When I had to write my report, the place we chose had to be at least 75 years old.  I did mine on Graham Gardens.  Mom had a case there that year, and bought me a ticket for a private tour by Mr. Domo. It was really cool.”

“Majordomo,” Liz corrected.  It’s a title for a person who runs a big household. His name was Dimitri. 

She turned to face Liam, “Have you considered writing about the St. Michael’s Carnegie library?  Carnegie libraries have very interesting stories.  I think that the St. Michael’s Carnegie library was built about a hundred years ago. 

As I recall, if a town wanted a library in those days, they wrote to the Carnegie Foundation to request funding for a library for their town.  The town was required to donate the land, and the Foundation would pay to build the library.  I think it would be an interesting part of local history.”

“Yeah, maybe. Or Dodger Stadium or the Coliseum.”

“I remember when Dodger Stadium was built—it was in the 60’s,” Brian noted. “So, I don’t think it would be eligible, but the Coliseum was built in the 1920’s—so that would be old enough to write about.”

“Come to think of it, I think that Tommy picked the Coliseum, and Sr. Marguerite wants everyone to choose a difference place.” Liam said dejectedly. 

Anna looked down at the Messenger article again. “They’re offering a $50 gift certificate from each of the 10 new shops to the winner of the naming contest.  The article says that the name should ‘reflect the history of the building as well as its new uses.’”  

“What kind of shops are going in?” her mother asked.  

Anna skimmed the article. “You’ll like this, mom.  There’s going to be a shop called Stitches that will be divided into three parts—a yarn room, a fabric and sewing room, and a tea room with sofas and chairs around one of the fireplaces. The article says that you can buy something in the yarn or sewing shop to knit or sew, and ‘while away an afternoon knitting and sipping tea with friends in the tearoom.’”  

“Hmmm.  That sounds nice,” Liz answered cautiously. “Bernie will like the tea room.  And she knits. What else?”

Well, there’s going to be a bookstore with quiet places to read, a toy shop selling hand-crafted toys, a chocolates store, an art and crafts store with classes, and a cheese shop. Oh, and three clothing stores—one for children, one for women, and a haber . . . haber. . . dash . . .ery.  What’s that?” 

“It’s a men’s shop,” Liz replied. 

“Do they say what they’re doing with the entry where the big marble wraparound check-out counter is?  I hope they’re keeping that gorgeous area intact.”

“Yeah, it looks like it’s going to be a restaurant—called . . . “Anna paused as she skimmed the article . . “the Library Bistro. They will serve lunch during the day and sodas and ice cream floats and snacks to the kids after school.   Starting at 6 pm, they will have dining tables around the big stone fireplace, and the marble counter will be a wine bar.  It says ‘weather permitting, diners will be able to dine outside under a canopy of fairy lights on the original stone patio.’”  I think that’s only nine stores, but maybe the restaurant is counted as two, or they don’t have the tenth yet.

Oh, and they’re remodeling the basement, which will still be used as a community meeting room.

I might enter that contest, Liz thought, just before Sean shouted, “I see the sign, I see the sign.” 

 Sure enough, they were in Pine Woods, the home of Johansen’s Bakery and Restaurant, with its river stone front and slate roof.

Thirty minutes later, and filled with Johansen’s popular egg and cheese breakfast rolls, everyone piled back into the car for the 45-minute trip to the cabin.