Seeing and sharing the season’s lights

by John Pixley

“Were you at the C. folk festival for this?” This was in the subject line of an email I got last month from my friend Drew in San Diego, except that there were no capital letters. Curious, I opened the message and found a YouTube link. That’s all.

That’s all that was needed. It turned out that the video was of Jackson Browne singing “These Days” on a tiny outdoor stage—if there was a stage—with a crowd cheering him. The accompanying text explained that it was taken at the 2008 Claremont Folk Music Festival: the “c. folk festival.”

I had to tell Drew that I missed it, that I wished I had been there. I was kicking myself for missing this cool, intimate performance, but I also thought it is awesome that it was online for my friend in San Diego to find these years later.

This is yet another way that people find out that Claremont is an unique little town where some amazing, creative things happen. With things like this out there, they discover that Claremont is the kind of place where Jackson Browne comes to play in a park.

No wonder that, more often than not, when I tell people that I live in Claremont, they light up.

I certainly lit up a couple months ago when I went to see Tom Freund play at the Folk Music Center. Not only does the Folk Music Center put on the Claremont Folk Festival every year, it has these wonderful shows in the store, which are like seeing a performance in someone’s living room. During this evening in October, Mr. Freund made frequent comments about when he stayed in Claremont and got much encouragement and support from Charles and Dorothy Chase, who owned and ran the Folk Music Center for years.

As wonderful as all this was, it was all the more special when, in a surprise move, Ben Harper, the grandson of the Chases—who is a big-time singer and musician seen on television from time to time and known to fill up Bridges Auditorium—came out and joined Mr. Freund on a few songs at the end of the show. Imagine being in a living room with Ben Harper sitting there singing and playing.

Yes, Claremont is that kind of place. It is a blessing, a light shining out in this season of lights, and more and more people are seeing it.  

*****

“You lost your wallet last year.”

That’s right. I did. When I got home from buying a Christmas tree last year, I realized I didn’t have my wallet and then remembered not putting it in the bag on the side of my wheelchair after paying for the tree. My friend didn’t find it in the van or on the front walk, and I was desperate. Not only was I missing some cash, I didn’t want to deal with replacing all those cards over the holidays.

I had my friend go back to the tree lot—the Firemen’s Lot on Foothill in Upland—on the off-chance that my wallet was there. It was. My holidays would be happy.

I have been going to the Firemen’s Lot for years. They have good trees, reasonably priced and they also know me.

Yes, there are places to get a Christmas tree in Claremont, including a new one at Indian Hill and Arrow Highway, close to my house, but I still go to the Firemen’s Lot, as much as I try to “shop Claremont.” I like it that they know me there. I like it they held my wallet for me last year, and I like it that the guy there remembered this in greeting me when I went there a few weeks ago.

This is what community is about. It is another light shining in this dark, cold time when we need all the light that we can get.

*****

“Sadly, the Ferguson, Missouri events have reached even into Claremont.”

No doubt there are others who, as expressed by a letter writer in these pages a couple weeks ago, wished there hadn’t been a protest in front of city hall, with mainly students from the Colleges, over the decision of a grand jury not to indict a white policeman in the fatal shooting of an unarmed, young, black man near St. Louis. It is all too easy and natural to think that a nice, small town like Claremont shouldn’t have anything to do with such ugly incidents so far away, even in Los Angeles or Pomona. We’d like to think that such goings on are practically in another world.

As evidenced in the letter, which posited that the young man who was killed and the protesters were lawless, having no respect for the rules of an ordered society, it is clear that there are differing opinions on the incident and its aftermath. But I think all agree that what happened was tragic and a sign that, with statistics like a black man being something like 20 times more likely to be killed by police officers than a white man, the way our society is ordered is broken.

It is hard to look at this broken order and hard to look at the meanness and violence on the streets and in our society. We see it not only in this and other racially-charged fatal encounters with police but also in the recent US Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture carried out by the CIA, whether or not these brutal interrogation techniques were productive.

This isn’t nice stuff, to say the least. It most certainly isn’t cheery holiday stuff. A photograph in the Los Angeles Times of a crowd rioting, causing mayhem and destruction one night under a merrily lit Happy Holidays banner, doesn’t make sense.

But it fits. Just as Christmas and Hanukkah began in times of violence and injustice, the protests we see are cries for hope and peace in a weary, desperate society. The looting and burning at some of these protests is most unfortunate and not to be condoned—and it is good to see that more of the recent protests have been relatively peaceful—but they show how much passion and desperation is in this outcry.

Yes, it would be nice if Claremont had nothing to do with all these ugly things and if we could forget that a black man was killed by a police officer here not so many years ago. It would be so easy to live in our nice, little world here. But doing nothing would make all those other places still darker. Like the students here protesting peacefully, and also like the Claremonters who are providing shelter and food right here in our community for the homeless, we need to share the light that we in this community.

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