My wife and I went to visit the Huntington in San Marino this past weekend and I’ve been trying to remember the occasion of my first visit and what my memory has suggested is that it was on a field trip while I was in the sixth grade and attending the South Bay Junior Academy in Torrance. That would have been in 1966 and I was, to say the least, awed by the experience and fell in love with the Japanese Garden and the portraits of The Blue Boy and Pinkie, for which I envisioned a deep love between them such as what I felt for my classmate Bonnie Jean.
The Huntington remained in my mind although I did not possess the means for a revisit for several years. I turned fifteen in August of 1969 and the following month my older brother and I went halves on the purchase of a motorcycle and since he was then serving in the Coast Guard that meant the bike was mostly mine and one of the first places I rode to was the Huntington where I refreshed my memory of the two young portraits then ate lunch on the grass beside the Koi pond.
On my second motorcycle ride to the Huntington a week later a young woman who either worked or volunteered there stopped me by the gift shop and bookstore to ask about the red book I carried along with my sack lunch. I was embarrassed by her curiosity at first but explained it was a book of Romantic Era Poetry and featured such poets as Blake, Coleridge, Scott, Moore, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Hood, Landor, and Praed. I also explained that I enjoyed sitting by the Koi pond to eat my lunch and read poetry. Diana joined me that day and I read some of my favorite poems of Keats and Shelley to her and then she borrowed my book and read to me some of her favorite Blake poems.
During my fifteenth year I was to make frequent trips to the Huntington and my new friend Diana, who was a full-time student at Pasadena City College, would join me by the Koi pond. She introduced me to a cadre of poets I hadn’t yet experienced like Charlotte Turner Smith, Mary Robinson, Ann Radcliffe, Ana Seward, Felicia Hemens, along with many others. In time we even became brave enough to read each other our own poetic creations and congratulate each other on our brilliance.
Now summers melt into fall, which ices into winter and then thaws into spring and with that last change of seasons into the following summer my Huntington friend went off to University and I set about on the path of finding myself and transitioning into manhood. In that year of sweet friendship the two of us never went beyond first names, nor did we ever exchange phone numbers or addresses, and we never met anywhere other than at the Huntington. What we did exchange was a love of the Japanese Garden, of the Romantic Era Poetry, and the gift of each other’s voice.
As I think back to those days when I normally disguised and hid myself behind different personas and pseudonyms I recall, that to Diana, I was Sam, not Steven or Nick, but just me unmasked and to her I bared my innermost feelings through my own Lyric Poetry with all its angst and pain as she in turn did with me, without judgment, without condemnation, without obligation, and given the human condition for what it is, that was a rare experience.
Now, forty-five years later, I still possess that 1934 printing of Romantic Poetry and, the truth be told, it is one of only a handful of artifacts I retain from my adolescence. While the memories of Diana’s face and voice have dissolved into blurred reflections with the passage of time, the memory of that sweet friendship fortunately lingers and I am grateful for how it helped to shape the character of the man I became.