Remembering my Surf Mum

On Mother's Day I often think about my English mum who had a fierce belief there there is nothing more important than supporting kids and families and that everyone deserves to be treated equally, fairly and with respect. Born in London just before the start of WWII, my mum came to America in the 1950s, started her college career at a local community college, and eventually earned a law degree. She worked as a Public Defender, specializing in representing kids, and retired as a Judge Pro Tem. I wrote this article about my mother a few weeks before she passed away in 2011 and it appears in my book, Surfing the Border. I will never forget my mum's passion for ensuring that everyone receives an equal opportunity to pursue the American dream. 

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My first memories are of the beach with my mother or mum. Born in London just before World War II, mum has never lost the joy of spending a day by the sea.

“For me the seaside in California was like seeing oranges on trees. It was something so out of place in my life,” she said.

My mother’s pleasure in our California coast was the result of living in London during WWII where routine German bombing raids made enjoying the seaside impossible.

“Back then many people lived in London till they died and never saw a beach. We never went to the beach during the war,” she said. “Even after the war there was barbed wire all over the beaches in Cornwall.”

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“I remember during the war my father holding me while we watched an aerial dogfight between the RAF [Royal Air Force] and the Germans. My dad said, ‘Take a look at this because you won’t see this again.’”

“When the bombs came, we went to a shelter that had beds on each side. You could hear the sound of the bombers coming over and all of a sudden it stopped and everyone waited and my dad said, ‘Some other poor buggers got it.’”

The joyous routines of childhood during the Blitz often turned to tragedy. “I remember children queuing up for ice cream in our neighborhood and they all were bombed. More than 20 died.”

Later my grandmother Dolly was caught at home during when a bomb hit. “The entire house collapsed. But your grandmother hid under the portable metal bomb shelter in the dining room. My father came home from work to the rescue crews going through the house and they found her.”

Mum’s first trip to the coast was after the war.

“Pop, my sister’s father-in-law, took my sister Jill and me to the seaside in a big beautiful car. On the way there we saw castles and then Pop pulled off the road to stop. In the distance, we could see this big shimmering pool and Pop said it was the sea. We were so excited when we arrived and could make sandcastles.”

In the 1950s, my mother met my father, a French-American serviceman, in London. Later they married and ended up moving west to Los Angeles.

When I was a child during the mid to late 1960s, mother would take me to the beach to bake me in the sun. She always had a picnic basket ready with cold roast chicken, French bread, homemade mayonnaise and fresh fruit.

“We went to the beach almost everyday at either Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu,” she recalled.

“Back in those days, people used to think I was crazy to take you to the beach in the winter. But the weather in L.A. compared to England was lovely.”

When we moved to Imperial Beach in 1971, mother led our family and neighborhood children to the mouth of the Tijuana Estuary for all day picnics among the dunes. Enamored to the beauty of our backyard habitat, mother became involved in efforts to preserve it.

In 1974 our family spent a year in El Salvador. We camped at tropical beaches throughout Mexico and Central America.

“I never imaged seeing my son with a surfboard,” she said when I started surfing in 1977 at the age of thirteen.

Mum once took my friends and me for a surf trip to northern Baja in our 1964 VW Van. While we surfed K-38’s, she cooked up pancakes in the dirt parking lot.

For my proper English mother, the only downside to my surfing was that, “You and your friends sounded idiotic talking about surfing. I used to think, ‘What happened to my formerly intelligent oldest son?’”

My mother, Josephine Alexandria Fournier Dedina, retired from her career as an attorney and Judge Pro Tem a few years ago to enjoy her three grandchildren.

Me, my mother and my brother Nicky in West Hollywood before a wedding in 1979.

She now has terminal cancer.

In the afternoons after work, I sit with my mum at her home near the Sloughs. We drink cups of tea and talk about when my brother and I were little and my mother opened a magical doorway to a lovely life filled with sunny beach days.

I will never forget that the best days of my life and hers were spent in the company of our family, at the seaside.


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